What Women (Film Festival Programmers) Want

I went to support my esteemed Programmer friends participating in the Master Class that Women in Film put on last night called “What Film Festivals Want.” Representing the top festivals in Los Angeles was Kim Yutani, Senior Programmer at Sundance Film Festival, Roya Rastegar, Director of Programming at LA Film Fest, Jacqueline Lyanga, Director of AFI Fest, and Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Director of Programming at Outfest.  Executive Director of WIF Kirsten Schaffer, formerly director of Outfest, was perfect to moderate the panel, keeping it new filmmaker friendly and full of insight.  Since I have the pleasure of knowing and/or working alongside all the ladies on the panel, I knew it wasn’t going to be another diluted, unproductive, bland conversation on Film Festival Tips. There were about 50 people there ($20 admission for non-WIF members), and it was by and large women filmmakers, across all colors and ages, from my friend, young dancer/actress Carmen Corral who just wrote and directed her first short film, to an audience member who shared she has just finished her first film at 67 years young.  The difference in practices and opinions heard is proof that each festival and each film festival Programmer has their own brand of curatorial focus, taste and sensibility.  As Kirsten summed it up, its worthwhile to listen to each of their takes, but do not forget that ultimately you have to follow your own instinct. Real Film Programmers Briefly each festival’s mandate: AFI Fest takes place in November so they screen LA premieres of the most acclaimed as well as under the radar international gems of the year. A big chunk is curated from other festivals, however they do have a Breakthrough section which they cull mostly from submissions. Also it offers its program for FREE!  Outfest seeks to obviously show films from the LGBTQ community.  However, Lucy noted more and more the programming has matured to one where LGBTQ is not the drive of the storyline but rather a perspective through which to explore different genres.  LA Film Fest has gone through a programming shift this year and it is more closely aligning itself with parent nonprofit Film Independent’s mission to “support artists who embody diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision”. This year the festival has an unprecedented 39 world premieres and nearly half of the program is made by women and people of color. Sundance Film Festival – what can we say about the original rebel.  U.S. Competition, Next, New Frontier and Midnight is the discovery zone heard around the world for breaking innovative stories and talented storytellers.  Sundance’s submissions increases each year.  It received more than 12,000 submissions for the 2015 festival. Around 8,000 of them are shorts – of which they show 60-70.  Yep, that’s less than 1%

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 12.00.01 AM
Jacqueline Lyanga, Director of AFI Fest since 2009 before that as Programmer. Worked in independent film distribution and producing. Art History and Cinema Major.

On the topic of WHY IS MY FILM (S) NOT ACCEPTED. I can see why deciphering the festival code; “It is not a right fit” can be frustrating for filmmakers to hear.  It is a catch-all of saying a possibility of things.  First thing to remember however is that just because you don’t get into a festival it does not mean your film does not have artistic merit or deserve a platform.  You are talking about 3-4 people at one festival who watched it but did not respond ENOUGH to champion or select it in the festival (My own personal note as Programmer; you have to kill your darlings and pick your battles in the room).  A lot of times the reason your film may not get in is simply mathematical.  There are not enough slots at a festival to select all the films the Programmers like.  Sundance can theoretically program another entire (just as solid) festival program after locking their lineup.  Maybe your film does not get in because that particular festival does not offer the section, or cater to that particular focus/niche your film covers.  And yet another reason might be your film may be one of several films that tackles very similar issues or has a very similar storyline to other films Programmers see that year.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 11.56.25 PM
Roya Rastegar,  Associate Director of  Programming at LA Film Fest. Published writer, produced and wrote film, Wildness. Previously at Tribeca and Sundance. PhD in the History of Consciousness from UC Santa Cruz. Studied mathematics and economics at Wellesley College

