Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015:The Year in Festivals

Normally I do a list of the great festivals prattling on about  how good they are. This year I'm going to talk about some stuff that happened, good and bad, and our plans after covering in one form or another 53 or so fests.

Let me start out by reiterating the best fests of the film year from my perspective- they are in no particular order


You'll notice the list hasn't changed much- except that the SOUTH ASIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (SAIFF) is missing. This isn't a sign that the festival has ceased, rather its simply that I didn't cover it other than to say that it was happening.

If you're asking why, which would be a valid question considering that we've grown more and more fond of the festival, the answer is simple, there has been a change in the festivals management and it simply couldn't happen.

What happened? I don't know.

I know that things started to look off several months ago when the dates of the festival began to move around. I kind of knew something was amiss when at one point it was listing as being at the SVA theater at the same time as DOC NYC. The dates shifted at least three times. The website was down for a while.  As things got closer to the time it was to start- but still several weeks off I contacted who I thought was doing the PR  and was told he wasn't. Additionally he didn't know who was doing it. I then started to get emails to my personal account (I'm on the festival mailing list because of ticket purchases) and found the website was back up. I attempted to contact the press office and got nothing despite repeated attempts.

The original plan for this year was to actually attend as many of the screenings as possible and to do some interviews, but the change dates, throwing it deeper and deeper into the year and finally the holiday season made it more and more unlikely. I might have been able to do it but the venue change added extra travel time I couldn't work around within my schedule. The final nail was the lack of contact from the press office. It isn't because I must have screeners or comps, if I want to go to a fest I buy my tickets for the public screenings, rather with SAIFF I am clueless as to what the films are and which ones I should see. If I'm going to one or two I need to be pointed toward them and I couldn't get that this year. In previous years I had Ted going "If you're not sure what to do start with..." I got walked through the festival in past years- something I really would need if I wasn't doing everything.

To be honest I missed not covering SAIFF and after it being the final fest of the year for the last three years I feel like I have no closure. This year the film ear just drifted off into nothingness.

Hopefully next year I'll get there and the film year can close out properly

I freely admit to over doing this year and I hope never to do it again because it damn near killed me.
Why do I say I over did consider the following:

We covered 90 of the 110 or so features at TRIBECA
We did 132 of 157 totals films at DOC NYC
We did all but one or two films at JAPAN CUTS
We got to most of NYFF films
We did over half the feature films at FANTASIA
We covered most of The NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S FILM FEST missing mostly shorts.

It was too much and while seeing that many films may be fun to do, it's the writing them up that's the killer. The result of it being killer is the reason that things ill be changing in the new year. I'll have more information on that in a special piece that's going up on January 3.

This year New York Asian Film Festival split from The Japan Societies Japan Cuts series and it caused a bit of chaos. It wan't that there was anything wrong as such more that they didn't quite work out the separation with the result the over lap killed some people. Admittedly the last six or seven years there was overlap but in many cases the films played multiple times and you had a chance to catch most things, this year it was largely a one or the other.

NYAFF also took up residence for the final weekend at the SVA theater. This was way cool since they could double book stuff and have two screens of madness going. I can't wait for next year

I need to say that I'm thrilled that the Japan Society is now doing regular screenings. Why they didn't do it before always vexed me. And while I hate then schlep to the actual building , I love what they screen and that they now are really spreading culture by showing more films.

This year I was disappointed in the New York Film Festival. Its not that the films were bad- actually in retrospect, when I compared them to previous years they were pretty good, the problem is they were very of a type-old school arty. And while they were very high class, they were also far from challenging and rather unexciting. I blame the programmers who have been in place in one for far too many years. I also blame the patrons of the Film Society who seem to like a certain type of film. What I find troubling is that while I usually can cover a film festival and be assured that my numbers will triple when compared to the regular readership, during this years NYFF the readership numbers went down. It seemed that no one was reading on the films.Or no one was reading our stuff. As someone said to me the blue hairs who go to NYFF only get their information form certain sources and are not tech savvy. (Readership shot through the roof with Scary Movies, DOC NYC and the fests that followed NYFF)

In a related note Gavin Smith has left Film Comment magazine. Smith is a great guys and hell of a programmer whomanages to bring the most interesting things to New York. I'm hoping he remains a programmer at the Film Society and the New York Film Festival because his tuff has always been some of the best.

One last thought, by way of a word of warning to PR people.

2015 was the first year where I've run across film festivals which will not let me review their films. I have no idea why since in a couple of cases they would have had a week or two of free advertising since two of the three fests this happened at I was going to wade in and really cover. They would send me links but I was only going to be allowed to do capsule reviews in a curtain raiser.

Thank you no.

I will not devote hours and hours of time watching films if I can only write a line or two about them. While I completely understand that in some of the cases the films were getting a later release and they want coverage when the film appears in theaters- others were not and they could have used some sort of coverage to get the word out.

From this point on I will not do that. Unless you can make a good case don't ask me to cover your festival if you're going to limit what I write. I don't want to sit on reviews- I still have reviews I can't run from BAMcinema Fest because I was told I couldn't write up the films- never mind everyone else who saw the films at other festivals did reviews- those of us from BAM are still embargoed for a couple of films. Hell, films like STINKING HEAVEN  which have gotten releases and PERVERTS PARK which has not have reviews half finished on my computer because I was not allowed to do a full review back in May.

From this point on if anyone wants me to restrict reviews for the entire festival I'll give you a curtain raiser but don't dangle the films if I can't review them, I don't have time for that nonsense- especially when you spring it last minute or wouldn't restrict me if I bought a ticket.

Some thoughts on whats coming---

2015 was the year that the New York Jewish Film Festival began to tickle my fancy. It's essentially the first festival of the year and every year its has a bunch of truly great and wonderful unexpected films. This year two of my favorite films of the year KING OF NERAC and DELIMAN played there. And there were several other films which absolutely enthralled me as well. As this posts I'm hard at work watching and writing on next year's festival. DO buy tickets there is some good stuff there.

Strangely NYJFF is not going to be the first fest of 2016 that we cover. The first fest is going to be NEIGHBORING SCENES a festival of Latin American cinema. I've seen a couple of films and all I can say is WOW. (And look for some coverage of The Museum of the Moving Images First Look Fest as well)

Honestly it's not even January and the film year is already shaping up to be something special.

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