April 20, 2017
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New North Bay Festival
by Joanne Butcher
'Havana Motorclub' (2015, Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt) was shown as part of the new North Bay Film Festival. photo: courtesy BJ Perlmutt
I RECENTLY DROVE OUT TO BENICIA,
a waterfront town in the East Bay, for a movie called
, to salve some homesickness for my Miami/Caribbean homeland. A group of about 16 of us enjoyed beans and rice, a presentation about traveling to Cuba, and the highly entertaining Spanish-language movie about fanaticism in its most attractive form: car enthusiasts in Havana trying to restore the lost sport of race car/ drag car racing.
It turns out that this screening is part of a larger plan to show films year round, as well as mount a film festival in October, which begs a question. Why, in a truly over-saturated market, start a new film festival?
At his 2013 Sundance Press Conference, Robert Redford said: "There's a festival in every neighborhood. I don't know about the overriding value except that we'll get the chance to see more films." I hate to disagree with Mr. Redford, but it seems to me that the rise of the film festival is exactly what we need to expand the experience of sharing film and community and to have a place to talk about film and filmmaking.
So what about this new festival, the
North Bay Art & Film Festival
? Well it remains to be seen.
According to data compiled by Stephen Follows in 2013, 70% of the world’s film festivals take place in North America BUT 39% of film festivals only run once. His 2016 update on film festivals
suggests these numbers may have dropped somewhat.
, a site for filmmakers to submit their films to festivals, lists 1917 current film festivals worldwide, a whooping 831 of them in the US.
The lovely Benicia Victorian which houses the North Bay Film Festival. photo: NBFF
Having created a three-day film festival myself, which only ran twice (!), and being involved in the launch of the now-major Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, I have some experience with these challenges, the top three of which are budget, budget and budget.
Aside from this, the first issue is finding a location. The cost of renting a venue is a major one and, even if a festival manages to pay those bills once, it’s hard to do it a second time! The second is the business model.
“What business model?” I hear you say. And that’s another biggest problem, IMHO (in my humble opinion). As with a lot of film-related stuff, passion comes first and business plan comes, well, sometimes not at all! And finally, as with a lot of filmmaking, people have no idea the amount of hard work it takes to do something like putting on a film festival.
The second year of the festival I created in Miami Beach was called The Latin American and Caribbean Film Festival. Our opening night film was the screening of a 35mm film from Mexico that was being shipped from a festival in Panama. BTW, shipping is a HUGE part of Festival costs.
I had been tracking the film’s shipping information for a good week and, as time ticked by to our big opening, the more concerned I became. Eventually, it became clear that the film was not going to arrive in time with out some help. Somehow, with a few phone calls, I managed to get it onto a Panamanian military plane for delivery. Phew!
But it was down to the wire. We were following the print as it landed at Miami airport, was transferred to a truck, and as it left Miami for Miami Beach. As the truck pulled up, my whole Festival team was outside ready to run the print off the truck and into the projection booth.
We opened the huge cardboard package in the theater lobby. And as the cardboard fell away, we saw inside. There were no print—only a pile of plumbing parts. The driver had handed us the wrong package!
To this day I cannot remember what happened next. After all the stress of the run up to the festival, with only minutes to get ahold of the driver, get the right package and thread the film into the projector for our big opening—a packed house of 466 people, my brain just shut down.
And yet, I am a true believer in film festivals.
First of all, I believe that film festivals fill our need for watching films IN COMMUNITY. 20 years ago, I watched all my movies at the movie theatre. So did you, probably. There was an element of community that was part of those film-going experiences, especially at art houses.
I have a great memory of going to an all-night Beat Generation film event at a famous—now defunct—cinema club in London, and watching a bunch of crazy films including “The Man with The Golden Arm” (1955) that I have absolutely never forgotten.
There were art houses in every major metropolitan center. Indeed, I ran one myself on Miami Beach, the Alliance Cinema, during the 1990s. We had film fans drive from three counties away to see our cutting edge, foreign and independent films.
Highlights included “Jamon, Jamon” (1992, a Spanish dramedy by Bigas Luna and debuting Penélope Cruz); the audience breaking out into spontaneous applause at every screening of “The Celluloid Closet” (1995); the first run of one of my all-time favorite films about filmmaking “The Watermelon Woman” (1996); the films of Derek Jarman; Nick Broomfield’s documentaries; and so many more. We created a community experience where audiences could connect and discuss contemporary films and the themes they addressed.
30 years later, hundreds of one and two screen independent art houses have been decimated by the multiplexes, the changes in the economy and, last but not least, the new technology of digital distribution. My baby, Alliance Cinema, was actively targeted by the Regal Cinemas chain, the building’s landlord, and the rising rent prices in a once-blighted neighborhood brought back to life by Alliance Cinema and other art venues.
IMHO, there is an inherent value for filmmakers of having their film screened at a local festival, notably that they see their film with an audience that is NOT made up of their friends. The only way any artist can grow is to see their work viewed by an audience. By being able to discuss their work with film fans, they learn about what it is they are ACTUALLY saying, as opposed to what they THINK they are saying. Filmmakers can hear the response to dialogue, laughter (or lack of it), and emotional response.
This year I met some lovely filmmakers at Sundance who discovered there that people disliked their film. They had made a film that challenged our perceptions of reality. While I LOVED having my brain messed with, they learned that a majority of the audience disliked feeling duped.
Admittedly, it is unlikely that, at a local film festival, filmmakers will either sell anything or even meet anyone who can influence their career in any way. But it is also an opportunity to meet other filmmakers, who are also screening work, and to put themselves in an environment that is enthusiastic and supportive of film. It’s great to get some outside validation and perhaps the excitement will offer some motivation to move on to making the next film.
“I don't look upon our North Bay Art & Film Festival as just another film festival,” Carter Rankin, founder of festival, put it. “I see it more as an opportunity for storytellers getting the opportunity to share their specific story. No region of the world, in my mind, has a monopoly on good stories…”
The North Bay Film Festival will take place October 8 & 9, 2016, in Benicia, CA. Submissions are now open. Final Deadline (August 15, 2016): $50 per online submission. Submission Eligibility: All submissions must have been completed after January 1, 2013.
Joanne Butcher is a freelance writer and producer who can be reached at her
Posted on Jul 02, 2016 - 11:03 AM