The Great Festival Rebound of 2020: Chapter Two - The Filmmakers

Editor, News; Toronto, Canada (@Mack_SAnarchy)
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For us as writers things really start to go full swing around February and March when Sundance and SXSW happens. What happens there has an impact on how the rest of the festival season goes. When the pandemic hit full swing some very anticipated titles were suddenly in limbo doubt arose whether or not we would see them at all last year. But that’s just us and our very selfish attitude of, “What do we write about now?”. All of that is insignificant when compared to what a filmmaker must be going through when you’re ready to show your film to the World. What happens when the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be another train coming back at you on the same track?
 
If we as a film site live and breathe by the film festival schedule then the circuit itself is the very source of life essence for a filmmaker, if not simply life. In this second chapter of a series of articles about how the festival rebounded after stalling out in the first quarter of year we talk to filmmakers whose films premiered in 2020. 
 
We learn about some films that were scheduled to premiere early in the year as the pandemic reared its ugly head and what impact that had on the filmmakers. But it wasn’t just premieres that were affected as well. We don’t think about the films that were in production at the time, that had to be halted while local industries had to come up with new protocols to continue working. 
 
We hit on the emotional and morale lifting rewards that come with having your film seen by an audience of your ilk, your kin or your peers. How does that work when you cannot do that together, in person? There is a lamenting of not being able to share the experience of watching their film with an audience and feeding off of that energy.
 
We return to a key theme. Community community community. People people people. We miss it and we miss them. We miss hanging out with our friends. We miss hanging out with our peers. They may seem like simple things like interacting with the audience right after the screening or grabbing drinks later on. But now they're all gone. How do you ‘Sally Field’ that question?
 
We also share about the attitude of resiliance among our filmmakers; it would not be a question of where but of when their film would premiere on the circuit. It may not have been ideal but may we suggest that there was much needed closure on part of the filmmakers? That rather than sit for a year they had to get their film out there and complete that chapter of the filmmaking process? The rise of the circuit out of the ashes of the first quarter brought a collective sigh of relief, that we could get this done, that audiences would see their movies. 
 
This chapter, we will learn what festivals did well to include the filmmakers in their events. We know that festival directors will be taking notes while reading this article and while a couple names do pop up more often than others we hope that for however long we have to keep doing it ‘this way’ festivals will strive to improve the ‘experience’ of film watching and filmmaker inclusion in their events. 
 
We’re not even getting into the business side of things here. As a filmmaker, with your producers, you decide where to put all of your eggs. Which festival or festivals give you the best chance of being seen by the right people who will buy your film for distribution? That’s already a tough gig. Conservative estimates put it, bare minimum, at around 300 submissions for a week’s worth of midnighter and maybe some vanguard program spots at one of the top tier, high profile film festivals. 
 
The same if you are an indie production looking for sales and distribution. Whether or not you have any representation by the time you have your world premiere, if your film doesn’t play then, what is your next move? You’ve placed your bets and now you have to scramble to find other key festivals who are still open for submissions and try to get in there. Perhaps that’s something we’ll have to ask our friends in sales and distribution before the next chapter gets published later this week. 
 
Back to the order of business. My challenge this chapter was not to get answers. Though I was probably becoming a bit of a nag to a couple white whales on my list I have known a number of these filmmakers as friends for any number of years so they were easy to approach. I was able to track down others and take suggestions for other filmmakers to talk to with help from this same community. 
 
Turns out the real trick was to get equal representation with our filmmakers. So I bent the rules a little bit to get as many female filmmakers onto this list as I could. I made exceptions for filmmakers like my friends Jimena Monteoliva, whose role in this chapter is as a producer, and Sandra Arriagada and her part in the upcoming anthology APPS which had market and WIP screenings at co-production events in Sitges and Blood Window. 
 
I also asked our own Izzy Lee and local to me filmmaker Ashlea Wessell to contribute as short filmmakers. Ashlea’s short films on the circuit and apart from her new short film Weirdo premiering last year she took part in the Frontieres co-production market last Summer. Izzy is fam and in a good year it's hard to keep track of how many short films she has on the circuit. Her latest Disco Graveyard premiered in 2020 so I sought her input as well. Izzy was also going to make her first feature length film in 2020 but due to the pandemic the project was stopped; she’d lost so much more than a couple of festival laurels. Goddamnit she was close! 
 
With all of that being said we should probably get on to the order of business. So here we go, the filmmakers. 
 

