It finally happened! Your friend, Suzie, has been with you for the first three years of your festival. She’s handled the logistics; laughed and cried with you as you watched the great and horrible submissions; stood by your side when you had to tell the programmers they got it all wrong and accepted the films that touched your heart; helped you bring the audiences; driven filmmakers to and from the airport; been the only person by your side to tear down the step and repeat at the lobby when all the guests have gone and the theater employees are turning off the lights; and even helped you front the cost of reserving the event space when your wallet was empty. You’ve been a tremendous source of inspiration, and as a result, she’s made a film. She wants to enter it in your festival, but there is one problem… it sucks!
Being a festival director is a very demanding job, and one that requires a lot of passion for film and infinite patience for filmmakers. You may have to go through hundreds of films and countless arguments with programmers who are there to help you curate your line up for that year.
Then there’s negotiating the venue, promoting the event, and did I mention dealing with the 100 or so egos that come along with each acceptance. It’s not all bad; in fact, for you it is all worth it if you are successful in pulling off the event you had envisioned. You know, however, that the only way this is going to happen is if you are able to get enough volunteers to make this all work, and who is there to make that happen, Suzie, your childhood friend who would never say no to you in your time of need.
Suzie surprised you with her first film. She submits it through regular channels and it gets flagged by your programmers. They too are distraught because they know it’s nowhere near the caliber of films for your festival. They want to speak with you before they send the standard rejection letter that Suzie herself drafted for you to send to others.
So how do you respond? First, you should not accept the film to your festival if it does not meet your standards. At the end of the day, it is your laurel that will be attached to her film, so this will define your brand. Second, be honest with your friend and give her feedback on her work. Tell her what was good and what needs improvement. Third, if she really wants to get her film into a festival, help her make the corrections you suggested and work with her in finding a festival that you feel will give her the type of experience that will inspire her to make better films in the future. After all, if she if your friend, she deserves and should expect your honest feedback.
If you have had to deal with this issue as a Programmer, Festival Director, or Filmmaker, please share your experiences and thoughts below.