Big Apple Film Festival
APPLE OF THE CITY’S EYE • Out of all the festivals that are held in New York City, the Big Apple Film Festival, held November 14 – 17, 2007, is one of the few that focuses on the city. “Our primary goal is to celebrate the city of New York through local films and filmmakers,” explains festival founder Jonathan Lipp. To that end, a Golden Apple Award is handed out each year to honor one person’s efforts in expanding the local moviemaking community. The 2007 recipient was Alan Cumming, as “much of his work as an actor and artist takes place in the city,” according to Lipp.

Other award winners at the fourth annual event included actor-producer Michael Neithardt, whose Jeffrey took home the Best Short Film award. “Being that my film career started in Tribeca, it felt appropriate to have the New York debut at the Big Apple Film Festival,” he says.

But Stephane Gauger, whose Owl and the Sparrow was, according to Lipp, one of the “few special selections from outside the area,” found the BAFF is just as receptive to outsiders. “Saigon is the biggest, most populated city in Vietnam, where New York is to the U.S.,” notes Gauger. “I try to convey that loneliness is universal and not specific to a certain culture. I’m sure some New Yorkers can relate to that.”—Mallory Potosky

Whistler Film Festival
GETTING BUSINESS SAVVY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA • Sundance isn’t the only fest where participants can hit the slopes after hobnobbing with industry players. The 2007 Whistler Film Festival, held November 29 – December 2, drew more than 7,000 attendees to frosty British Columbia. It showcased 92 films, doled out more than $42,000 in prizes and commissions and hosted the Whistler Filmmaker Forum, a four-day program of workshops and networking opportunities.

According to festival cofounder and executive director Shauna Hardy Mishaw, this year’s Forum resulted in several successful transactions, including a $30 million co-production deal between Movie Plus and PKU Starlight Group. “This level of business activity is a clear indication that Whistler is developing a reputation as a place to meet the players and get deals done,” she says.

As a tribute to its home base, WFF shines a spotlight on Canadian cinema. Director Richie Mehta’s AMAL took the Bell Audience Award for Best Feature while Stèphane Lafleur’s Continental, a Film Without Guns won the Borsos Award for Best New Canadian Feature. Atom Egoyan was honored with the fest’s annual tribute, and presided over the Borsos Competition Jury, too.

“I was able to reconnect with old friends and also make some great new contacts,” says AMAL star Rupinder Nagra. “I look forward to attending the festival again—and perhaps this time I will actually do some skiing.”—Carla Pisarro

Cucalorus Film Festival
A BEACON OF INDIE CINEMA IN WILMINGTON, NC • North Carolina’s Cucalorus Film Festival, which held its 13th annual event November 7 – 10, 2007 in Wilmington, has established itself as a beacon of genuine fun in the sometimes bureaucratic landscape of film festivals. How? For starters, there are no awards, and therefore no hard feelings. “I prefer the non-competitive format because then I don’t feel bad about losing,” says Alex Holdridge, director of the festival’s closing night film, In Search of a Midnight Kiss. “As a filmmaker, I just care about good venues, good audiences and getting the chance to see other filmmakers’ work with other people who are excited about movies.”

The 2007 festival combined festival heavyweights (Anton Corbijn’s Ian Curtis biopic Control) with some local fare (Erica Dunton’s romantic RedMeansGo). According to director Seth Wochensky (Shiner), this balance and the careful attention given to each moviemaker make for a perfect event. “As a filmmaker attending with a five-minute short, which opened before a locally-produced feature, I really appreciated a separate Q&A before the feature Q&A,” he says.

In addition to 206 films, Cucalorus 13 offered a bevy of rather unorthodox events, including a Blue Velvet tour of Wilmington. Concludes director Hope Dickson Leach (The Dawn Chorus): “If you enjoy traditional film festivals, where there are no interpretive dance cum interactive film performances on opening night, or an inflatable slide right next to the Cape Fear River, where no one talks about alligators and you can’t sit on a trolley for an hour just reimagining Blue Velvet, then this isn’t the festival for you.”—Andrew Gnerre
Hamptons International Film Festival
Schmoozing and screening on Long Island • Each summer the population of eastern Long Island swells with people from as close by as New York City and as far away as California. In early September even more people come to attend the Hamptons International Film Festival.

Director Hilla Medalia came all the way from Israel to attend the U.S. premiere of her documentary, To Die In Jerusalem. “The film seemed to stimulate a thoughtful dialogue and conversation with an insightful and interested audience,” she says. “The film didn’t seem to be about something far away but a subject close to the human heart.”

“Over the years, our audience members have demonstrated a willingness to support up-and-coming filmmakers and actors long before they became marquee names,” says HIFF programming director David Nugent. Which means that this year’s slate of award-winners— including Short Film Audience Award winner Michael Dreher (Fair Trade) and Golden Starfish Best Narrative Feature Award winner Birgit Moller (Valerie) —have a bright future ahead of them.—Mallory Potosky

Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival
Celebrating the moviemaker for 26 days straight • Of the hundreds of festivals that happen each year, most set out with something to prove. But after more than two decades as one of the festival circuit’s most popular detours—and a Guinness Book World Record as the world’s longest film festival—the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival can focus its programming on one thing: Great movies.