WHAT CAN I DO TO RAISE MY CHANCES? Sounds like common sense but follow submission instructions is number one tip (seriously not following instructions is a number one Programmer pet peeve).  Not all festivals are the same.  Some want press kits with film submissions.  Some of the panelists encouraged the audience to write cover letters while others admitted they never read them. (Personal note: If you have something relevant about your background that you think informs your vision then by all means write up a paragraph).  Roya made the point that if you had a crowdfunding campaign, or have a cast member who has over 2 million subscribers on Youtube that usually indicates you already are building an audience that is invested in your film, it doesn’t hurt for the festival to know given their concern is selling tickets to sustain the usually nonprofit’s activity. It is definitely vital to communicate these things once you have been selected so that the festival can disseminate the distinct and soundbyte aspects of your film to ‘pitch it’ (first film shot in Cuba since 1959, first indie film shot in Little Armenia).

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 12.02.28 AM
Kim Yutani, Programmer at Sundance Film Festival since 2006, first on shorts and then features. Former Artistic Director and previous Programmer for Outfest. Worked on Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation. Cat person.

CRITERIA:  Screeners are asked to submit a detailed synopsis of the films they watch and  rate technical proficiency, character and story development.  But inspired (and ripped off) by Sundance’s evaluation forms, most festivals want to frame it around ORIGINALITY OF VOICE/EMOTIONAL IMPACT. Roya mentioned that she tends to be  more forgiving of production value if she recognizes there is a strong, rarely heard voice driving the story.  Lucy mentioned she enjoyed abiding by this guiding principle during LA Film Festival’s programming process.  Knowing that films made by women/people of color tend to be the least funded and least commercial having this awareness is key, and underlines the bottom line criteria of a Programmer or anyone for that matter, wanting to find that film that can MOVE people above all.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 11.55.35 PM
Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, Outfest Director of Programming. Producer credits include Jack of the Red Hearts and Cake. Worked as Development Executive and producer for Warner Bros, Lionsgate, Lifetime, Sony Pictures Television. Previously Assistant editor for Harlequin Mills books. English Lit and Film Major.

HOW DO I KNOW WHICH FESTIVAL IS RIGHT FOR MY FILM?  You can do your homework and check out the archives of the films that a festival has played to see if there is some alignment, said Jacqueline.  But take it with a grain of salt.  As mentioned by Roya there is a tendency of folks to carbon copy what they think is a festival film, and making a film driven by the desire to get into a festival tends to backfire.  Look into international festivals, smaller niche festivals.  Lucy, who is also a filmmaker, recalled being rejected by all the major festivals until they submitted randomly to new Arkansas festival, Bentonville where they ended up taking best prize.  (Note: Sign up to Withoutabox. You’ll have to do some digging but you can do a search by region, niche, specialty to find the most suitable festival.) GETTING THE MOST OF YOUR FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE. Squeeze your Programmers for advice. If you are wondering whether you should contract a publicist or a sales agent ask us for recommendations, encouraged Kim.  They have the relationships and know the sensibilities of all the established and emerging industry.  In many ways this is Programmers’ second job after locking.  Adopting film teams leading up to the festival who they can shepherd up the mountain.

DO YOU REALLY WATCH EACH FILM?  Why do people LOVE to ask if a Programmer ‘really’ watches a film from beginning to end??  That is our job!  First of all we get paid to do it.  Second, as Kim mentioned, the worst thing for a Programmer is to have ‘missed’ a film.  Make no mistake, if a film does really well at a festival or comes out somewhere else, and you don’t recall seeing it, you go back to your database to make sure it was fully considered by someone on your team (and see who the hell may have passed on it).  Senior Programmers do their due diligence and review screeners’ coverage, ratings, and exports lists whether it be by region or filmmaker background. Especially nearing the end of progamming lock, they sweat over making sure they saw everything they should, and some actually dig deep into the lower ratings like films that got a 1 out of 5, just in case the screener was turned off by the premise. That strong negative reaction could very well mean a film is polemic and possibly brilliant because of it.

