Meet GIFF’s new programmer! – Interview with Sam Kleiner

By Kayla O’Brien

Sam Kleiner joined the Greenwich International Film Festival team back in November and has already been a huge programming asset for the 2017 Festival. He made his first short film in the seventh grade and has been passionate about filmmaking ever since. Sam attended a number of intensive programs at international film schools including the Prague Film School and the New York Film Academy. He graduated Cum Laude from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon with a BA in Psychology and Film Studies. Sam’s postgraduate experience in film has been primarily in publicity and he has had the opportunity to work with some of the top distribution companies in New York including Magnolia Pictures, The Weinstein Company, and A24. Sam has also been fortunate enough to participate in a number of different film festivals including Tribeca, Sundance, and Cannes. He loves festivals because they highlight certain films that might normally not be seen and provide a unique platform for filmmakers to find their audience.

GIFF: How did your interest in film first develop?

Sam Kleiner: I saw Jerry Maguire—my first rated R movie—when I was in Kindergarten. To the horror of my entire family, at the dinner table that evening I told them everything I’d learned from the film. They forbade me from watching movies like that ever again… and it also happened to be the last time I ever saw that particular babysitter. From that point on I appreciated film for its ability to teach me about the unknown and because I saw that it had the power to really stir things up. As I grew up and continued to watch films I sought after movies that forced me to think in different ways, challenged viewpoints, or made a statement that pushed a different perspective. I appreciate film as an art form because it has the ability to educate, transport, and transform, and all you have to be willing to do is sit in front of the screen.

GIFF: What has been your most memorable experience since starting at GIFF?

Sam Kleiner: I feel so lucky to have joined this team who have accepted me with open arms. My favorite experiences with the GIFF fam have been the team lunches, where we really had a chance to bond and get to know one another, and our first advance screening of 20TH CENTURY WOMEN. I must say, however, that my ultimate, most unforgettable experience thus far has been our trip to Sundance. I got to watch some of the most incredible films from all over the world, beginning at 9am until the 11pm screening finished. I barely saw the light of day the entire time we were there, and was constantly hopping around to different theatres trying to catch as many films as possible. It was heaven.

GIFF: What are you most looking forward to for this year’s festival? Why?

Sam Kleiner: This is the first time in my life that I have ever been a part of something that you work on for the entire year and then get to watch culminate in a couple days. So, I think I am most excited to see and experience all of our hard work come together during that weekend. Of course, I am also stoked to hear people’s reactions to all the films and panels that Colleen and I have put together.

GIFF: What does a programmer do? Tell us a little bit about your role at GIFF.

Sam Kleiner: I have the coolest job. Aside from supporting Colleen, our director of programming, my main responsibility is to watch and critique as many movies as possible, in the hopes of curating the most engaging final lineup of films for this year’s festival. The films that I watch include those that are either sent to us directly through our call for entry, those that are handpicked from other film festivals, or those that are offered from film studios. I also recruit individuals on our pre-screening committee, who assist us in selecting films, and I put together the juries who judge and award the films at the festival. Finally, I help organize the panel discussions and special events and recruit talent to attend and support the festival.

GIFF: What qualities do you think make a good programmer?

Sam Kleiner: A good programmer, especially one that is programming for a community festival like GIFF, understands the difference between films that they personally love and films that are a good fit for the festival. It is important to stay true to the mission of the festival, so I am constantly on the lookout not only for films that I enjoy, but also for films that make a social impact and are a good fit for our Greenwich audience. I want our program to show films that challenge people’s views and force them to think in different ways, but it is important to strike a balance of films that change perspective, but aren’t too unapproachable that the audience is afraid to get in front of the screen.

GIFF: What piece of advice would you give to other students interested in film and programming?

Sam Kleiner: Stay true to what you’re passionate about and don’t be afraid to chase something just because people told you it was unattainable. For the longest time, I only considered film a hobby of mine, and I was determined to find a more “stable career”. My parents are both doctors, so I put it on the back burner, and was determined to pursue a more secure path like medicine. However, I finally let my passion for this art form guide me towards pursuing a career in film and I haven’t looked back since. I am so happy I chose film because I honestly wake up every morning excited to go to work.
I think another critical piece of advice in making it in this industry is knowing the exceptional importance of making valuable connections. Working hard, showing up, and being kind gets you very far in this industry, and in film it really is all about “who you know.” People remember a hard worker who is a pleasure to be around, and those connections will stay with you and help you as you continue to advance your career.

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