The festival’s name may lead you to imagine a strangely colored alcoholic beverage one might ingest on a beach – and in fact, we still aren’t quite sure what the moniker has to do with film. All we do know is that with over 6,000 film festivals populating the Earth, uniqueness is an important ingredient in concocting a successful festival cocktail. Blue Whiskey seems to have that down. For this week’s spotlight, BWiFF’s Marketing Director, Ashley Alysa France, sat down to answer MovieMaker’s questions on how to create a recipe for success.
If you’re in the Chicago area, check out the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival in neighboring Palatine from Sunday, July 21 to Sunday, July 28.
Lara Colocino (MM): Can you tell me about the history of Blue Whiskey?
Ashley Alysa France (BW): Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival was conceived four years ago by a group of independent filmmakers from CNGM Pictures, the presenting sponsor of the festival. CNGM has done the festival circuit a number of times and found a calling to have an event that focused on stories and characters. So it bridged the gap between filmmakers and the audience. And with that, the Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival was born.
MM: Where is the name “Blue Whiskey” derived from? How is it representative of the kind of festival BWiFF is?
BW: Although some may think it was inspired by an exotic cocktail in the Bahamas, the name “Blue Whiskey” actually has nothing to do with alcohol. As Festival Director Michael P. Noens explains, “Blue Whiskey sounds enticing. Original. What would that taste like? What combination of flavors would define it? The Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival presents the audience with a similar question. A great story is made up of captivating characters and their riveting strife. In an age where original ideas are said to be extinct, BWiFF challenges filmmakers to put together a cocktail mix we haven’t seen before. We believe that original ideas are not a thing of the past and instead are the key to the future.”
MM: What distinctive element sets Blue Whiskey apart from the rest?
BW: What makes BWiFF stand out is the bridge we build between the filmmakers and the audience; it is an experience unlike any other festival. We hold Q&A’s, Dinner with the Filmmakers, and Awards Lunch, encouraging the filmmakers and attendees to interact and network. The films we show don’t always have huge budgets or star power; they come from all over the world, and are a variety of different genres and styles. What they do all have in common is a captivating story.
MM: To what extent does the local Chicago culture affect the feel of the festival and the kinds of films it screens?
BW: Chicago has a big heart for independent film, hosting festivals for every genre, length and type of media you can think of. We reach out to those festival-goers by offering a range of films and even music. We have a whole night dedicated to music, featuring our music video selections and two musical performances (this year we have locals, Chris Petlak and the band Murley). Although we don’t have one giant theme for the fest, you are guaranteed that every film has a captivating story.
MM: How has your audience base expanded over the years?
BW: It’s been exciting to see our audience continue to grow. This year, especially, we’ve gotten a lot of attention from Palatine, the town that the festival currently resides in. People are realizing they don’t have to go downtown to find cultural events or indie film screenings. As more people attend, the news is spreading like wildfire. As much as our festival is for the filmmaker, it is also for the audience. You can be an indie film buff that doesn’t miss a day of the Chicago International Film Festival, or a resident who stumbled upon our program at the local coffee shop. Both will enjoy the fest.
MM: How many submissions have you received this year? What is the selection process like?
BW: This year we were able to open our submissions on WithoutABox.com earlier, to make the process even easier for filmmakers to submit. As a result, our submissions nearly tripled. This year we received over 400 films, giving our programmers a lot to sort through. Since our submissions opened last September, programmers began watching the films as soon as they were submitted. As the number increased we added more programmers to the team, so overall we have 15 this year. Our programmers focus on a film’s story and characters, not the budget, cast, or special effects. This process allows films that would not get into mainstream festivals to reach independent hearts.
MM: What films is BWiFF excited about this year?
BW: ALL OF THEM! Our growth in submissions has made the selection process more competitive, because we had to narrow it down to 40 films. We are proud of every film in our program. Here are some highlights: