At the New York Film Academy, students in our filmmaking program learn from the best. Starting on day one through hands-on experience, students learn how to write, shoot, direct, and edit their films. At the end of each filmmaking course, NYFA students have the opportunity to screen their films, open to the cast, crew, friends, and family.
Students don’t have to stop there though. There are many opportunities for students to submit their films to festivals. We have some tips for you to help you get into film festivals.
When you are submitting to a film festival — it doesn’t matter if it’s big or small — pay close attention to all of the submission rules and regulations of the festival committee. Each festival has its own specific set of rules, and it’s important to show the festival committee that you can follow direction.
In an interview with “The Huffington Post,” Elliot Grove, independent film producer and founder of the London Raindance Film Festival, said that a lot of filmmakers end up annoying film festival programmers.
Make sure you read all the rules and regulations for submission before you pick up that phone or send an email to the festival committee. You’ll also want to make sure that you understand the overall tone of the festival, and that the work that you are submitting is reflective of that.
When it comes down to it, there are many factors that determine whether a film will be accepted into a film festival or rejected. Think about quality of the screenplay, subject matter, color correction, and sound mixing when you are submitting a film.
You should also try and submit to film festivals early to avoid paying any late fees. Each film festival has three waves of submissions: early, regular, and late. Prices during early deadlines are at their lowest, whereas submitting late could cost you a ton of money.
Pick the Right Festival
Again, it comes back to paying attention to details. Each film festival has its own focus and it’s important that you understand that focus before you start submitting your material. When you are looking at the different types of film festivals, you need to think about the genres that will be there and your audience. Also, does the festival have a theme for that year? These are all important factors that you should think about when you are picking the festival.
Test the Film Out Before Submitting
Strive to make your film as perfect as possible before you submit it to a film festival. If you feel like something is off, or something in the film could be improved, fix it before you send it off. We know you want to get your film finalized so you can see the audience’s reaction and receive some gratification, but impatience leads to mistakes.
Don’t be afraid to do a live screening with a test audience. You may need a venue, projection and sound equipment, but you’ll be able to watch the audience react to your film and receive their feedback instantly.
You may be able to tweak your film based on the audience’s positive feedback and criticism. It’s extra work for you to do before submitting it to a film festival, but in the end, it would be worth it to do a test screening.
Despite being one of the youngest events in the industry, the Tribeca Film Festival continues to draw millions of filmmakers, artists, and enthusiastic audience members eager to take part in the celebration. Thousands of documentaries, independent films, shorts, and many other projects are submitted in hopes of taking home an award and gaining recognition.
With more than 12 days of discussions, premiers, and more to enjoy, it’s easy to see why we all look forward to this great festival each year. Tribeca Film Festival 2017 is now in full swing, which means it’s the perfect time to round up a few of the many reasons why you should be excited about this year’s gathering:
Film Shares The Spotlight
For 15 years the Tribeca Film Festival has given countless independent filmmakers a chance to show off their hard work. While this event is still very much about film, this year the decision was made to cut the number of film features by 20 percent, leaving less than 100 films to compete. This was done to make room for other types of content not normally given equal attention at other big events.
One of the areas that is being expanded is the television program. This year’s Tribeca attendees will get to see large-profile TV debuts like National Geographic’s “Genius” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Other Tribeca TV premiers generating buzz include indie variety show “The EyeSlicer,” and HBO’s “Chris Gethard: Career Suicide.”
Also exciting is Tribeca’s virtual reality and multimedia program. Ever since it was introduced five years ago, TFF’s VR dimension has served as a place where VR filmmakers and developers could unveil their work. This year Tribeca is featuring a number of VR projects made by both VR veterans and newcomers to the medium — including Kathryn Bigelow’s first VR film, “The Protectors.”
A whopping 78 films are set to make their world premieres at this year’s Tribeca festival. There’s no better festival out there when it comes to the number of projects that will finally be shown to audiences for the first time. Among that list are a number of premiers that we’re especially excited to finally see.
