Saturday, September 3, 2011

If You Like Sports of Any Kind, Here’s a Festival for You

By James Latham

Pat Battistini runs the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival here in the San Fernando Valley.  The festival’s third annual screenings will be at the El Portal Theater on November 11 – 13th, the same time we will be at the Whitefire Theatre.  Altogether, it should be a great filmgoing weekend in the Valley.

The All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival promotes the art of screenwriting and filmmaking in the world of sports and competition.  It is one of only three festivals in the U.S. solely dedicated to this genre, and the only one west of the Mississippi.  I wanted to talk with Pat about the festival to learn more about it.

James Latham:  What led you to develop the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival (ASLAFF)?

Pat Battistini:  I’ve always enjoyed sports films and watching “Real Sports” on HBO, so I was surprised there wasn’t a festival solely dedicated to this genre.  After toying around with the idea for a couple years, it finally came down to one of those things that, if no one else is going to do it, I need to. 

JL:  What background prepared you for developing the ASLAFF?

PB:  I played football and wrestled in college; then coached college football for four years.  After realizing that I really wanted to work in film and TV, I transitioned to the “biz.”  This work has included writing, directing, producing, and editing eight short films of my own.  Also, from submitting and going to festivals, I learned a lot about how they work.  My friend Denise Gossett, who runs Shriekfest, also has been very helpful with the many challenges of developing a film festival.

JL:  The VFF is pretty wide-ranging in terms of genre, while your films focus on sports competition.  But there’s a huge range of possibilities within that one category.  What are some of the more innovative films you’ve screened?

PB:  We’ve had some very surprising and interesting films about events that I didn’t even know existed.  The documentary that won our first year was Bicycle Dreams.  It’s about racing across America, coast to coast, on bikes…in less than twelve days.  The riders at the front of the race sleep as little as 90 minutes a day.  It’s an incredible feat.  Another documentary we screened was about solar powered cars racing across the continent of Australia.  Others that were just as interesting were about Iraq’s Women’s Rugby Team (scarves and all), Beer Pong, and Freediving.  These films are a lot more fun to watch than people expect.

JL:  What are the latest trends in the films you’ve screened, for example in their subject matter, styles, or production technologies?

PB:  We have a lot of boxing, martial arts, and mixed martial arts showing up this year.  It has really exploded as a popular sport, thus more people are making stories about it.  As far as styles go, a lot of it is driven by new technologies.  Because decent cameras keep getting smaller and more economical, we have a lot of DPs and athletes strapping them on to themselves and getting into places a lot of people could never go.  For example, we’ve had POVs on surfboards riding through amazing waves, or on bicycles and motorcycles ripping through city streets and the countryside.

JL:  Your filmmakers focus on competition in its many mental and physical forms.  What have you learned about competition from this festival?

PB:  No matter what the subject matter is, the will to finish or win is incredible.  We had a doc on junior high school kids competing to build a robot that could play soccer.  They were happy with the fact that they built this incredible machine, but they wanted it to be able to score too.  We also had another film about athletes running a 100-mile race through the mountains in less than a day.  Getting first place wasn’t the most important thing.  It was the drive of just being able to finish that made these people train so long and hard.

JL:  Los Angeles is a large media and sports hub, which I assume provides a lot of local people for you, such as filmmakers, sports professionals, and audiences.  What types of filmmakers tend to screen the most at your festival?  Film students, sports professionals, fans? 

PB:  Like most films, the filmmaker is connected to the project through his / her passion.  Thus, I think that about 75% of the filmmakers are sports fans who have been dying to tell their story for a while and the other 25% stumble on a story that they feel connected to and want to share.

JL:  What are the demographics of your typical audiences?

PB:  You would think it would be male dominant, but it’s been pretty even, partly because some stories are about women’s sports, such as professional football and roller derby.  As for the ages of our audience, it’s pretty much as if you would look up into the stands of a high school football game.  It’s so diverse because everyone loves a good sports story.

JL:  What luck have you had attracting distributors to screenings?

PB:  I’ve actually found it more difficult than I thought, but we do occasionally have distributors approach our filmmakers.  However, the deals haven’t been very beneficial to the producers of the films, thus they’ve passed.

JL:  Do you or any of your associates attend many other film festivals?  Which is your favorite one, besides your own, and, of course, The Valley Film Festival?  What makes a great festival?

PB:  We try to go to more and more festivals each year.  The folks at the Bare Bones Festival in Oklahoma are so warm and friendly.  Palm Beach has a great fest, too.  But I think my favorite so far has been Austin, where the panelists, guest speakers, and honorees have been so approachable.  They aren’t shuffled in and out like in a lot of festivals in L.A.  I remember one time I was sitting on the curb outside a restaurant eating and Herschel Weingrod (writer of Trading Places, Kindergarten Cop, Brewster’s Millions) just came up and sat down next to me to chat and eat.  That doesn’t happen around here.

JL:  There are only a few other film festivals that specialize in sports.  Have you looked into possibly collaborating with any of them in some mutually beneficial way?  Regardless of that, what do you think are some general areas (if any) where small independent film festivals might sensibly collaborate?

PB:  We are collaborating with the Federation Internationale Cinema Television Sportifs out of Milan and the Georgian Bay (Canada) Extreme Film Festival.  I would like to work more with them in exchanging films to help the filmmakers get their work out there.  Social networking is another area.  I think the smaller fests (ourselves included) should start cross promoting more through Facebook, Twitter, etc.

JL:  What elements, if any, would you like to change about your festival; for instance to expand upon?

PB:  My biggest goal right now is to get more people in the theater.  L.A. has so many fests that you can call in favors only so much with your friends.  Premieres are easy to get people to attend, but three days worth of films is a tough thing to do to continually get people out to watch films.  My other endeavor is to give a Sports Achievement Award to actors / athletes who have made contributions to the sports world through film / cinema.

JL:  What parting words of advice would you have for filmmakers who want to submit to your festival?

PB: Don’t be afraid to show us your work.  We love any kind of film or documentary that touches the element of physical and/or mental challenges.  Your film on the haunted baseball stadium will be just as entertaining as the documentary on a junior high spelling bee.  Also, we do our best to get as many films in the fest as possible.  If we have to add screening times, we will!


The regular submissions deadline for the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival has passed, but latecomers have until September 21st.

For more on The Valley Film Festival, visit our website or Facebook page.