Sunday, September 18, 2011

Countdown to VFF11...T-Minus 54 Days: Curating a Festival Program

Post-It notes are our BFF's
For the last 3 months, more than 25 volunteers have dedicated their time to view short films, in a group with their peers, or watch features at home. We started meeting once a week, then, as the submission deadline approached, we added a second day. By the final weeks, we were running marathon screenings from 10:00am to 10:00pm (or longer). And, just in case you were wondering, we watched every film from start to finish.

Over the months, films blend in with one another, which is why filling out the short synopsis on our application is so crucial. It allows us to quickly scan the paperwork, reacquaint ourselves with the film, and remind ourselves what stood out. We take extensive notes, too, so these help as well. 

Now that everything has been viewed enough times, by enough people, the fun begins: Programming!

This last week we spread out every short and feature we were considering across the floor, labeled each with a Post-It that included the running time (rounded up), genre, and any special features. Then, we started pairing films programs we discovered we could build: Alumni Shorts and Future Cult Classics -- y'know, the ones that break tradition, follow their own rules, and are ambitious in a bad-ass sort of way. Bravo!

As we tallied up total running times per program, and broke down our screening schedule for 2011, it became real clear, real fast, that we needed to eliminate even more films. Sigh. This really is the hardest part. And this is where screening time plays a huge role -- if we love 4 films, and one is 30 minutes long, and the others are 10 minutes or less, we're going to share the love and program the 3 shorter films.

This weekend, we've been watching feature films, some for the 3rd and 4th time.  What makes us choose one feature over the other at this stage? There's no right or wrong answer here, in the end, we're not able to screen some awesome films because we simply don't have the time. We take our personal feelings off the table and try to be as objective as possible -- what would appeal to a general audience? Or, do we have enough of a fan base for a niche genre?

Our goal is to be fully programmed, alert the filmmakers, and have our website updated to unveil our program by October 1st.  Will we make that deadline? Stay tuned.

The 2011 Valley Film Festival will take place November 11-13 at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.

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