The 20th Annual Austin Film Festival

By Elizabeth Quinn

After a semi-red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Houston to Austin, I finally arrived for a traditional Austin breakfast taco and was ready to start my day at the festival. I’ve been here before and I keep coming back because the films, the panels, and the people are truly some of the best in the world.

I forgot rule number one, however…get your registration done early! Checking in took a very long time; so much that I was late to my first panel “How to Work the Festival”. Well, that and I ran into my first celebrity sighting of Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black) and Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise, Nashville) and could not contain myself. Callie was busy talking to someone and Jenji was in a hurry but I did manage to catch her for about 30 seconds.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” I said, “But I have to tell you how much I love Orange is the New Black!

“Oh, that’s so sweet of you,” she replied, “Thank you so much. What’s your name?”

“Elizabeth.”

“Well, thank you so much.”

And then as quickly as she came into my life she was gone. If luck is on my side, we’ll run into each other again and I can remind her who I am. Maybe even get a picture with her. Tell her that Crazy Eyes and Black Cindy rule! Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, at the panel moderated by AFF Director of Programming Bears Monte, featured guests gave their best tips on submitting and attending festivals:

  • Make sure to network amongst yourselves. It shouldn’t be work, necessarily; you are connecting with like-minded people who love the same visual art that you do. Sure, meeting celebrities is great and they’ll be nice to you, but they can’t really help you. You have to meet your peers and like-minded artists; this is your professional network that you’re building.
  • You also can’t rely on the festival to do all of your marketing for you. You have to do your own marketing and promote your film throughout the festival to get bodies in the seats. Remember, not everyone has a producer’s badge or film pass; most people are going to go to films based on word of mouth.
  • If you did a crowd source fundraiser for your film, contact any of the donators who live in a city where your film is playing and reach out to them to help promote it. If they donated money to your film, they already believe in your work.
  • Another great resource they mentioned was TUGG, which is similar to crowd sourcing but involves raising advance ticket sales for a screening of your completed film at a theater, which can be done in many cities throughout the country: http://www.tugg.com/howtuggworks

The panelists also touched on features vs. shorts. Features are more political since many festivals don’t want to program your film if it’s already premiered somewhere else; festivals want to be unique. Short films have more longevity and can screen at more festivals over a longer period of time.

When it comes to submitting your film to festivals, remember that at most festivals, the director of programming does not watch the film until the programming committee has watched it first (unless you have a track record or have played at the festival before). Conversely, if a short film has played at other festivals, programmers will likely watch them first since it’s been “validated” by other festivals.

As far as contacting programmers, it’s definitely a fine line. You don’t want to pester them as they only have so much time to watch films and respond to emails, but the longer you’re on the festival circuit the more people you get to know and that can buy you some leeway to reach out to them.

The schedule is pretty light on this first day of AFF 2013, but check back soon for more information on my second day of panel hopping and film watching!

Gone to Texas! (GTT)