What began 12 years ago in the basement of a little movie theater in Center City Philadelphia with a group of indie moviemakers scrounging up every big screen TV and movie projector they could find has become one of the most revolutionary film festivals in the country. With more than 400 projects shown to date, an audience of more than 10,000 and two separate bi-coastal events (one in Philadelphia and the other in California) being held annually since then, the FirstGlance Film Festival has come a long way from its humble basement beginnings.

But don’t let the success fool you, FirstGlance was and will always be an indie moviemaker’s dream come true, providing moviemakers the thing they want most: A chance to have their movies seen. As new technologies emerge, FirstGlance is at the forefront of a new frontier in movie distribution, thinking outside the box and updating the old festival paradigm with online film contests that allow viewers to decide which shorts make it to the festival and opportunities for moviemakers to circulate their films through new mediums like the Internet and handheld technologies.

With the FirstGlance 11th annual Philadelphia Festival coming up on October 16th, MM spoke with the festival’s founder, Bill Ostroff, to find out more about what makes FirstGlance the place for indie moviemakers and the future of film festivals.

Douglas Polisin (MM): On your Website, you state that FirstGlance embodies the “true indie spirit.” What makes your festival such a great venue for indie moviemakers?

Bill Ostroff (BO): Our festival is a great venue for indie moviemakers because we continue to stay true to our mission of helping indie filmmakers get their projects seen and by screening truly indie work. FirstGlance continues to find new audiences for indie filmmakers through our festivals, Website and partnerships with online distributors. Our entry fees are reasonably priced for filmmakers and our affordable ticket prices allow audiences to come out and support the indie filmmakers. Also, as a mid-size festival, we are able to keep the filmmakers in the loop with personal contact from the time we announce the official selections up until the weekend of the festival. Plus, FirstGlance Film Fests are put on by indie filmmakers for indie filmmakers.

MM: FirstGlance is the only festival to have two separate events on either coast. What are the benefits of having it as such?

BO: We think that one of the benefits of having a separate event on each coast is that we get new films twice a year. Getting new films twice a year allows us not only the chance to bring these films to a theater but offers us the opportunity to build our Website not just as an informational portal, but a place where eventually filmmakers can come to learn about filmmaking, distribution and opportunities most other festivals don’t bother pursuing. We look to become a community where filmmakers can learn from one another, our alumni can announce screenings and where we can highlight and promote trailers from indie filmmakers. The two separate screenings also allow us to continue getting the FirstGlance name out in the public on a consistent basis.

MM: In regards to your current Online Short Contest and your stated goal to have all your festival’s entries seen—be it on the big screen, on cable television, through iPods, cell phones or even airline flight broadcasts—what would you tell those naysayers who feel movies only belong in the theater, with anything else diminishing the art form?

BO: Since the inception of our festivals, we have considered ourselves to be visionary, always looking for new avenues and new technologies to assist filmmakers in getting their work out to the masses. We believe that a brick and mortar festival can only afford to program a limited number of films. With the Internet and new digital platforms, we were one of the first festivals to offer filmmakers a no-cost, non-exclusive download to DVD distribution, which has been getting more and more projects every year. We have a library of about 30 films that take advantage of the one-off distribution model.

With our online shorts contest, which is a secure online theater that viewers can register, watch and vote 24/7, we feel we have taken the traditional festival out of the box by actually placing it in a box, so that those who can’t afford to come to the festival can both be entertained and vote on projects to be included in the festival.

We believe that in the coming years, more festivals will embrace new technologies to allow for wider broadcast for indie filmmakers and adopt the idea that a festival can be both an online and an offline event. We hear every year that filmmakers are looking for more visibility but don’t want to lose their rights to their films, so we think that the new self-distribution model, which can include a number of revenue sharing streams including download to DVD, iPod, PSP, Xbox live, Tivo, airline partnerships, etc., is the way of the future. At this moment, there are more than 1,000 websites competing for viewers for short viral videos and Web series, all looking for ways of pushing the technology to the viewer so they don’t have to go to find it. In the next few years, we believe you will turn on your plasma screen TV/monitor, go online and see a bunch of short films sent to your video reader that you are interested in and have chosen.

I think that the traditional movie theaters are fighting to find ways to profit as big studios take most of the profits from major motion pictures that are released, and I think they will start narrowcasting and specialty programming to bring in more profits on the theater side. So even though it seems like a vicious cycle, I think the theaters will come full circle and start to realize that with 2,500 film festivals out there, that shorts and “truly indie” films are a commodity and deserve an audience. But I only think that will happen once the big studio execs see these short films flooding the Net and making filmmakers their money back and profiting from their short film ventures.

MM: So are FirstGlance and its online contests the future of film festivals? Is the future of film festivals really no farther than our computers, cell phones and iPods?

BO: I think film festivals need to grow with the technologies offered, especially for short content. We get thousands of films every year and naturally, a festival like FirstGlance becomes a type of content aggregator. With our current proposal to the Academy, our hopes are that we become a nominating festival, which will allow us to get even more content. As we go through the films each year, we see hundreds of films we feel have potential to be seen by an audience and if a filmmaker can profit from iPod downloads, cell phones, downloads, streaming, VOD… why not take advantage of the technology as a screening platform. One of the main reasons you create a film is for an audience to see it and to hope someone awards it an accolade. You never know when Spielberg is on his iPod watching a download. He may not go to your Website, but he may watch your film if it’s on his personal video device.

For more information, visit http://www.firstglancefilms.com.