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A Conversation w/ Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Fest Founder Floyd A. B. Rance III

A Conversation w/ Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Fest Founder Floyd A. B. Rance III

Established in 2000, Run & Shoot Filmworks is a national transmedia company that creates innovative content across all forms of media, including television, digital, feature films, music programming, commercials, events, and original photography.

The brainchild of couple (photo above) Floyd A. B. Rance III and Stephanie Tavares-Rance in 2002, RSF established the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Fesitval which was designed to provide an upscale platform dedicated to showcasing and honoring emerging filmmakers.

Now in it’s 10th year, the Run&Shoot Filmwork’s MVAAFF is an emerging event on the radar of many entertainment executives and industry tastemakers.

The 2012 festival kicked off yesterday, August 7th, and will run until this Saturday, August 11, with a solid lineup of films that includes several titles previously profiled on S&A, like WolfButterfly Rising, Alaskaland, The Last Fall, The Bluest NoteBrooklyn Boheme, and others; as well as conversations with notable talents, its HBO short film competition, and much more.

I had the opportunity to chat with Floyd Rance over the phone about the festival – past, present and future – and a summary of that conversation follows: 

Q: For those who aren’t familiar with the festival what is the elevator pitch? And could you clarify the title of the festival?

A: It’s full name is the Run and Shoot Film Works African American Film Festival at Martha’s Vineyard. Essentially myself the executive director and my wife co-founded the event, and like I mentioned, it is now ten years old.  Macy’s is our presenting sponsor as well as HBO as one of our awards sponsors; Saatchi & Saatchi is an awards sponsor as well.  Lacoste and CNN are also on board along with local sponsors. August 7 is the start date to Saturday August 11th.  We have shorts, documentaries and feature films, this year particularly, the 10th year, we have a wonderful line-up 60 plus films… some amazing features, documentaries and shorts.  Not unlike any other year, but the 4 feature films are very strong.

Our festival is the only film festival and Af-Am film festival that has a advertising partnership and component with a Global Advertising Agency. Saatchi&Saatchi has been a partner with us for the past 4 years and it has been an excellent and symbiotic opportunity for all involved. In many respects, emerging filmmakers don’t consider nor understand commercial advertising. They don’t see it as a viable option for their careers. Commercial advertising is a very difficult industry to get into and just to have the opportunity to have the Saatchi jury to view their work, attend their workshop and then have face to face with one of their senior EVP’s in that relax environment is priceless. It’s a partnership that took 3 years to create. The Saatchi&Saatchi team value the partnership and take it very seriously.

Q: Are you looking for World Premieres for your festival?

A: No not particularly.  I mean I don’t like to disqualify a film because its been screened elsewhere, or at another festival, or at another African American festival.  I pay attention to that, but its neither here nor there.

Q: With this being the 10th Anniversary is there anything special planned?

A: Yes there are some special things.  

Its not a celebrity festival. They attend the festival but  we try to cater to the filmmaker . . . we call it the filmmaker film festival.  So we really try to cater to the filmmaker and make them the stars of the events. They aren’t overshadowed by anyone or any particular event.  

This year we are doing pretty much what we typically do but in different venues.  So if you have come before it won’t be a predictable event.  You’ll be like, oh wow I have never been here before or done this before.  We make the location part of the actual event to create a newness.  

In addition to all the screening, we are doing we are doing a few Q&A’s.

The Harlem fine arts show will be there with a tent.  They will have a lot of artwork there.  A reception will be held at their tent.  

Saatchi and Saatchi will be doing a commercial production workshop.  We are doing what we call our color conversation with S Epatha Merkerson.  And our Anchor the HBO short film competition which will take place on Saturday evening.

Q: What’s your take on the black film festival circuit?  Too many? Not enough? What’s your general opinion?

A: I don’t know about not enough; there are a plethora of African American festivals. From what I know, they run the gamut from level 1 to 10 and it changes from year to year.  One year they are operating at 10 and the next year at level 5 or 6 or whatever.  I’ve been to a few over the course of my life but my wife and I haven’t done the circuit, trying to see what this one is doing, versus what that one is doing.  We try to be competitive, but we aren’t trying to put anybody down or talk bad about anybody.  I think sometime that happens. I think that’s just life.  

We should be competitive but not competing with one another. It is competitive with sponsorships specifically. That’s what fuels the event.  If the sponsorships go down, the event goes down.  

From what I know, just about every state has an African American Film festival.  I personally would consider ourselves at the top of the food chain in terms of content that we screen, content we attract, and word of mouth.

Our sentiment is genuine in terms of knowing the road from which the filmmaker has to walk, and that is why we cater to the filmmaker.  We care…  not to the point of being taken advantage of by the filmmaker but we care.  

This is a passion and this has been a long time in the making.  We’ve always done events.  We are event people.  My wife is a PR person; she has that background; and I’m a production person, a film person – I have that background.  So we fused our two passions together and this was born.  It is like our third child. Its genuine; we care about the event.  We care about the Filmmakers. We care about our sponsors as well.

Q: How do you get the films that screen at your festival?

A: We have a submission process. The internet has been a phenomenal tool in attracting potential filmmakers; facebook and twitter especially help.