One of the most anticipated films is “Aardvark,” starring Zachary Quinto, Jenny Slate, and Jon Hamm. The story, which is about a mentally ill man falling in love with a person who might be a hallucination, sounds perfect for fans of movies like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Other film premiers that have people talking are comedy-drama “Flower,” starring Zoey Deutch and Adam Scott; biography-drama “Dabka,” starring Al Pacino and Evan Peters; and documentary “The Death And Life of Marsha P. Johnson,” by Oscar-nominated David France.
Plenty of TV shows will also be making their world premiers. A definite must-see is Spike TV documentary series “I Am Heath Ledger,” which celebrates the late actor’s life and accomplishments by showing footage of interviews, home movies, and more.
Be sure to check out Tribeca’s film guide to see all the narratives, features, and more set to make their first viewing.
Awesome List of Speakers & Guests
One of the best things about the Tribeca Film Festival is the people who get invited to serve as speakers, panelists, Q&A guests, and even moderators. These stars come from a wide variety of industries to celebrate film as well as other forms of art.
This year’s list of guests includes Paul Feig, Bruce Springsteen, Noah Baumbach, Lena Dunham, Barbra Streisand, Alejandro G. Inarritu, Kathryn Bigelow, Johnny Rotten, Common, Jon Favreau, and even Kobe Bryant to talk about working with animator Glen Keane on a short film. Moderators include Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Robert Rodriguez, and Scarlett Johansson.
The competition section will also feature a jury of accomplished actors and filmmakers. They include: Peter Fonda, Amy Berg, Diane Lane, Amy Heckerling, Christina Ricci, Priyanka Chopra, Barbara Kopple, Willem Dafoe and Melanie Lynskey
A Celebration of Interactive Entertainment
There’s going to be a lot of film and TV show watching in the 12 days that the Tribeca festival spans. The last weekend, however, followers of perhaps the newest and most innovative form of storytelling get to enjoy a celebration known as the Tribeca Games Festival.
This festival-within-a-festival puts the spotlight on video games and their ability to immerse people through a combination of art, storytelling, and gameplay. Attendees will get a first look at a number of anticipated titles, including Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series.” A number of renowned game developers will be around to discuss their design process while making their hit titles.
Best of all, the games festival will conclude with keynote conversations by two of the most prolific storytellers in the industry. They include Hideo Kojima of “Metal Gear Solid” fame along with Ken Levine, the writer and director behind the atmospheric “BioSHock” series.
Now that more industries and artists are exploring virtual reality technology, they are also showing off their work and products at conferences and festivals. One of the best ways to keep up with what is going on in any industry is attending events such as these where you can hear from the pros, take workshops, see films and test equipment and new products. While there aren’t many VR-only festivals, several of the major film and entertainment festivals are devoting time and space to VR practitioners. Here is New York Film Academy’s roundup of festivals to put on your list:
From the website: “The Virtual Reality Festival (VRF) is a community based organization dedicated to the development and expansion of virtual reality, augmented reality and other immersive entertainment technologies for use by both studio and independent artists, technologists, content creators, game designers and their audiences.”
Found by Christopher Crescitelli in 2014, VR Fest is a fully-curated touring Virtual Reality Film and Immersive Technology Festival. The festival co-sponsors with Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC) and MaiTai Global on a the global VR competition called the Extreme Virtual Reality Challenge, where VR/AR pioneers and entrepreneurs compete for a cash prize and a chance to display their work at the VR Lounge on Sir Richard Branson’s private Necker Island during the XTC Finals Event.
While the Tribeca Film Festival has film screenings, musical performances, and other events around Manhattan, the future of filmmaking is discussed and innovative work is on display at the Hub. In addition to Storyscapes, which features VR films, the Hub is also where you can learn about the intersection of art and technology in media, gaming, music, and documentary filmmaking.