For 26 days, October 15 – November 11, 2007 to be exact, FLIFF president and CEO Gregory Von Hausch and his talented team of cineastes brought more than 200 moviemakers representing more than 200 projects to South Florida to partake in the fest’s legendary screenings, panels and parties. With movies big and small, FLIFF kicked off in all-star fashion on opening night with the Southeast premiere of Zak Penn’s The Grand, starring Dennis Farina and Woody Harrelson.

Gary Sinise was on hand to field questions from an enthusiastic audience and a Q&A which ended in his acceptance of the fest’s Career Achievement Award, while Jeremy Renner, whose new film Take won director Charles Oliver the Best 1st Time Director award, was named a Star on the Horizon.

Perhaps predicting the Golden Globe and Oscar nominees that would eventually come, the fest named Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Best Feature Film and called on-screen siblings Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney Best Actor and Actress in Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages.—Jennifer M. Wood

Filmstock International Film Festival
Inspiring moviemakers to get back in the game • Director Stephen Briggs admits that “If it wasn’t for Filmstock, I wouldn’t have made thirtyfive candles. A few years ago I decided to stop making films. They were costing me a lot of time, effort and money and I wasn’t finding an audience.” Then Briggs found Filmstock.

“What attracted me to Filmstock was the atmosphere,” says Stine Michelsen, whose The Phonekeeper took home one of the coveted Audience Awards at the 2007 event, which ran November 1 – 11 in Luton, England. “It seemed like a place where an actual audience would watch your film, not just a bunch of filmmakers.”

Adam Randall’s Audience Award-winning Hooded “has been taken on by the British Council, which is entering it into festivals worldwide. It has also been optioned as a TV series, which I am currently developing,” Randall says.

Filmstock turned out to be proof positive that Isa Totah’s New to Laundry, was worth the effort. “We wanted to see if we could win an Audience Award without any of our usual shills in the audience,” laughs Totah. It worked; she ended up one of the honored 11 that went home with an award in hand.—Mallory Potosky
International Film Festival Summit
Doing it “for the festivals” • The International Film Festival Summit is one of those rare film events that is actually for the festivals. For four years, IFFS has provided “a dedicated forum for film festival professionals to network, share and learn from one another,” explains IFFS president and co-founder Waco Hoover. “The Summit provides a platform for the community to explore ways to collaborate and promote growth.”

The most recent Summit, held in Las Vegas December 2 – 4, 2007, included panels on maintaining a successful fest and the effect of new technologies on distribution. Keynote speaker Charlie Koones, publisher of Variety, addressed the “importance of festivals in the entertainment ecosystem,” while Piers Handling, of the Toronto International Film Festival, spoke to the growth of festivals.

What happens at IFFS has an undeniable effect on every moviemaker looking for an audience. “We always include the filmmaker perspective in the conference so that festivals have an opportunity to gain further understanding of what is most beneficial to filmmakers and uncover areas for improvement,” offers Hoover. Whether that means finding funding for prizes or helping a movie find its place, IFFS has the festival market cornered.—Mallory Potosky

Beloit International Film Festival
Warm feelings in a cold climate • The Beloit International Film Festival has a “Capra-esque quality,” according to executive director Rod Beaudoin. From the support of the local community to the snow lining the sidewalks of its Midwestern hometown, visiting moviemakers felt at home at the fest’s third outing.

BIFF’s small size allows moviemakers to have close contact with the community. In addition to contributing more than $15,000 to the event, which took place January 17 – 20, the people of Beloit also opened their homes for dinner-and-a-movie events. Although the larger fests have “a lot of press and glitz, Beloit makes up for it with its intimacy and love for the filmmakers,” says Best Documentary winner Darryl Roberts (America the Beautiful).

Yet the festival also attracted the attention of established Hollywood players. “BIFF has made it possible for emerging independent filmmakers to engage and develop relationships with major figures such as producers John Shepherd and Steve McEveety and director Alejandro Monteverde,” says Beaudoin.

Beloit’s January weather may not be as kind as its people, but Allison Wilke and Zed Starkovich, Best Feature Film Award winners for La Cucina, managed. “The cold was a challenge for us warm-blooded Southern California types, but the warmth and hospitality of the people of Beloit melted that away.”—Melissa Rose Kimbler

Florida ART Film Festival
Celebrating local artists in Gainesville • Since its founding in 1980, the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre has been a staple of culture on the Gainesville, Florida arts scene. In 2007, the organization added a new artistic medium to its lineup with the Florida ART Film Festival.

A festival by, for and about Florida moviemakers, the event showcases films written, directed or produced by Florida-based artists in an effort to grow audience interest in locally-made films. It’s a strategy that has paid off, as the festival has become an anticipated celebration of film.

“As a nine-year resident of Central Florida, I love attending,” says director-producer Fred Zara, who has been at the fest for the past two years and whose Confessions of an Italian American was a Documentary Finalist at this year’s event. “I would look for this festival to grow in the coming years and become a wonderful alternative to the larger festivals in Florida.”

Writer-director Stephen Mick, Documentary Winner for Filming Wild Florida, shares the fest’s passion for locally-made films: “Although film may be a globally embraced medium, its impacts can be very local in nature,” he says. “Festivals are often the only way that many films, especially documentaries, find a local audience, and this is even more true in smaller cities like Gainesville. Festivals like these expose audiences to films and messages that might otherwise never pass their way.”—Jennifer M. Wood