15 Fall Festivals Worth Watching; A Subjective Guide to Autumn Events
by Eugene Hernandez
indieWIRE is pleased to announce today a greater focus on domestic and international film festivals. Over the next few months web-based festivalresources and coverage will evolve on indieWIRE.com, leading to the publication of a printed guide surveying the most important film festivals and industry events from around the world. indieWIRE is partnering with indieFILMMAKER to release a comprehensive festival guide, part of a broader relationship between the two companies that will involve content sharing and marrying indieFILMMAKER’s superb festival database with indieWIRE’s On the Scene® coverage.
Enhanced aspects of the indieWIRE.com site will roll out this fall. Kicking off in Park City, Utah, in January 2004 during the annual Sundance and Slamdance film festivals, 60,000 copies of the new indieWIRE: Guide will be printed for free distribution at festivals throughout the January-March season. As we unveil our plans for this increased focus on festivals, we thought it was a good time to review our subjective survey of 15 of this season’s top events.
Montreal World Film Festival: August 27-September 7
Festival director Serge Losique made waves in international festival circles after deciding to slide the dates of his festival a bit later. The event, opening this week, will run concurrently with the entire Venice festival and overlap with the opening of the Toronto fest, yet it seems that Montreal is the one to suffer, at least in terms of its perceived stature. The day after the festival announced its lineup, Variety reporter Brendan Kelly wrote that the lineup was lacking “marquee names,” under the headline, “Minor Montreal?” No doubt a smaller industry presence will be on hand in Montreal, but if the festival delivers a quality crop of new films, Losique will have the last laugh and industry reps will undoubtedly return next year.
Venice Film Festival: August 27-September 6
Longtime Berlinale chief Moritz de Hadeln, who departed the high-profile German fest recently, has brought his career of contacts and respect to Venice’s doorstep. Woody’s Allen’s latest, “Anything Else” will open the 60th Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica on Wednesday in Italy. Among the most anticipated films on tap for the fest is Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s “21 Grams” which Focus will launch at the fest, following its launch of “Far From Heaven” at the event last year. Winterbottom, Dumont, Jarmusch, Bertolucci, and the Coen Brothers are among those who will debut their new films at the prestigious event. De Hadelyn is already looking ahead, hoping to establish a more solid market, modeled after Cannes and Berlin, to embrace a larger film industry presence and cultivate sales activity. After a few rocky years, all indications are that Venice is on more solid footing in 2003.
Telluride Film Festival: August 29-September 1
Is it any surprise that the fall fest that many in the film biz consider their best kept secret, should keep its own lineup under wraps until the opening day of the event? Co-directors Tom Luddy and Bill Pence welcome a select group of films, filmmakers, industry folks, and aficionados to the mountains of Colorado every Labor Day weekend. People who go year after year swear it is the best fest in the world. This one is more a fest for vets and those who can afford the pricey accommodations and passes, but as a venue for launching a new film in an intimate environment of movers and shakers, its can’t be overlooked and to be invited to participate is an honor, especially in this 30th anniversary year.
Toronto International Film Festival: September 4-13
Fest director Piers Handling and managing director Michele Maheaux continue to refine an event that always seems to get things right. The festival is considered one of the most important in the world by executives, press, talent and most importantly, the thousands of locals who jam screenings throughout the day and night, on weekdays or weekends. The festival is especially anticipated this year given what was considered a lackluster Cannes. New films by Altman, Sayles, Greenaway, Errol Morris and even Vincent Gallo will screen alongside some of the most talked about films from Cannes and a number of films from first-timers. SARS has subsided, the power is back on, buyers seems ready to do business, and the festival lineup is star-studded, a recipe for what should be a high-profile year in Toronto.
Atlantic Film Festival: September 12-20
The “other” Canadian festival is in fact a gem of an event. Situated in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Atlantic Film Festival maintains a small-town charm, yet delivers engaged and enthusiastic audiences (a mix of Canadian film industry types and students from the local universities). The festival will celebrate its 23rd annual event this year.
Woodstock Film Festival: September 17-21
In three short years, Meira Blaustein and Lauren Retjo’s festival has gained a reputation as a quality New York regional festival. Ryan Werner from Palm Pictures joined the team last year to serve as lead programmer and the festival made its mark with a diverse slate that appealed to many tastes. The festival succeeds because it doesn’t try to take on too much. With a comfortable, slightly hippie, setting the event warmly welcomes city-types at festive parties and as guests in their own homes. After a successful 2002 event, organizers will likely have a larger group of New Yorkers making the short train ride up the Hudson.
IFP Market: September 21-26
Now in its second year in its trimmed down format, the IFP Market (the event that old-schoolers still call the IFFM) will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2003. Reacting to changes in the marketplace, organizers altered the IFP Market to provide a greater focus on works-in-progress, making the showcase an opportunity for the film community, primarily festival programmers, to get a heads up on new movies, many of which are docs. Panels and seminars remain a solid aspect of the event, drawing on local film industry types, the hard part is getting those same execs to attend screenings at the Angelika Film Center.