On the festival’s website, Festival Director Genna Terranova explains, “Our experiential program is what happens when artists create wildly different adventures that go outside traditional methods. Here, stories are not passively watched, they are actually ‘experienced’ — you are a participant. Today, virtual reality offers a new landscape for creating worlds and stories. At its best it can be a powerful vehicle for magically transportive explorations that test the limits of our imaginations and psyches.”
Founded in 1987 in Austin, Texas, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. The SXSW Conference provides networking and educational opportunities as well as entertainment.
From the website: “Featuring a variety of tracks that allow attendees to explore what’s next in the worlds of entertainment, culture, and technology, SXSW proves that the most unexpected discoveries happen when diverse topics and people come together.”
The 2017 festival sessions included panels on funding VR projects, production in extreme environments, how VR and documentary filmmaking connect, using VR in live events and for global engagement, and several mentoring sessions as well as demos and screenings.
Kaleidoscope produces events around the world that showcase the best in virtual reality from independent artists. Each season Kaleidoscope produces curated, traveling exhibitions of work from VR creators around the world. The 2017 Showcase Vol. 2 will be organized by local VR creators in the following cities: New York, London, Berlin, Sydney, Kyiv, Los Angeles, Paris, Leipzig, Seoul, and Hong Kong.
The New Frontier section of Sundance features innovations in film and art. VR filmmaking has had an increasing presence at the festival. In addition to showings of new VR films, there are now panels about crafting narratives and audience interaction with VR films. On the festival website, you can also find a selection of films that were featured at the 2016 festival that can be viewed using Cardboard. From the website: “The line up represents some of the most compelling narrative and documentary VR storytelling being independently created today.”
Imagine a film festival that you can attend from your own living room. That’s what the Cyberia Film Festival does for VR fans and filmmakers. The free, three-day festival allowed viewers from around the world to watch scheduled films and participate in Q&A sessions with filmmakers without having to travel anywhere.
From the website: “The CYBERIA Film Festival is the first conventionally-styled filmfest to be held in a Virtual Reality environment. CYBERIA seeks to explore a new frontier in cinema appreciation, reaching across the globe to bring together an audience as diverse as its content.”
Held in Amsterdam this year, VR Days Europe is a four-day festival that includes workshops, lectures, and demos that explore everything from feature film storytelling to business applications for VR filmmaking. The festival currently has an open call for the October 2017 event.
The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) launched its VR program, DIFFerent REALITY, at the 2016 festival. The DIFFerent REALITY program offers festival goers an international selection of VR films, including fiction, documentary, and animation. There is also a business hub of the festival that includes panels with VR creators, interactive installations, and the chance to network. On the festival’s website, DIFF’s Chairman, Abdulhamid Juma commented: “We have always been committed to discovering new talent and original storytelling to present exciting content that will entertain, educate and inspire DIFF audiences. VR gives filmmakers a new, immersive medium which is an exciting new direction for cinema and our compelling and engaging line-up of VR films push the technological boundaries of storytelling. We are extremely excited to bring some of the best VR experiences to DIFF this December and invite film fans to experience the future of storytelling firsthand.”
Now in its 25th year, the Raindance Film Festival is the largest and most important independent film festival in the UK. In January 2016, the festival announced it was launching Raindance VR, a section of the festival dedicated to VR filmmaking. The 2017 festival takes place from Sept. 21 to Oct. 2 and is accepting submissions.
Festival organizers see VR presenting opportunities for low-budget independent filmmakers.
Raindance Founder Elliot Grove says, “We believe VR is the most exciting change in cinema and filmmaking since the onslaught of internet distribution which started with Youtube in 2005.”
FIVARS is the first Canadian festival dedicated solely to VR storytelling and filmmaking. The festival was started in 2015 and is the first VR festival to be listed on WithoutABox.com — a marketplace for filmmakers to submit their works to film festivals, owned by Amazon.com
VR filmmaking continues to evolve as the audience for it grows and the technology improves. Filmmakers and other creative professionals are exploring ways to use VR storytelling to expand the way they communicate and share ideas with an audience.
