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Moviemaking Education on the Festival Circuit

Moviemaking Education on the Festival Circuit

Articles - Features

Flickerfest International Short Film Festival director Bronwyn
Kidd (l) with DP John Seale at the festival’s 2003 cinematography
workshop, “Behind the Frame.”

From Arizona to Australia, “film school” is
taking on a whole new meaning. Aspiring moviemakers who want hands-on
experience, along with young professionals brushing up on their technique,
are training together in an unexpected venue—the worldwide
film festival circuit. An emerging trend over the last several
years has found festivals offering both academic and hands-on workshops
to attendees in a bid to educate promising young talent, attract
industry and tech company sponsorship and, of course, to lure a
larger audience.

Where you have a festival, you have moviemakers—the people who are
using these tools—gathered en masse,” says J.C. Bouvier, managing
director of the Woods Hole Film Festival in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. “So
we have the unique ability to have academics and product manufacturers
offering information about their respective courses and wares.

“We began holding workshops seven years ago in order to give our
audiences a total experience of film,” adds Bronwyn Kidd, festival
director for the Flickerfest International Short Film Festival. “As
most of our audiences are emerging filmmakers, or those involved
in the creative process, it enables them to engage with how other
people tell stories, demystifying the final experience of what ends
up on the screen.”

Demand for deeper understanding about what goes
on behind the scenes has encouraged a plethora of seminars to sprout
up at festivals everywhere. They have numerous manifestations,
from the DP and documentary workshops at the Ohio Independent
Film Festival
to the acting “boot camp” of
the American Black Film Festival.

“Educated” Film Fests

American Black Film Festival

Ashland Independent Film Festival

Black Bear Film Festival

The Dover Film Festival

Flickerfest International Short Film Fest

Klondike Institute of Arts & Culture
Film Festival

Lake Placid Film Forum

Ohio Independent Film Festival

Rhode Island International Film Festival

Rotterdam International Film Festival

San Francisco Black Film Festival

Sedona International Film Festival

Spindletop Film Fest

Woods Hole Film Festival

“I teach, so it’s not a big stretch for me to get involved in educational
programming,” explains George T. Marshall, founder and executive
director of the Rhode Island International Film Festival (RIIFF),
who is also an adjunct professor teaching communications at Rhode
Island College. “For me, bridging education into what we do is a
critical point.” His festival’s parent organization, the 22-year-old
Flickers Arts Collaborative, has run the festival throughout its
seven year history. “Even when Flickers was running films [for the
community], our surplus always went to a scholarship program that
would help young people who were studying [film] in college.”

Students can find such opportunities for exposure
and education to be attractive. In most instances at RIIFF, student
films are mixed in with professional entries. Students are also
lured by the chance to play with new equipment and to attend seminars
with industry veterans. RIIFF has also dovetailed its screenplay
competition into its master class. The competition winner gets
the chance to have segments of their script produced during the
following year’s workshop. “So the
screenwriter walks off not only with an award, but with a demonstration
tape that they can use to pitch their script,” says Marshall.

The International Film Festival of Rotterdam
(IFFR)
, held each year in January, offers a one-day seminar that
visits 13 cities in the Netherlands between October and January.
Coordinated with 27 colleges and universities, the traveling Rotterdam
Film Course allows students to “watch other films than they usually see,” says Juliette Jansen
of IFFR. “The films we show at the festival are adventurous, art
cinema. [This course will] prepare them as an audience for the festival,
and make them enthusiastic film lovers.” She explains that this one-day
festival primer is for academy and university students, “based on
a theme from film history, theory or tradition.” It features full
films, clips and discussions.

For the first time this year, the San Francisco
Black Film Festival (SFBFF)
offered a four-hour digital video motion
picture workshop done in collaboration with the Cogswell Polytechnic
College, which was facilitated by a local producer and Sundance  winner.
SBFF founder Ave Montague says that while they have held screening
workshops in the past, it’s been academic in nature rather than
production-oriented.

“This year we zeroed in with a screenplay workshop and a one on
digital motion pictures,” explains Montague. The participants of
the production workshop were afforded the opportunity to “work from
a pre-existing script, run a camera, prepare lights, build the set,
shoot, act and complete a single five-minute scene.”

