No man is an island and no festival is one, either. The Rhode Island International film festival (RIIFF), put on by the Newport Film Society & Arts Collaborative (also known as Flickers), is anything but insular.
Featuring over 30 Canadian films in this year’s schedule, RIIFF (official website here) aims to foster artistic exchange between filmmakers from the New England region and the Canadian provinces – it was originally conceived as a cultural festival for the francophone community. But that’s not to say that RIIFF only features North American cinema. With over 5,100 submissions from all over the world this year and just over 200 films selected for the festival, RIIFF can truly say it is a center of international cinema. And the Academy agrees; it is one of only 75 festivals worldwide accredited as a qualifier for the Oscars in the Best Short (Live Action) category.
To mark its 17th year (August 6 – 11 2013), RIIFF looks forward to a diverse slate, including the world premieres of Anniversario (from Argentinean director Jeffrey DeChausse) and “Sundae” (a short by teenage filmmaker Joseph Procopio). We spoke to program director Shawn Quirk about what premieres he’s most excited to bring to Rhode Island audiences, and the satisfaction of giving the cinematic luminaries of tomorrow a platform today.
MovieMaker Magazine (MM): How did the Rhode Island International Film Festival (RIIFF) begin – can you tell us a little about its history?
Shawn Quirk (SQ): RIIFF was started 17 years ago and is a production of Flickers, the Newport Film Society & Arts Collaborative, now in its 32nd year. The festival grew out of the Jubilé Franco Américain, an arts and cultural festival for the Quebecois and francophone community in the Blackstone Valley on Rhode Island and quickly became a hub for international cinema. RIIFF has always maintained its relationship with the French-speaking community and is proud to be hosting a French-language festival sidebar sponsored by the Quebec Government. The Flickers: Quebec Film Festival will be showcased as a part of RIIFF at venues in Woonsocket and Providence, and feature over 30 films from the French-speaking world.
MM: You are RIIFF’s program director. Could you tell us what your job consists of?
SQ: As the program director, I have the joy and responsibility of managing our staff and judges to curate and schedule RIIFF’s films. We had over 5,100 submissions this year and ended up with just over 200 films being selected for the festival, so this meant a lot of film screenings in order to put together the best possible packages of films for our audiences. This year we received the highest number to date. Each film is watched by at least three judges–these include filmmakers, film students, industry professionals, educators, board members, and many others, including members of the general public and previous award winners. Sometimes two people can have conflicting views about a film, which is why we always ensure a third person has seen it.
MM: How has RIIFF’s unique location influence the atmosphere of the festival? The festival website mentions special attention to Canadian film.
SQ: Our location in New England makes us the ideal festival to serve as a portal of entry for Canadian films in the U.S. market. With over 30 films from Canada featured in this year’s festival, RIIFF has always been popular for Canadian filmmakers. With Rhode Island having historically one of the largest French-speaking populations (outside of New Orleans) in the United States, RIIFF continues to celebrate this heritage.
MM: RIFF is accredited by the Academy as a qualifier for the Oscars in the Best Short (Live Action) category. Only 75 festivals out of over 7,000 worldwide share this honor. What is the accreditation process like, and how does this shape the line-up of films?
SQ: We first received our Academy accreditation after we featured the world premier of “The Personals” directed by Keiko Ibi at our festival in 1998, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Short Documentary in 1999. As an Oscar-qualifying festival we are dedicated to discovering the new voices of independent film – many of which are heard first through short films – so we’ve become known for our celebration of the short film. Our opening night has traditionally become known as a first glimpse of the year’s potential Oscar-nominated short films. Last year, three shorts from our opening night were nominated for the Oscar. We have had a total of 29 nominations and 6 wins.
MM: What films are you particularly excited about this year?
SQ: We have so many films to be excited about! This year’s festival is really looking strong on all fronts. A few highlights include:
- The World Premiere of Anniversario, directed by Jeffrey DeChausse: a beautiful bitter sweet film from Argentina (see picture from film, below)
- The World Premiere of Pell Grants: a Passion for Education, directed by Steven Feinberg: a documentary that dives into the compelling, often suspenseful behind-the-scenes battles privately waged behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. during the 1970s, with Senator Claiborne Pell leading the charge in establishing the Pell Grant/Foundation.
- The North American Premiere of Foster, directed by Jonathan Newman: a feature adaptation of a short film of the same name that premiered here in 2006.The film shows how great short films can make the journey into features – I find it inspirational for new filmmakers who have great shorts. Their stories can eventually be made into features with amazing actors if they persevere.
- Our opening night short, “Sundae,”directed by teenage filmmaker Joseph Procopio: Procopio premiered his first film at RIIFF when he was nine and has since premiered a film here every year, in addition to screening at over 170 international film festivals and winning over 50 international awards.
MM: Lastly, what is your favorite part of RIIFF?
SQ: My favorite part is the act of discovery. By discovering new and exciting work, and establishing an audience for these films, the festival serves as a catalyst for the next generation of independent filmmakers. In today’s world of over-saturated media, there’s nothing better than to uncover the work of a young unknown filmmaker who is just breaking into the industry, and make their film come to life in front of a live audience.