Whether you are interested in film, game design, or other ways to use VR technology, the New York Film Academy likely offers the perfect course or workshop for you. Start exploring our programs here. Who knows? We might see some of your work at one of these festivals in future!
Film festivals used to be the only way for indie filmmakers to find exposure and, if lucky, a distributer. But with the explosion of video on demand (VOD), filmmakers have real choices to make: Should you premiere your project in a film fest? Should you release your film online in tandem with your film fest premiere? Or do you skip the film fest and concentrate your efforts on marketing your VOD release?
Here we offer insights into several alternatives to help you make the right choice for your project.
Option 1: Submitting to the Film Fest
The film fest is the time-tested route for indie filmmakers to garner accolades and maybe even grab a distributer. NYFA maintains a comprehensive list of film festivals here. However, if you’re spending a huge chunk of time and money applying to festivals and not getting in, or not winning the awards, you may need to switch up your strategy.
Option 2: Getting Noticed Online
It can no longer be assumed that film fests will deny entrance based on a film’s online status. In fact, this Raindance article suggests some film fests actively look to places like Vimeo to source films for their lineup.
Vimeo (as opposed to YouTube) is the professional choice for filmmakers. Even if a particular festival does not consider previously released videos, many more accept submissions as password-protected Vimeo links. Withoutabox streamlines the process of submitting online.
Option 3: Simultaneous Release
Ok, so you got into a film fest, now how can you make the most of it? Take a cue from Sundance, who premieres select films on demand and at the festival simultaneously. This ensures a wider audience and a longer life for your film while taking advantage of the festival’s promotion.
Option 4: Straight to VOD
Amazon Video Demand and Quiver Digital (which bundles on demand across several platforms including iTunes) offer obvious alternatives to the film fest. And, as Beyond the Film Festival demonstrates for the Pacific Northwest, there are also regional outlets that can get your film in front of eyeballs.
Option 5: Distribution DIY
In the current VOD world, a filmmaker can take distribution into his or her own hands. As howtosellyourmovie.com puts it: “The films that get distribution packages don’t need distribution packages.” In other words, distributors don’t tend to take chances, and will gladly vie for projects that demonstrate their marketability.
A Cannes winner will not have much trouble finding a distributors, but these days, it’s not clear if it needs one. The big festival winners can have almost instantaneous worldwide distribution and fame via VOD. For example, Amazon creates “Demand Stars” by offering a million dollars shared profits (on top of the chosen revenue package) to its most popular television shows and films.
Secret Option 6 – Infinity?
No matter what route you choose, it’s important to make your product appealing. A distributor is not the magic bullet any more than is uploading your film to Amazon. The difference these days is that you, as filmmaker, can take a lot more control of your film’s destiny and profits. And you have more options.
Now that we’ve closed the Toronto International Film Festival 2016, it’s a great time to pause and reflect on what we’ve learned and how we can apply that to future film festivals and industry events. Attending TIFF, by day three I was seeing attendees with dark circled eyes from lack of sleep, humpbacked from the weight of all their gear, and pausing on the street to rub at their sore feet. With so much to see, not just at the festival but throughout Toronto, it can be difficult to convince oneself to invest in self-care. But with a 10 day long festival, ignoring your body could mean you miss out.
Try our 10 steps to a better TIFF next year — and try these out at any other festivals, industry mixers, and special events this season!
Get Good Walking Shoes
Toronto International Film Festival is spread over about six miles. And, yes, public transportation is great. It’s fast, reliable, and inexpensive. But after about 10:30 a.m. the busses start to fill up. If you’re attending the festival as a film buff this won’t be a problem. But if you’re showing a film, photographing an event, or attending an event promoting your film, you’ll be hauling gear or wearing fancy clothes — and you might want to skip the bus. You could order a taxi or an Uber, but that cost will climb quickly.
