Giving Thanks for Filmmakers & Festivals


For many filmmakers, once Thanksgiving hits, their year is over. The festival season has ended until people gear up for Sundance in January and it is virtually impossible to get any shooting done with everyone heading back to whatever non-filmmaking city they escaped from. For many film festivals however, work is just beginning to pick up speed. Submissions are already open for the 2016 edition of the Greenwich International Film Festival and the programming team is hard at work screening films and planning panels and events leading up to and during the Festival weekend.
Just as Thanksgiving is a good time for me to reflect on the things in life I am thankful for (health and safety for one, as I write this a day after the horrible news in Paris), it can also be a time to be thankful for all the great things that have happened for me in the film world. I shot and completed a new short film, and helped with the launch of three new film festivals. I think of Thanksgiving as the holiday to reflect on this year and New Year’s day to look forward to next year, giving me a month to do absolutely nothing introspective at all.


As a part of the inaugural Greenwich International Film Festival, I can tell you how thankful we all are for the great support we received our first year, and especially for the amazing filmmakers who entrusted us with their work. “The films that we chose shaped a program that entertained, challenged, inspired, and educated our audience,” says GIFF Founder and Director of Programming Colleen deVeer; “Our top honors went to a mix of incredibly innovative established and emerging filmmakers and we were so honored to welcome them to the GIFF family.”


One of those award-winning films, THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER, has had a year for which any filmmaker would be thankful. In addition to taking home top honors for Best Documentary Feature at GIFF 2015, Chad Garcia’s film won Best Feature Doc at Montclair Film Festival, Best Debut at Biografilm, Best Cinematography at IDA and a special achievement award at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. The film, about charismatic Ukrainian artist Fedor Alexandrovich and his (somewhat questionable) theories regarding Chernobyl, also played AFI Docs, BAMcinemaFest, Art Film Fest, Nantucket Film Festival, Filmfest Munich, East End Film Festival (in London), Odessa International Film Festival, New Zealand International Festival, Guanajuato International Film Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival, Dokufest, Sarajevo Film Festival, among others.


Shortly after playing Greenwich International Film Festival in June, THE RUSSIAN WOODPECKER was picked up for distribution by Filmbuff, and was released theatrically in LA and NYC, qualifying it for the Oscars. You can see director Chad Garcia’s excellent film yourself on iTunes, Amazon, and Vimeo.


Another film that took home a major award from the inaugural Greenwich International Film Festival, 3 1/2 MINUTES, TEN BULLETS, will be shown on HBO November 23rd and 25th. From director Marc Silver, the film won the Social Impact Award and recounts the story of African-American teenager Jordan Davis’ murder at the hand of Michael Dunn, a white, middle-age man, who used Florida’s Stand Your Ground law as a defense. “Thank you to all of our 2015 filmmakers,” says deVeer, “your expertly crafted and beautiful films made the Jury’s job incredibly difficult.”


With that in mind, I think I’ll leave you with a few things film festivals are most thankful for each and every year.


• Filmmakers who are unafraid to push the envelope and who create challenging work that lives outside the box of the traditional studio system.

• Filmmakers who dedicate their craft to finding stories that need to be told, whether real or imagined, in a way that only they can tell them.

• Filmmakers who take advantage of the film festival circuit, showing their film, traveling with their film, engaging in dialogue with audiences.

• Audiences that are willing to trust Film Festival Programmers with their attention, taking chances on films they’ve never heard of or artists that want to test them.

• Audiences that give more than just their eyes, those who lend us their time or support us financially or with in kind donations, those ‘super-fans’ that understand that a film festival is part of a community and the community is part of the film festival.

• Audiences who take to the frontlines for a film or a filmmaker, telling everyone about how great it is before others can see it, growing its footprint through word of mouth, and expanding a filmmaker’s reach exponentially.

• Films that cross genres, bring audiences together, and give us something to talk about afterwards.

• Press and reviewers who know how to talk about a movie without ruining it for everyone else, and who understand film festivals are lively, interactive places to discover the next generation of artists.

• Those few months after the festival when we can enjoy the accomplishment before having to dive back into making next year even better.

• That first movie we saw that made us want to give so much of our lives back to this art form (mine was Do The Right Thing).

Happy Thanksgiving!

About the author

Bears Fonte is the former Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival as well as the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin, a SciFi film festival.

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