Chicago International Film Festival: October 2-16
Founded by Michael Kutza in 1964, the Chicago International Film Festival, this year celebrating its 39th edition, describes its mission “to discover and present new filmmakers to Chicago, and to acknowledge and award these filmmakers for their artistry.” By all accounts it delivers, offering a solid showcase for locals and those who travel to the event from other cities. Noteworthy is the event’s focus on international cinema, showcasing a particular region of the world.
Mill Valley Film Festival: October 2-12
Now in its 26th year serving the well-heeled in Marin County, and just a short bridge ride from San Francisco, the Mill Valley Film Festival offers a fest for an audience that is well served year-round by ongoing indie and foreign-language programming at the three-year old Rafael Film Center. The highly-regarded Mark Fiskin, founder of the festival, remains at the helm offering a consistency to the event, and the leader still rolls up his sleeves, scouring projects at festivals around the world. The event sold nearly 45,00 tickets during its 25th anniversary last year.
New York Film Festival: October 3-19
Classy, traditional, and respected are words that often come up when talking about the 40-year-old New York Film Festival. In fact the event is more of a prestigious film series, offering a pair of screenings each night for nearly three weeks. It all kicks off with a swanky affair at Central Park’s Tavern on the Green, a party that is one of the annual highlights of New York’s film scene (this year’s opening night film is Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River”). The program, selected by a committee that is led by Richard Pena, showcases a curated list of less that 30 features, some of which are direct from festivals in Cannes, Venice, and Toronto. Notably, the New York Times covers every film in the festival with a review in the newspaper on the day of its festival debut. Worth watching will be the impact on the festival and the Film Society of Lincoln Center as new executive director Claudia Bonn establishes herself in the position.
Viennale: October 17-29
Since 1960, the Viennale has not only been Austria’s crown jewel in the film festival circuit, it’s also made quite an international name for itself by offering a well-programmed (150+ films), non-competitive event than annually attracts 70,000 visitors. It also doesn’t hurt that the city is lovely in autumn, and that there are lots of parties and dinners for industry attendees of the festival. Notable for the 2003 Viennale are a retrospective devoted to Japan’s Art Theatre Guild, tributes to Warren Beatty, Emile de Antonio, and Vincent Gallo (the last one should prove scandal-worthy with any luck). Also, with the end of the Austrian domestic festival Diagonale, this year’s Viennale will add a special program devoted to local filmmakers.
Hamptons International Film Festival, October 22-26
A spectacular site for a fall festival is the small village of East Hampton, NY on the east end of Long Island. Cool temperatures, colorful trees, and an occasional rainstorm typically welcome attendees who make their way out from Manhattan for the weekend fest. For 10 years, organizers have delivered a solid, but at times inconsistent, event — a hurdle that’s been overcome during the past few years with the appointment of Denise Kasell to head the festival. Kasell brought in Rajendra Roy from the Guggenheim’s programming department in 2002 and all signs are that the event is eyeing new heights of success. Worth noting this year is the inaugural Travel and Leisure International Forum which will connect attendees with such partners as the German Film Export Union, Unifrance, MEDIA Programme of the European Union, the Galway Film Fleadh, and the Torino Film Commission. Mark Rabinowitz, who programmed the event’s significant Conflict & Resolution section last year, is back this year as the event’s industry liaison, no doubt to beef up film community participation.
AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival: November 6-16
AFI FEST has emerged as an important showcase for international fare in what is considered a tough town for foreign films. Christian Gaines, formerly of the Hawaii and Sundance fests, took the reigns as executive director of the event in 2000 and the festival has steadily emerged as a more and more important showcase for fall films. All eyes will be on the event next year when it launches a partnership with the annual American Film Market. The AFM has decided to shift its dates to coincide with the annual AFI FEST, a move that could give the festival a higher international awareness. Or will MIFED, which takes place in November in Europe, maintain its dominance as a leading marketplace?
International Thessaloniki Film Festival: November 21-30
Now in its 44th year, the Internatonal Thessaloniki Film Festival is the leading film festival in Greece. Situated in the northern city of Thessaloniki, the event (headed by Michel Demopoulos) showcases a solid lineup of international work, most of it from the festival circuit. Worth noting is the annual New Horizon section for emerging filmmakers which is programmed by Toronto programmer Dmitri Eipides (who also heads the spring doc festival in the same town, run by the same group). Getting to the festival from the United States can involve a number of flights and a severe jet lag, so attendees are warned to try to give themselves a few days on the ground. What a better way to enjoy the hospitality of the locals, especially the excellent local cuisine (and young white wines) at any number of inviting tavernas.
International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam: November 20-30
Considered the most important documentary film festival in the world, IDFA is a doc lovers dream come true. IDFA takes over number of theaters in the festive city of Amsterdam and draws large crowds, a mix of filmmakers, film industry, television programming commissioners and youthful locals. After screenings, attendees spill out into the nearby bars and coffee houses, many staking out spots along the popular bar of the De Balie. Festival director Ally Derks has, over the past few years, successfully linked the events program to the international political events. The event’s motto in 2002 asked attendees, “What do you believe in?”
[Wendy Mitchell contributed to this article]