So, what are you to do?
Strap on your best shoes and get ready to walk. For TIFF, I recommend arriving a day before the festival. Pick up a map at the convention center. Then hit every theater on the map. Learn the shortcuts through parks, which streets will be blocked off, and where the rush lines will be formed. This information will make the next 10 days a breeze and your FitBit will think you’ve transformed into a tri-athlete.
The universally applicable takeaway? For any industry event, make sure you know where you’re going, how to get there, and a backup plan of how to get there — then allow plenty of extra time.
Make a Plan But Don’t Marry It
As previously stated, there’s a lot to do once you get to TIFF. Do yourself a favor and make a plan.
TIFF provides a color coded calendar on their website labeling each event. There are little descriptions in the calendar. Circle every event you hope to attend. Then place every event in a Google Calendar or a travel calendar you can have on you at all times. I prefer Google Calendar because it can send you an alert 10, 15, or 20 minutes before the event. If you place the location of the screening or event in the calendar you can also use Google Maps to navigate instantly, if you skipped step number one.
Now that you’ve cured your fear of missing out, be prepared to chuck the entire plan. Listen, when you’re walking around the Toronto International Film Festival you’re going to find so much to do. This year Express set up a pop up clothing store, Lindor released a new candy and were giving out bags for free, McDonald’s gave out free coffee accompanied by a live DJ performance, and Pure Leaf gave out thousands of samples of their tea. There were free concerts and red carpets and local street performers. Downtown Toronto is lined with the mouthwatering smells spilling out of restaurants.
Don’t miss an amazing opportunity to explore something new. The universal takeaway for any industry event: plan ahead, but be open to surprises.
Hydrate and Eat
This may sound like common sense advice, but it’s so easy to forget that each day at a festival is like two days in your normal life. With concerts, free food, speakers, conferences, and, of course, film, there’s something to do from sun up to sundown. The fear of missing out is real.
If you decide to follow our first rule, you’ll be walking back and forth all day.
Dehydration leads to fatigue, which means you’ll be moving slower and thinking slower — not a good look if you’re trying to present your work. A good rule of thumb is to keep a bottle of water in your bag. Before you leave the theater, fill up at the water fountain. Try to drink two bottles of water a day and you’ll be ahead of the crowd.
With so much to do it’s likely your adrenalin will get pumping. It’s difficult at times to slow down to eat, but luckily there are so many restaurants around town. King Street is littered with cuisine from around the world. Money won’t be an issue. There are street carts selling everything from hot dogs to falafel. Restaurants range from Canadian favorite Tim Horton’s to Starbucks to McDonald’s on the cheaper side to high end seafood restaurants and everything in between.
Universal takeaway for any industry event: hydrate and eat. You’ll want to be at your best, and you need fuel.
Do More Than The Festival – Meet the Locals
Toronto is an amazing city. Apparent in their architecture, they’ve managed to fuse the old with the new. Pockets of communities surround the downtown area. The Entertainment district is right downtown. Here you’ll find film financiers, publishers, and distributors. Head over to Kensington Market to explore vintage clothes shopping, classic coffee houses, and beautiful street art.
If there’s one stereotype that’s true about Canada, it’s that the people here are incredibly friendly. Even in the financial district it’s not uncommon to stop and strike up a conversation with curious locals. By sitting down with citizens, you can learn about hole in the wall dining, shortcuts, and, best of all, local events. Just because TIFF is in full swing doesn’t mean Toronto is slowing down. The Blue Jays are in the middle of an amazing series, the World Beach Volleyball Tournament is taking place, and soon the World Hockey Games will be kicking off. Locals can give you insight into the secret world behind TIFF.
Universal takeaway for any industry event: focus on the people and chat with the locals, and you’ll likely discover something incredible.