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 12.38.51 AM
New Executive Director for Women in Film. Spent 14 years as Deputy Director and head of Programming at Outfest. Previously Co-Executive Director of the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Managed a law office that specialized in American Indian and Family law. BA Liberal Arts, cultural studies and communications

WHAT IF I DON’T GET IN?  If you know your film has an audience, who cares if your film doesn’t get into festivals.   Get a network of filmmaker and programmer friends.  Get feedback. Festivals can’t supply feedback as a rule because of the volume but if you have a Programmer friend or trusted industry acquaintance ask them for input.  The dangers of asking friends and families for feedback on your film is that it usually won’t be critical.  As Lucy pointed out and I think everyone was in agreement;  We (read: good Programmers) understand that filmmakers set out to make a good movie. The ultimate criteria is asking ourselves “What was the filmmaker trying to achieve and how close did she/he get to it in the execution?”

Last words from the panelists: Lucy:  Keep making films Jacqueline:  Be bolder and louder. Kim:  Support other female filmmakers Sundance opens submissions in July.  In August, Sundance’s Next Fest will unspool a few film and music experiences at the Ace Hotel. Outfest will be announcing their program soon and will take place July 9-19.  Coming up soon is LA Film Festival, June 10-18.    AFI is currently accepting submissions until July 24 for its November festival.  Women in Film is accepting submissions until June 16 for their Finishing Films Fund.  Shorts and feature length films that are 90% complete are eligible.  Grants range from $1,000 – $25,000.

5 Latina-Directed Feature Films Breaking out in 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 3.54.21 PMI am happy to see more people vocalize demand for Latina representation onscreen and the resurging interest in solving this messed up disparity issue  (Thank you Gina Rodriguez Golden Globes acceptance speech).   However, the representation issue I find ten times more urgent to address is the anguishing miniscule percentage of Latina CONTENT CREATORS in film and television.

I give you 5 bomb Latina DIRECTORS who are are at the helm of brand new feature films coming out this year, women who are striking through the hostile mass media industry to escape the rule of homogeneity (white male perspective).  Now that is something to celebrate.  It’s not surprising that three of these are documentaries.  The percentage of women directed films in documentaries is higher than in fiction.  Now I can’t say with total certainty these  2 Latina directed U.S. fiction feature length films are the only ones out there this year…actually yes I can…..until someone reaches out to correct me ….and I really do hope to be corrected because only two???????

LOS 33

Director: Patricia Riggen
Writers: Mikko Alanne, Michael John Bell, Craig Borten, Jose Rivera
Producers: Robert Katz, Edward McGurn, Mike Medavoy
Cinematographer: Checco Varese
Music: James Horner
U.S. Distributor: TBA
Cast: Rodrigo Santoro, Antonio Banderas, Cote de Pablo, James Brolin, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Lou Diamond Phillips, Kate del Castillo, Tenoch Huerta
Social Media: @The33Pelicula

Logline: Based on the incredible real-life story of the 33 survivors of a copper-gold mine in Chile that collapsed and trapping them 700 meters underground for 69 days until their rescue.

Add Riggen to the exclusive ranks of women who fought for and have proved they got the chops to direct big action, Hollywood type genre movies like Katheryn Bigelow, Mimi Leder. The trailer for Los 33 that dropped last week reveals an epic dramatization of the intensely emotional struggle to survive the Chilean mine disaster. The English language film carries a sweeping score by none other than James Horner (and naturally you can hear Violetta Parra’s classic song, Gracias Por La Vida).  Add to that a big hero performance by Antonio Banderas who leads an ensemble cast of well known international actors (including hottie Mexican star of Güeros, Tenoch Huerta!!). Riggen, who was born in Guadalajara but moved to the states after graduating Columbia’s film school in NY,  made a splash with her 2007 film, Under the Same Moon starring a back-then-virtually-unknown-in-the-U.S. Eugenio Derbez, and Kate del Castillo. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival then was picked up by Pantelion, the studio she later worked with on the Eva Mendes starrer Girl in Progress.

