Film fest-ology

Bryhanna Greenough on what happens when you send your movie to market.

You’ve done it. You’ve put together a movie.

Your friends and family are still giving you the fish eye because of all the favours you’ve been asking of them.

“Do you have an extra extension cord?” They don’t quite understand what you’ve been doing, or why.

Along the way meals were skipped, snaggles were snaggled, tangles tightened, a few tears dropped, and a hard word or two was flung carelessly into the wind. The credit cards? Don’t ask.

And now? Tuck a DVD into a bubblewrap envelope and fire it into the outer space of film festivals.

If you submitted a film to this year’s International Women’s Film Festival, there’s a good chance it landed (with a thud, along with hundreds of other bubblewrap envelopes) on Leslie Vryenhoek’s desk. She’s one of the ten members on the selection committee for the festival. It was their combined duty to watch and to pass judgement on each and every film that was submitted.

I can almost guarantee that she watches more movies than you.

Case in point: this spring and summer while most of us were busy trying to get some sun on our heads, Vryenhoek, who also works in Communications at MUN, spent her off-hours whittling down a stack of 230 discs.

“All of your ironing gets done, all your buttons get sewn on because you can do that kind of handiwork while you’re watching.”

Of the record number 515 submissions, only 80 films are set to grace festival screens.
So what sets a particular film down the yay or nay stream? Vryenhoek says the selection crew looks at everything from subject matter to the quality of filming, acting, writing and effect.

In one of the films, the tragic flaw was a microphone that had been set on a fridge, which kept turning on and buzzing. Another example was a film where a mic was placed in a tree full of really noisy, irrelevent-to-the-movie birds.

And every once in a while a disc comes in that just doesn’t work. (You can hear the forehead-slapping from here.) Luckily, when this happens, the folks at the festival get in touch to ask for a new copy.

Technical mastery, strong writing, and technological glitches aside, a film still has other obstacles to overcome: it has to get along well with others.

“Putting together the program becomes a big jigsaw puzzle,” Vryenhoek says. “You have to fit the pieces together correctly.”

The committee tries to program away from “tremendously bleak or disturbing things.”
“At the same time though, we have a lot of very serious, very good documentaries we’re airing this year,” she says.

I had to ask whether there were any nasty and the wildly inappropriate submissions: Films with extreme sex and violence.

Vryenhoek tells me no film is wildly inappropriate.

“Films pushing boundaries in the realms of sex and violence are looked at on their own terms, according to artistic merit,” she says. “The biggest taboos for us are bad production, bad writing, and bad acting.”

But the bad movies aren’t the tricky ones for the selection committee, the good ones are.

“When you have that many movies you know you’re going to have to cut some really good ones,” Vryenhoek explains.

At this stage, length does matter. The programming committee tries to keep each screening to one-and-a-half hours.

And while the selection committee whittles away the pile, they have to ensure what’s left makes for a well-balanced program. The mix of films and where they’re from is significant. Vryenhoek tells me it’s very important to have some local films in, and a good solid Canadian base of films, as well as a good solid international base.

“If we’re wrestling between two films and one is an American film and one is a Canadian, and they’re similar in content, then we’ll almost always go with the Canadian one, simply because it resonates more with our audience.”

When it comes to programming, rather than sticking incoming movies in predetermined categories, the program is instead shaped by the types of movies that come in.

For instance, “we have far more documentaries showing this year because we got so many strong documentaries,” she says. “Whereas last year we had more dramatic shorts, and that was the bulk of our programming.”

I tell her she must really love movies to put herself through all this.
She replies right back, “you love it when you hit the good ones.”

Illustration by Kira Sheppard.