Everyone who is anyone attends these festivals. You never know to whom you’re talking, so be sure to ask. As I stood in the rush line for Netflix’s new show, “ARQ,” I struck up a conversation with a woman in line. We talked about the films we saw and which were our favorites, and then we began to talk about what we do. She said she was industry but when I pried a little further, it turned out she was a huge producer. She was At TIFF trying to make deals with Netflix, supporting friends, and locking in actors. We had such a good time she invited me, and a guest, to an industry event the same night. All this came because I turned around in a rush line to ask a question.
Universal takeaway for any industry event: you never know who you might meet. Really.
That’s it. Those are the essential rules to a better TIFF. If you weren’t at TIFF try applying these tips to other industry events. If you’re attending a play don’t be afraid to explore the area around the theater. Turn to the person next to you in line and ask them about their day. Come with a plan, but be ready to embrace the moment. You never know what you might find.
Last year was something of a breakthrough for women in cinematography in that female directors have made up precisely half of the entries in last year’s Sundance Film Festival dramatic film competition.
The news is inspiring, but also illustrates the massive disparity between the indie scene and Hollywood when it comes to gender equality. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that this isolated statistic is indicative of long term change—indeed, Stacy Smith (of the University of Southern California who carried out the Sundance survey) concluded that “There has been no sustained or meaningful change across the last 11 years in the percentage of [female] directors or producers at the Sundance film festival.”
In total, over the last 11 years of Sundance less than one third of the professional staff who worked on films appearing at the festival were women. But if recent statistics mark a positive upswing in gender equality in film, how best can we sustain and build upon the trend?
A Focus on the Figures
To better understand the issue, more consistent analysis is needed; statistics on the gender divide in the industry are rarely current and surveys aren’t usually carried out on a large scale by professional bodies. While the numbers from 2013’s Sundance festival are both accurate and current, they weren’t drawn from a particularly large sample pool (the 50% figure relates to just the 16 films in the Dramatic Competition) and tell us nothing about the industry outside of the festival, as popular as it is.
Perhaps we should look towards Sweden, a country with a proud film heritage that is committed to analyzing and addressing the balance. The Swedish Film Institute, a semi-state funded body based in Stockholm, has worked hard over the last few years to make sure funding is awarded equally between men and women.
The Institute has determined that currently around 29% of feature films which are awarded funding are directed by women (who also account for 40% of the producers and writers). Not quite equal yet, but also a lot better than the loosely estimated national statistics for the US.
What’s more, the Swedish Film Institute has constructed an action plan based on its findings to achieve total equality in film funding by as soon as 2015 through regular dialogue, constructive action and mentorship programs. They’ve already cracked that nut when it comes to shorts and documentaries; it’s only the feature films that need raising from 29% to 50% in the director’s chair.
At the time of writing, no such research or action plan has been commissioned by the American Film Institute.
Raising Consciousness Through Film Festivals
That all said, the Sundance survey (commissioned by the festival itself in part with Women in Film) should be applauded as a step in the right direction. More studies of this kind should be carried out by hosting festivals, not only to get a more accurate handle on the issue but also to avoid the shambles that was Cannes 2012 (in which the Palme d’Or competition was dominated exclusively by males).
In addition, there’s a somewhat cyclical effect to surveys such as these. The numbers are of great interest to film writers and bloggers, who disseminate the information to the public at large.
In turn, this fosters an awareness where one might not have previously existed and creates a desire to see more female-directed or produced works. It also inspires more women to take up a career in the industry, helping the diversity some of the best cinematography schools in the country are already keen to foster.
And that gives rise to festivals dedicated to the works of women. This year sees an impressive line-up of such events, including last month’s return of SIFF’s Women in Cinema which returned to Seattle after a ten-year hiatus.
The Wellywood Woman blog has recently updated its handy list of female-centric film festivals which are appearing globally around the world; be sure to check out the full list here.