Domestic distribution and release stateside is yet to be confirmed. Meanwhile Twentieth Century Fox will be releasing the film in Chile in August, marking the fifth anniversary of the incident, before rolling out the film throughout Latin America including Mexico. For an in-depth account of Los 33, check out current best-seller, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free” by Hector Tobar.

ENDGAME

Director: Carmen Marron
Writers: Hector Salinas, Carmen Marron
Producers: Sandra Avila, Carmen Marron
Executive Producers: Hector Salinas, Betty Sullivan
Associate Producer: Bonnie Emerson
Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli
Music: Brian Standefer
Cinematographer: Francisco Bulgarelli
U.S. Distributor: TBA
Cast: Rico Rodriguez, Efren Ramirez, Justina Machado, Jon Gries
Social Media: @GoForIt_Carmen
Facebook

ENDGAME SAN ANTONIO PaperLogline: Shot in Brownsville and inspired by true events, ENDGAME is a coming-of-age story about a young boy who joins the school chess team, and with the help of his coach, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, team spirit and the importance of family.

IMG_9959 copyAnother talented genre director (and fellow Chicana from Chicago, HEYYY) whose tenacity and talent make her primed to be our Latina Ava Duvernay success story (of course that depends on whether the public (and gatekeepers) support her to make the change to the system to demand her spot in the national mainstream).  I wrote about Carmen’s tireless spirit before, mentioning her first film which she shot, wrote, directed and produced in Chicago called Go For It (which incidentally was Gina Rodriguez’s first feature role). Her latest film is Endgame starring the precocious Manny from Modern Family, Rico Rodriguez, and Efren Ramirez from cult classic Napoleon Dynamite, Endgame is one of those irresistible competition, underdog, against-all-odds stories. Ramirez portrays the galvanizing Brownsville public elementary school teacher and chess afficionado, J.J. Guajardo, who in 1989, upon seeing his 6th grade class take an interest in his chess board, began to teach them on the regular. The class excelled and entered regional competitions, going on to enter and win state championships against schools with far more resources. Echoing the positives of disrupting a broke educational status quo with simply offering access to advanced mental cognition building tools, the film echoes another real life story and seminal Chicano film, Stand & Deliver.  Big difference; that movie was not directed by a Latino/a.

The film is world premiering at the Dallas International Film Festival April 12 &13. Distribution is yet to be confirmed for theatrical/VOD but stay tuned via the Facebook page.

NO MÁS BEBÉS

Directors/Producers: Renee Tajima-Peña, Virginia Espino
Associate Producer: Kate Trumbull-Valle
Executive Producers: Julie Parker Benello, Wendy Ettinger, Judith Helfland, Sally Jo Fiefer and Sandra Pedlow
U.S. Distributor: ITVS/Latino Public Broadcasting
Cinematographer: Claudio Rocha
Music: Bronwen Jones, additional music by Quetzal
Cast: Antonia Hernandez, Gloria Molina, Dolores Madrigal, Jovita Rivera, Consuelo Hermosillo
Social Media: Facebook

 Logline: An investigation of the sterilization of Mexican-American women at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center during the 1960s and 70s

6. Maria Figueroa at courthouse

Sadly, there is an appalling history in the United States of laws and policies authorizing sterilizations of poor women without their knowledge or consent for the “benefit of society”; Buck v. Bell (low-income white women in Virginia), Relf v. Weinberger (young African-American women in Alabama), and female inmates in California. This film focuses on the case of Latinas of Mexican origin in California in Madrigal v. Quilligan.  Shedding light on this horrific human rights violation, the film includes interviews with women who suffered this terrible ordeal and locked the memory away, along with former medical staff and the incredible lawyer who filed this suit forty years ago, Antonia Hernandez. A  long-time coming, supremely valuable and eye opening contextualization of the Chicano rights movement from the late 60s/70s as well as the current reproductive justice movement.

Renee, a proud Asian American, is a sister in the struggle to document the Latino community, and Virginia Espino, is a Latina LA born-and-raised historian. This is one of those Latina stories that really needs to be known and remembered this year which marks the 40th anniversary of the lawsuit (June 19).  It is ready to be unveiled and seen by as wide an audience as possible. Stay tuned to hear when the film will have its world premiere before its broadcast on Independent Lens in the fall.

