The current film festival circuit is a sprawling network of opportunity for up-and-coming moviemakers. There are festivals for every format and genre. The pitfall that comes with having all of these choices is the risk of submitting (and being accepted by) a festival that may not be right for you and your movie. That’s where SQIRRL comes in. The brand-new Website allows users to share their experiences at film festivals they’ve attended in the past with short reviews. Not only is this a useful guide for those trying to decide which festivals are worth the submission fee, but it also allows some smaller, younger festivals to gain exposure.
Sqirrl creators—and independent moviemakers—Chris Bessounian and Tianna Langham took a few moments to talk with us about the site “where filmmakers come clean.”
Josh Elmets (MM): Obviously some film festivals rely on name and reputation rather than quality and some may be lesser-known but have potential to blossom. How do you see SQIRRL affecting the prestige of these festivals?
Chris Bessounian (CB): Most things—be it books, restaurants, movies, even humidifiers—are so amply reviewed that consumers can be completely educated as they make choices. When we began submitting to and attending film festivals, we found it to be quite the opposite. Although we were able to get some word-of-mouth tidbits and hear about the general reputation of a festival, we didn’t learn the real truth until we experienced the festival first-hand. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the adventure of the unknown, but there is when it costs money and time, both of which could be spent on the best possible experience, if access to that information was available.
Our hope is that as SQIRRL reviews accumulate, the prestige and quality of festivals will not be based on how established a festival is or the financial or celebrity backing behind it but, naturally, through the truth. Some festivals will undoubtedly suffer but will hopefully be compelled to improve their shortcomings. Other festivals will rise, be recognized for their merits and be able to compete against more sizable, affluent festivals, just as they should.
MM: What are some of the lesser-known festivals that are getting good reviews? Have any of the bigger name festivals gotten surprisingly negative reviews?
Tianna Langham (TL): Some of the lesser-known festivals that have already begun getting great reviews on SQIRRL are the Idaho International Film Festival and the Sedona International Film Festival. We’ve attended Sedona a few times and also have nothing but great things to say about it. We had never heard of the Idaho International Film Festival prior to SQIRRL, but after reading the reviews, can’t wait to submit and attend. One negative and surprising review concerning a large, prestigious festival, the Seattle International Film Festival, was that short filmmakers who attended really felt marginalized and of less importance than the feature filmmakers. It’s of course a given that feature films receive more attention than short films, however, a small detail such as offering gift bags to feature films and not shorts can really make a filmmaker sore.
MM: How did you come up with the name for the Website?
CB: There’s something wonderful about the jumpy, wide-eyed nature of squirrels that inspired us to choose them as our mascot. Their energy and curiosity make them the perfect fit for a site about those very things. When we discovered that squirrel.com was already taken, we figured a little misspelling wouldn’t hurt, so chose SQIRRL.
MM: For those who have been reviewing festivals on your site, what sorts of things influence them most when it comes to their overall opinion of a given festival? What kinds of shortcomings are people willing to overlook if other parts of the festival are outstanding or vice versa?
TL: From reading the reviews so far, a festival’s hospitality and overall respect for filmmakers and filmmaking is what seems to determine a filmmakers’ regard for a festival the most. If a filmmaker arrives at a festival only to be ignored and disregarded, everything else seems to suffer. Festivals that do everything they can to ensure screenings run smoothly and that filmmakers are comfortable and enjoying themselves after sweating over making their films leave the most solid impression. In keeping with that, festivals that both promote the festival and films sufficiently resulting in great audience turnouts ensure a filmmaker’s loyalty for life.
MM: Being similar to sites like Yelp.com and RateMyProfessor.com, reviewers often share hilarious anecdotes when reviewing a class or a restaurant. After reading the reviews on your site, do any such stories stick out in your mind that you might like to share?
CB: One festival review that really made us laugh because it reminded us of so many experiences we’ve had elsewhere was a filmmaker’s comments about a festival director. The filmmaker’s main impression was that the festival director created the festival with the sole objective of meeting celebrities and making them read his own scripts. Someone else had a similar experience at a LA-based film festival where the festival director wouldn’t let his assistants tell filmmakers who he even was, but when the star-studded final event arrived, he was as charming as charming gets with his celebrity guests.
MM: I know the site is new, but have you heard from any of the festival directors of the negatively reviewed sites? If not, I’m sure it will be happening soon. Do you have any sort of policy in place for what is and is not acceptable behavior for postings on your site?
TL: We have not yet heard from any festival directors whose festivals have received negative reviews, and hope that those receiving such feedback will accept it as part of running a business, and even consider it an opportunity to improve. We will be reviewing all postings that go up on SQIRRL and any that don’t fit within the professional purposes and practices of the site will not be approved. For example, postings by people who haven’t attended the festival and/or people who’ve been rejected from it and see this as a place to vent will not be accepted.
Overall, we really hope that filmmakers will take the time to review their festival experiences so a comprehensive directory can amass, resulting in an invaluable resource as we spring forward into the crowded festival landscape.