Posted by Terry on August 24, 2011

Since our 5th festival ended on May 8th, I’ve been busy trying to wrap up that festival while already starting to program our 6th festival which will be May 2-6, 2012.

In June, I attended 2 of the largest shorts festivals in North America: the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto and the Palm Springs International ShortFest.  With other films that distributors have given me and ones that I’ve requested or accepted for consideration, I’ve already watched 337 short films to date.  Out of the 132 films I saw in Toronto, I picked 10, the lowest number in the 5 years I’ve been attending that festival.  Four of those 10 films also screened at Palm Springs where I saw another 140 films and picked 25 of them.

As a result, I’ve already selected 35 films before submissions even open on Sept 15 and close on Dec 15.  They come from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  I hope to choose more at the Edmonton International Film Festival and Calgary International Film Festival in September, and I’d also like to attend 1 or 2 more festivals by Feb.  I also hope to receive a record number of submissions and hope that I’ll select a record number from them as well (5 films were chosen from submissions in 2011, the same number as the previous year).  While we had 56 films in our regular program in 2011 and 6 more in our Oscar-nominated packages for a total of 62 films, I’m hoping to have 70-90 films in our 2012 line-up.

What kind of film am I looking for that I would accept so few from the Worldwide Short Film Festival which screened 275 films from 4200 submissions and the Palm Springs International ShortFest which screened 331 films from 3000 submissions?  After I watch a film, I ask myself the following questions while readily acknowledging that the answers I come up with are subjective and are not necessarily the answers that others, perhaps with more qualifications than I have, would arrive at.

  1. Is it a good story, i.e. does it have an empathetic protagonist(s) who takes action pursuing an identifiable goal while the stakes (conflict) increase until meaningful change (resolution) is reached?  While this emphasis on story is not surprising with narrative films, it is also a characteristic of the documentaries I enjoy the most.
  2. Is it beautifully crafted, i.e. can I watch it dozens of times and still enjoy it?
  3. Is it memorable, i.e. can I remember it clearly among the hundreds of short films I watch every year?
  4. Does it offer an insight into a world that I’m not familiar with or a fresh perspective on a familiar one?
  5. Does it fit into a package in our school or public programs?  My process is to pick films on the basis of the 4 questions above and only then decide where they will fit into the program.  Some films may be chosen that don’t quite merit an unreserved “yes” to all 4 questions above because I need that film to fill a particular package.  I never refuse a film that merits a “yes” to all 4 questions above only because I don’t have a package that it fits into.  Instead, I will create a package or reshuffle films and packages so that it can be included.  When in doubt, I rely heavily on the rest of the festival team for their input, particularly the teachers on our festival team (Mike Bass from Hythe Regional School, Dave Watson from Swanavon Elementary School, and Adrian Tanasichuk from Peace Wapiti Academy) when deciding which films to include in the school program.
  6. Is it a Peace Region film, i.e. has it been shot in the region encompassing northwest Alberta and northeast British Columbia, or has it been produced or directed by a filmmaker in this region?  As the largest film festival in the Peace Region, we are in a unique position to support Peace Region filmmakers and to showcase Peace Region short films.  These films may be chosen even if they don’t quite merit an unreserved “yes” to the first 4 questions above.

How do I tell if I’ve chosen well?

  1. I sit in the audience or stand at the back of almost every screening at our festival and listen and watch as the audience responds to each short film.  It is very easy to tell when I have chosen well and when I haven’t from the collective energy in the theatre.
  2. Of the 56 films in our regular program in 2011, only 2 did not receive a vote from audience members as the best short film in its package of 5-11 short films.
  3. Questionnaire responses from audience members who rate their film package as boring, somewhat boring, fair, good, or great.  The overwhelming response is that the packages are good or great.

This feedback lets me know how well I’ve done with the films I’ve chosen, but there’s no way to know how many films I’ve turned down that our audience might have enjoyed seeing.  Ultimately, the impulse that drove me to start the festival and keeps me coming back every year to do it again comes from seeing a great film and saying to myself, “People have to see this film.”  My reward is when they love it as much as I do.


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