NOW EN ESPAÑOL

Director: Andrea Meller
Producers: Aaron Woolf, Andrea Meller
Music: Camara Kambon
Cinematographer: Charlie Gruet
U.S. Distributor: PBS/Latino Public Broadcasting
Cast: Marabina Jaimes, Marcela Bordes, Gabriela Lopetegui, Ivette Gonzalez, Natasha Perez
Social Media: @NowenEspanol, website

Logline: Follows the trials and triumphs of the small group of Latina actresses who dub “Desperate Housewives” into Spanish.

Currently hitting the festival circuit in such reputable festivals as Santa Barbara, Chicago Latino Film Festival, CineFestival, ahead of its showing on PBS Voces, Now en Espanol is such an effective and distinct balance of humor, serious-ness and insider look by Chilean-American Andrea Meller.NowEnEspanol_Still1

Profiling Marcela Bordes, Ivette Gonzalez, Marabina Jaimes, Gabriela Lopetegui and Natasha Perez, the film is quite plainspoken and sympathetic about the struggle of the actor in Hollywood. Like the comedy fiction film (also directed by a woman!) In a World, by Lake Bell,  the film offers a rare behind the scenes and insight into the voice acting industry. Few actors make make careers out of this, others pick it up for income, but in the end it is a highly distinct skill to dub millions of shows.   It’s really fascinating perspective on the representation of Latinas onscreen and off. What I love most about this film on top of it being an important tool for dialogue and change, is that the filmmaker injects a whimsy tone (apropos Wisteria Lane) which makes sparking this conversation and call to action so much more effective.  You have no reason to miss this as it premieres on Friday, April 24, 2015, 10:00-11:00 p.m.  (check local listings) as part of VOCES, Latino Public Broadcasting’s arts and culture series on PBS. To get a taste of the ladies’ charm and humor check out the trailer:

OVARIAN PSYCOS

Director: Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski
Producers:Kate Trumbull-LaValle & Joanna Sokolowski
U.S. Distributor: ITVS (broadcast)
Cinematographer: Michael Raines
Music: Jimmy LaValle
Cast: Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade
Social Media: Facebook

04_Prod Still_Xela Mariachi PlazaLogline: Follows the story of an all woman of color bicycle brigade, the Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade. Based in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in Eastside Los Angeles, the Ova’s are a collective of unapologetic, politicized, young Latina women who host monthly bike rides every full moon for women and women-identified riders.

jkmontage3Ever since I interviewed Kate during her film’s Kickstarter, I’ve been madly anticipating this, so I’m pleased to scoop that it will be ready late Fall thanks to ITVS coming in with finishing funds. Protegees of esteemed film ladies like Renee Tajima Peña and B. Ruby Rich, the ladies have spent more than two years riding with the Ovas for this documentary.  Says Joanna, “There are lots of bike groups in LA, but what’s unique about the Ova’s is each ride has a socio-political theme and ends with a group discussion. They dialogue about everything from violence against women to the gentrification of Boyle Heights”.

The Ova’s s leadership is run by the collective who work “To Serve, not to Self Serve.  Credited as founder is activist and music artist, Xela de la X who formed this rad collective in 2011 with the mission to cycle for the purpose of healing, reclaim neighborhoods, and create safer streets for women on the Eastside.  Currently being edited the film should be ready for the Fall if not early next year.

In case you are wondering Trumbull-LaValle is two generations apart from family in Northern Mexico.  Which I only add as proof that last names and color of skin are not indicators for knowing whether someone identifies as Latino/a or not.

Which leads me to reiterate, I really hope these 5 are not the only Latina directors with films coming out this year.   Calling out an A.P.B. to Latina directors with a feature length film (fiction especially) in production or post, holler at your girl chicanafromchicago@gmail.com!