Q: Helped you in what way?

A: Word of mouth.  Folks come, have a good time, have good screenings.  I don’t know if you have been here or not; it’s a very tranquil peaceful type location.  And people like that, and gravitate towards that. The whole emphasis behind it was to create this kind of network for filmmakers.  The guy from new york can come and meet that guy or girl from California, or Texas, or Louisiana.  They can hopefully start working together and helping each other out.  I’ve seen that happen – people get together and collaborate, and help one another out.  It gives birth to something else.  

Q: Do you ever go after films that you want?

A: That’s a good question. We typically try to have one studio release.  And that typically would be the one film we go after.  We see what is coming out down the pike, and we put in our bid.  You win some and lose some in that regard.  

We have had some successes like Idlewild.  Sometimes they reach out to us, or sometime we reach out to them.

Q: What about on the Indie level

A: No we haven’t really reached out on the indie level.  I know some people may be scouring the web trying to procure films internationally, but we don’t do that.

Q: So you just have the submission process and that’s how you get your films?

A: 90% as well as word of mouth.

Q: You are kind of in the rare position it seems; I’ve spoken to a number of Festival directors, who are more aggressive in their searches for films.  You seem a lot more laid back.

A: That’s a great way of describing it.  I think that would change the complexion and feel of your event.  More than likely you are gong to have to pay to get the films.  Then you have to try to recoup the money you paid for that film.  Then the focus is on that film versus all these other films at the festival.

You are going to feel that.  You go to an event and everyone is talking about so and so is here.  And you are like, who am I? I must be chopped liver over here.  Some people respond to that; some people are into names and celebrity; some people are not.  This way we are all on the same level.  This way you generate more conversation and less pretentiousness.  People are devoid of their titles and now you are just your first name, and you can have more of a conversation with someone.

Q: So you and your wife live in Martha’s Vineyard?

A: No we don’t live in Martha’s Vineyard.  The original event was going to be in Barbados, but 9/11 happened, and that kind of shut down everything.  My wife and I would go to the vineyard just to hang out, and one year she was working an event there.  Some filmmakers came and we ended up screening thier films and a lightbulb went off.  That is how the event started.  We screened the films and had a line around the corner.

Q: It seems like you have a respected festival here, among filmmakers.  I’m curious about the long-term growth of your festival, and whether you can sustain this particular approach.

A: The short answer would be you put the seed in the ground, pour water on it and it grows. If something grows that you don’t like, you just clip it off, and continue to grow; it just grows a different way.  That’s the approach to the event.  You work hard and people see you working hard and they appreciate that and support you.

One thing that we prided ourselves on from the very beginning… now I am giving away trade secrets (laughter)… We don’t have conflicts in our schedule. If you want to, you can come to every single event; that is what your pass gets you. We try to make sure you can go to every single screening if you want to.  Although we have a conflict every now and then, because the event has grown.  

We screen shorts by first timers coming out of grad school or undergrad.  You can’t discount them because of that.  You have to give them some inspiration. They deserve a screening .  That’s the only way you are going to create filmmakers.  Every filmmaker out there, even the big ones, had to get feedback along the way from someone.

Its not just a film festival.

The con is its in a difficult location.  So some people can’t come because it’s so far and and they have to pay for the airline fee, and lodging and the places to stay aren’t inexpensive. If I had my druthers, it would be a little more affordable for the filmmakers to come.  That’s the one thing.

Q: Its like a community . . . . a community of black film lovers.

A: I can’t speak for any of the other festivals… I do know that mine is more along those lines.  It’s almost like for those five days we create a family environment.  Because its so packed in, its so tight that by the fifth day you know folks.  So we get a lot of repeaters.  That is the vibe.  People definitely gravitate towards that.

Q: In terms of the future of the festival any plans to expand?

A: Well what we are going to do is spawn another event from this festival, in a different location.  It may be in Carolina. Its going to be smaller a “The Best of“ kind of event. The top three features and documentaries will be screened.  The shorts from competition and  and maybe a few other things.

Q: You are not a market festival. But are you trying to attract distributors?

A: Well I was approached this year by a distributor. Absolutely why not. We are definitely trying to make partnerships with distributors. That is definitely on the immediate agenda.

Q:  So what is the general make-up of your audience?

A:  African American – but that is something else that makes our event unique and interesting. We have a diverse group from 21-55.  So we see is grandma, the parents and the children. It goes back to what we were saying earlier; its more a family family reunion type of vibe.  They come from as far as California, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Michigan, Ohio all across the country. Actually they come from all over the world; people have come from as far as London and Africa as well.  

This is one of the few major black film festivals I have yet to attend; I planned on going this year, schedule permitting; alas, my schedule didn’t permit. So I’m writing this, sitting in my home office, in Brooklyn, NY, as the festival goes on in Martha’s Vineyard. 

But, I’ll have no excuses for not going next year! 

Thanks to Floyd for the time, and for those who are in attendance, feel free to email me with your overall reactions to specific films, events, or the festival in general!

Check out this year’s festival booklet, with all the goodies HERE.

This Article is related to: Features