Cody Calahan and David Koechner on set of Vicious Fun

Off the hop, what is/are your film(s) and when did your film(s) (finally) premiere in 2020?

Cody Calahan (CC)/Chad Archibald (CA): The Oak Room premiered at Fantasia in August and Vicious Fun Premiered at Sitges in October, where it opened the Panorama Fantastic section of the festival.

Jill Gevargizian (JG) - The Stylist -Fantastic Fest (world), Sitges (international), FrightFest (UK)

Elza Kephart (EK) - Slaxx. The Fantasia Film Festival in August 2020.

Lex Ortega (LO) - I world premiered my second feature called "Animales Humanos" at Morbido FIlm Fest 2020.

Jesse Blanchard (JB) - Frank & Zed, October 10th, 2020 as part of the Nightstream Film Festival

Reese Eveneshen (RE) - For the Sake of Vicious, September 2020

Gabriel Carrer (GC) - We were lucky enough that the Fantasia International Film Festival hosted the world premiere of “For the Sake of the Vicious”.

Bao Tran (BT) - My film THE PAPER TIGERS world premiered at Fantasia International Film Festival.

Amelia Moses (AM) - 'Bleed With Me' premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival in August and 'Bloodthirsty' premiered at Fantastic Fest in October. Both virtually!

Natasha Kermani (NK) - Our film is called LUCKY, and while we were supposed to have our festival premiere at SxSW, we ended up first screening with Fantasia - which was really lovely and a great way to introduce the film to the world.

Izzy Lee (IL) - At the Chattanooga Film Festival, virtually, in late May. I was going to attend the physical fest in April, but we all know what happened. Thankfully, CFF did a super-cool job with their Microsoft partnership with rad events — it was a great success, really fun.

Ashelea Wessel (AW) - My latest short, WEIRDO premiered virtually at HORRIBLE IMAGININGS in September. When we started submitting, COVID had already started to spread in North America and the first festivals like SXSW had already taken the hit, so upcoming fests were beginning to work on figuring out virtual screenings and the like. Some held out hope for the possibility of a live fest but I think most of those dreams got dashed pretty fast.

Andrew Hunt (AH) - Spare Parts - my second feature. I directed my first film 10 years ago and it essentially was the start of Raven Banner, so I spent these last 10 years co-managing the company, helping others get their films made, releasing other people's films, etc. So I was really looking forward to travelling to festivals with my own film in tow after all these years, but nooooo... Covid shit all over that. But regardless it's had a good festival run without me present. It had its World Premiere at BIFAN in July.

Luciana Garazza (LG) - Scavenger - My film premiere at “FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE CINE DE MAR DEL PLATA” in November 2019, but the COVID situation delayed our local premiere here in Cordoba. Then we were expecting to be able to premiere in Brazil at FANTASPOA FILM FESTIVAL but the same happened there (COVID restrictions). Finally we premiere in Europe at BUTFF in the Netherlands in 2020.

Sandra Arriagada (SA) - An anthology called "APPS" that we filmed with Lucio Rojas, José Miguel Zúñiga y Camilo León, near the end of 2019 and that we planned to release right now in January. Now we are resigning ourselves to a possible online premiere, if there is no effective vaccine, maybe in October.

Justin McConnell (JMcC) - CLAPBOARD JUNGLE first premiered in early June at Canadian Film Fest, which partnered with Superchannel to broadcast it on pay cable across Canada in a one-time-only screening. It was a very unique situation in that it also came with a broadcast sale/window for 2021, so that was a huge financial cherry on top. That's the kind of thing that before this didn't ever come directly from a festival selection. Blood in the Snow had the same partnership later in the year, and I think it's been a very good opportunity for Canadian filmmakers given the huge change in how things are being done.

Jimena Monteoliva (JM) - Fortunately we were able to premiere LAVA (by Ayar Blasco) and TO KILL A DRAGON (by yours truly) in 2019. For 2020 we had to premiere DEEPER WOUNDS by Ramiro García Bogliano. We were invited to premiere at BAFICI but the festival was canceled! So we waited all year for new festivals to come but systematically they were being cancelled or online and we weren't sure about going with that option for a new movie… but finally La Habana Film Festival invited us as well and as it was a hybrid festival we agreed and just got premiered last week. We are beyond happy about that. Also, we were supposed to finish the shooting of my new movie, WELCOME TO HELL with the hopes of sending it to festivals by the end of 2020, but the shooting was cut! We are now crossing fingers to see if we are able to finish the shooting next February, more than a year later.

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