An important outgrowth of the current digital
video revolution is the ascension of young moviemakers in their
teens and pre-teens. SFBFF offers a sidebar event called the Urban
Kidz Film Festival
, which runs during the main program. The one-day
event is now in its second year. “Last year we had this woman put together a wonderful
workshop for kids,” said Montague. “She had the kids actually doing
a scene from a script that she had, and they taped it. It was great.” Urban
Kidz attendees range in ages from five to 12, and some of their films
were even shown at this year’s festival.

Troma Entertainment’s Lloyd Kaufman gets
behind the camera at a Rhode Island International Film Festival
master class.

RIIFF inaugurated their KidsEye summer camp five
years ago, after they began receiving many striking entries from
children with access to digital technology. “We started getting some stuff in from kids
that were 15 or 16 years old, and I was very impressed by it,” recalls
Marshall. The first year, they tested a two-day course that offered
basic production techniques which turned out to be a big success.

KidsEye has since evolved into a week-long program
that Marshall says is geared toward a younger level. “It’s not designed to be stress-inducing,
it’s just fun,” he says.
The children work with a screenplay from a shoot through to the edit. “It’s
a nice intro program, and a lot of the kids come in with a good range of experience.
We run the gamut now from ages nine to 15.”

Projects produced by the children are screened at the KidsEye
International Film Festival
, which is held the same week as RIIFF. KidsEye also
offers a scholarship program, and coming soon will be year-round
weekend classes focused on different aspects of moviemaking, including
acting, screenwriting, directing and editing.

Potentially widespread exposure and networking
are other lures for festival-goers, whether they are children,
students or professionals. After its main event, Flickerfest tours
their main program to 13 venues around Australia. “On this tour, we screen four of our international
short film programs in competition, along with some of our special
programs,” remarks Kidd. “Flickerfest screened a total of 37 programs,
comprising 3,700 minutes of short film, throughout main cities and
regional areas of Australia. Our touring doubles the festival audience
nationally.”

Participants in the Rhode Island International Film Festival’s
master class production workshop set up
a scene.

Both Flickerfest and the short film competition of RIIFF have met
Academy Award qualification, meaning that any short film winners
at either event are contenders for a future Academy Award nomination.
Such an honor helps promote a festival, as do films that ascend from
the indie circuit to national distribution, home video release or
cable television. As a result of Academy recognition, Kidd says the
Sydney-based Flickerfest expects its submissions to increase by 30
percent for the 2004 festival.

Industry support, academic tie-ins and manufacturer
sponsorship play important roles in the evolution of these festivals
as well. At Flickerfest, two of the three seminars this past January
featured corporate involvement. Kodak sponsored the “Behind the Frame” seminar,
which features one well-known cinematographer—this year it was Academy
Award-winning DP John Seale (The English Patient)—and one
first-time feature cinematographer, who discuss the influences behind
their visual styles. The popular Digital Video Workshop, a day-long,
hands-on guide to Avid Express and DV low-budget moviemaking, was
run by award-winning documentary maker Philip Crawford (Hurt),
along with representatives from Avid and Canon.

Bouvier believes the Woods Hole production and
post-production workshops are the focus of increased attention
because they’re so sponsorship-friendly. They are now attracting
interest from technology companies, camera manufacturers and hard
drive manufacturers. “When film­makers
begin to see the technology companies offering sponsorships to a
film festival,” he remarks, “they start to think that perhaps this
is a place that they can connect with people who are going to help
them actually get movies made. This year we’ve got Apple coming out
in a large way… Apple just released the fourth version of Final
Cut Pro, and they’re going to be offering Final Cut Pro certified
training through our workshop series. We also have DVD Studio Pro
coming online, too.”

A Woods Hole Film Festival attendee
takes advantage of the festival’s workshop program—and
Apple’s sponsorship.

With such cutting-edge workshops available, it
seems that some festivals really want to make their programs as
intensive as possible. They’re not just about watching movies and
hobnobbing anymore. “I just think
that festival-goers are much more sophisticated,” states Montague, “so
you not only draw from the normal people that attend films, you also
draw from people who are in school. They think they can make a film
because it’s so easy right now. That’s one of the reasons we’re doing
it.”

The digital revolution has certainly eased both
technological accessibility and production capabilities, bringing
movie­making within the
reach of increasingly younger artists. “We’re in a transitionary
period where people are getting used to the fact that the medium
is liberating the ability of people to tell their tales,” says Bouvier.
While he believes widespread DV availability is currently producing
more quantity than quality, “I think that’s going to change. We’re
going to have many more people who are gaining experience and learning
from their mistakes. I think you’ll probably see better content being
produced because more people have access to the means of production.” MM

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