Of course, it’s not all about the numbers and blindly working towards a 50% gender split in films shown at festivals is not the only goal. As projects helmed by women—either as a director or producer—are in no way less likely to be profitable than those made by their male counterparts, it’s important that we promote a greater number of works by females at film festivals purely because it gives us as viewers more variance.
Variety is, after all, the spice of life; let’s demand more from our film festival organizers.
NYFA: Would you mind telling us a bit about your background and what attracted you to filmmaking?
Chika Anadu: I was born and brought up in Lagos, Nigeria. When I was 16, I went to England to continue my education. My first degree is in Law and Criminology, and my Masters is in Africa: Human and Sustainable Development.
I’ve always loved film, from when I was a child. I always saw things in films that no one else around me saw, even the adults. It’s always been magic to me. But I never considered it as a profession because filmmaking was not a thing in Nigeria then. It’s a classic case of “if you don’t see it, you can’t be it.” In 2006 I was back in Nigeria for my Youth Service (a compulsory governmental work scheme for Nigerian Citizens with University degrees), and I saw the Italian Film Cinema Paradiso, and it was as if a light bulb went on in my head. I knew this was what I should be doing. That it had been staring me in the face, literally, my whole life, and I didn’t see it….
NYFA: Is there a particular lesson that you learned in your NYFA Screenwriting Workshop that you continue to apply to your own work?
CA: When the NYFA came to Nigeria for the first time in February/March 2010 with a slate of 4 week courses, I enrolled in the Screenwriting class (the best decision of my life) instead of the Directing class, even though I knew I wanted to be a director (at the time I had just made 2 short films).
I learned about structure, as it applies to story telling. In class we watched a film every morning, and broke it doing structurally afterwards, and then did practice exercises. I had seen all but one of these films already, but afterwards I saw them in a new light. We take it for granted when we watch films whose storylines work. We only notice when it doesn’t work.
Using construction analogy, the script is the foundation. If you mess it up, your house/building is sunk. As they say, you can make a bad film out of a good script, but you can’t make a good film out of a bad script.
NYFA: How do you feel that attending a NYFA workshop helped you to develop as a filmmaker?
CA: I learned that it all starts with the script. Get that right, and you have a fighting chance of making a decent film, and in turn making it in this brutal industry.
NYFA: Your films have appeared and done quite well at a number of prestigious festivals including the BFI London Film Festival, the AFI Fest, and Rotterdam Film Fest. What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers to have their films selected for festivals? How important do you find festivals for not only promoting your own work, but also bringing together a community of filmmakers and journalists who might not otherwise know about each others’ work?
CA: I started thinking about festivals when I was writing my script. You need to be realistic about where the type of film you’re making can be programmed, especially if your last name isn’t Coppola.
I think there are four things to think about. What festivals your film could realistically fit into, the festivals’ standing/prestige, their Location, and do they have a competition section for first time feature filmmakers.
The best advice I got about film festivals is to be very careful where I premiere. If you can get into an important film festival, great, but be careful because unless you’re in competition or win something, your film will be lost while everyone is giving attention to the Hollywood indies. And by everyone I mean the reviewers for the main film magazines and the programmers.
So for example, instead of Cannes or Venice or Toronto, you may want to choose the London Film Festival because it is big and is also the main film festival in London, which is a major city with a diverse population, and huge media presence. They also have a competition section for first time filmmakers. Films in competition get press screenings, and a lot of push, which you will need if you don’t have Brad Pitt in your film. A big festival, if you’re in competition, will likely pay for you to come for the festival, and then you can schmooze. Meet your audience, programmers, producers, media, and best of all, other filmmakers like you. You’ll swap stories with the latter, and feel better because you’ll know that you’re not totally alone in your suffering. You may not love the schmoozing part, but it’s a job hazard and necessary.
