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Can You Trust This Film Festival?

By Jason Guerrasio | Indiewire July 30, 2013 at 9:37AM

There are thousands of film festivals in North America. Of those, a majority have significant track records -- that is, their films find distribution, the filmmakers raise their profiles, or, at a minimum, the festival has a solid reputation that enhances the filmmakers' stature by proxy.


When asked about this year's festival, Nelson admitted, "There needs to be better communication," and has hired a communications director to be the main liaison between the festival and filmmakers. With regards to the venue changes, however, he held his ground. 

"We gave the Quad our schedule well in advance and it never changed," he said. He added there was never any double booking.

However, Indiewire obtained emails that filmmakers received stating their films were playing at the Quad before venue changes took place.

"We bent over backward for the filmmakers," said Nelson. "One person who was confused, we gave limo service to shuttle from the Quad to Hunter. It cost $1,000. We do as much as we can."

READ MORE: The Dark Underbelly of the Film Festival Circuit, Part 2

In regards to Naim, Nelson said, "It got very aggressive. It was forceful and we were aggressively being bullied." Nelson said, Naim confronted his staff as well as his children at the protest before being removed by police. (Naim denied this.)

As for next year, MFF is scheduled at the Quad again and expanding from 10 days to 14. Nelson also plans to give the grand prize winner a one-week commercial run. (He would not say where this would take place.)

Nelson freely admits he can’t sift through all of the messages that come to him once the festival starts, including those from filmmakers. However, some filmmakers noted that when they finally tracked down Nelson, his apologies included a lot of excuses and sometimes malice: Gibson received another screening after her disastrous premiere, but no Q&A. “I felt in a lot of ways it didn’t happen because I made it known to everyone that I had a problem with how my first screening went,” she said. 


Putting MFF aside for a moment: Does a festival like this serve a real purpose beyond offering the hope of stoking filmmaker egos? 

"There’s an entire segment of the industry that’s built on the hopes and dreams of filmmakers who always wanted to make a movie and they want to get well known," said Brian Newman, founder of filmmaker consultancy Sub-Genre Media. “You have to be really savvy about your career and ask, ‘Is this going to help my film?'"

Newman's advice: Don't apply to an unknown festival without getting a recommendation from a filmmaker who’s played there before. He also suggests seeking out recent and reputable press coverage (and not just a recap of the award winners).

This year's MFF filmmakers said they’ve learned their lessons. Naim plans to ensure his festivals feature major sponsors. (MFF has none.) And Anderson said his experience taught him that next time he wants to screen in New York -- or anywhere -- he may as well just book his own screening.

Gibson, however, still feels bruised.

"I’m not going to get into Cannes," she said. "I just want to sit with my family and see something that I put my two years of hard work into."

This article is related to: Festivals, News, Filmmaker Toolkit: Festivals, Manhattan Film Festival, Quad Cinema , Mira Gibson, Solvan Naim, Full Circle, Philip J. Nelson, IW Investigation

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