If you’re lucky, it kind of falls into place from there. You get reviewed by major film websites/magazines, and other good festivals could start emailing you and asking to program your film. There are no guarantees of course, because there are at least a thousand people with first features freshly in the can. But you might want to find out the contact emails of the programmers for the festivals you think your film would fit. Contact them even before your film is ready, so you can build a kind of relationship with them. In my little experience, I’ve noticed that programmers program the films of filmmakers they know. Good or bad.
NYFA: Following on the above question, you won the Breakthrough Audience award at the AFI Fest last November for your feature film debut B for Boy. How has this award and the recognition that comes with it effected your career?
CA: I got even more emails from other film festivals who wanted to program my film. And more people started following me on Twitter:)
NYFA: B for Boy tackles head-on the gender discrimination women face in Nigeria by telling the story of a pregnant woman who desperately wishes to have a male child. In which ways do you find the themes and narrative in the movie particular to Nigerian culture? And on a larger scale, what does it speak to regarding the way women are perceived and treated by global society?
CA: The two main themes I explore in B for Boy are the uneasy co-existence of modern and traditional culture in Nigeria. A woman is encouraged to get a good education, a great job, but she must conform and get married and have children – at least one of which must be a boy.
The second theme is that these injustices are perpetuated and sustained by other women. The victims become the victimizers, so to speak.
I’m glad you say gender discrimination because that is what it boils down to quite simply, and this is a universal problem. Men and women are under pressure to fit society’s idea of what male is and what female is. The key difference is that all the things a woman should be, sugar, spice and all that’s nice, is bloody hard. A woman is expected to be smart, not too smart though or men won’t think you’re sexy. Be sexy (I hate that word) , but not too sexy or you’ll only be good for being the bit on the side. Be successful, but not too successful or men will feel threatened and you won’t get a husband. The latter was reiterated by a U.S female senator or congresswoman when they were debating the equal pay act (victim becomes the victimizer). Why should there even be a debate about equal pay in the United States of America in 2014? Isn’t that crazy?
It’s like society expects the life of a woman to revolve around how she’s perceived by men. We’re not allowed to indulge in the large spectrum of human emotions, especially if we’re not looking sexy doing it, lest we appear less desirable to men. It’s made a lot of us miserable or irritated. I’m in the latter group, and I’m lucky that in B for Boy I have the medium to show the insanity, and hopefully it starts a debate that will stop it.
NYFA: The Nigerian film industry has grown exponentially in the past decade with Nigerian filmmakers and actors receiving increased attention from the global film community. Do you feel that Nollywood has grown in a positive direction? How has being a Nigerian filmmaker shaped the stories you tell?
CA: I think of Nollywood as a genre, as opposed to the Nigerian film industry as a whole. I really can’t speak for or about Nollywood because I work outside of it. But it has grown exponentially, yes.
As a Nigerian, so far I’ve only told stories about Nigerians because I write my own stuff, and you write what you know, and I know Nigerians. As a budding filmmaker, you’re still discovering you as a storyteller, so I’ve found that in the beginning successful story telling is better achieved the closer to home (the familiar) you stay i.e with regard to the themes in your story, the locations, your characters.
NYFA: What was the inspiration for the fantastic name of your company No Blondes Productions? Does the name hint at a certain philosophy or concept you seek to promote or explore through your film work?
CA: Well, the meaning is two fold. I’m saying no to women being judged, or judging themselves based on their bodies instead of their brains. And no to the western idea of beauty (skinny, blonde, and light or white skinned).
As a filmmaker I seek to question the status quo. “That’s how it is, or how it’s always been”, is not a good enough answer for me.
NYFA: Any parting advice you have to give female filmmakers who are looking to realize their visions on the big screen?
I need advice myself! I’m only just starting my career, but what has made it easier at times is to know that there are other people going through the same challenges as me. So get in touch and stay in touch with other female filmmakers (our journey is different because of our gender, like it or not). And work with other talented women on your crew. If we don’t employ each other, who will?