By Colette Finkbiner
Filmstock Film Festival was founded in 2009. The founders wished to recognize the power and the creativity of the short film format while focusing on presenting a locally engaged audience with innovative projects. This year, Filmstock is expanding to the Four Corners region and will deliver independent short films to a diverse audience from inside and outside the film industry in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
James Lee has worked with Filmstock Film Festival since its inception. Today, he organizes the festival as it grows. While Three Horizons Productions (THP) is busy developing its own Supernatural Film Festival for fall 2013, Mr. Lee generously agreed to discuss Filmstock and what it takes to organize a short film festival.
How did you get involved with the festival?
I was one of the first filmmakers to submit to it. I loved the fact that people I had never met would see my work. For a filmmaker, that’s the best thing: having people to see your work. That’s why we do it. We want as broad of an audience as possible. There’s nothing better than having someone you don’t know laugh, cry or get scared at something that you made. The film festival provides that. Filmstock is one of the first festivals that I experienced out of film school.
I got to know the people who organized it. Over the past two or three years, I’ve gotten more involved. We have expanded the mission and now accept submissions outside of Arizona. However, it started as an Arizona festival for Arizona filmmakers showing Arizona shorts to an Arizona audience. I wanted to start getting some fresh ideas not only for filmmakers but also for the audience. Now filmmakers and audiences have more networking opportunities, in addition to seeing work outside of their region and outside of the people they know, while gaining exposure to some new radical ideas. Ever since then, our mission has been to connect audiences with creative visionaries.
Is this the first year Filmstock Film Festival will be going to four states?
That’s correct. I’ve been organizing the entire festival since 2012. I continually think, “How do I get good filmmakers in front of more people?” We’re really honing in on attracting those visionaries. You have to have a good audience to attract great visionaries. I tried thinking about different formats. The idea came up, “What if Filmstock ran a festival in each of the Four Corner states?” New Mexico, Colorado, Utah— in addition to Arizona. They all have the Southwestern identity to them. It provides short filmmakers with more opportunity, I think, than any other festival out there.
There will be four award winners for each of the Filmstock Film Festivals. If your film is one of the top four award winners, you will be moved on to the next three states. It will be an on-going rotation of films. By the time it comes to Arizona, the audience will be able to see 12 award- winning films. Each audience will have a fresh batch of selections.
What are the logistics involved in taking the festival on the road?
It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but it is easier than you might think. It really depends on relationships and how well you are able to develop those relationships with people you can trust. As with any film project, you are depending on people to execute some of the finishes.
I wanted something that would inspire people. Having this festival in four states isn’t just taking it on the road but is establishing it in those four states. The message really resonates well with everyone who comes aboard the team. Because of that team, organization actually has been fairly easy. Communication mostly is virtual. I have a team in each of the states. I do travel, but most of what we do happens over email, phone and other types of virtual coordination. Being organized is probably the most difficult part. My experience as a filmmaker lends itself to organization. That skill has served the team well. Everyone is excited and committed. I offer a lot of leeway to each team as far as what local flavor applies to that festival’s event.
The goal is to meet everyone in the filmmaking community in that state. It’s a fantastic way to put new life into your work as a filmmaker. It’s a terrific opportunity to work with a lot of people. Working with a festival can broaden a filmmaker’s horizons.
What are the criteria for Filmstock’s film selection?
Anything that is under 30 minutes may be accepted as a submission. Otherwise, it is a festival for the audience. We need to make the audience feel at home. We want to encourage audiences to show up. We want films that have an impact on the viewer. We want films that are entertaining and insightful in some way. We are looking for creative visionaries. We are looking for films that are new and fresh. Production value is a big part of that. I ask my selection team: “Would you, in good conscience, invite a friend or family member who has nothing to do with films to the festival and know they would enjoy it?” Everyone has a different taste in movies. We have a fairly diverse submissions team to make sure our program is as well-rounded as possible.
So, you are not genre-specific?
No, we are not. We do program in blocks of genres and themes. We make sure there is a good flow to the program.
Tell me about the Filmstock Grant Project
The grant project is awesome! What better way to connect audiences with filmmakers than to donate part of each ticket to a local visionary. We have a period in which directors, producers or filmmakers can apply for the grant. We ask what the project is about, links to the project, what sort of an impact you’ve made already, how much you are looking to raise, how much you are looking to spend locally, how many people you are planning to employ, how many people you are planning to volunteer and how many people you are planning to intern. Then, what are you planning on doing with the project when it’s done? Are you looking to get it on different distribution channels? What audience are you trying to reach?
It’s awarded to one project in each region. Part of each ticket in New Mexico will go to The Hunt Legionnaire. It’s a web series. They are looking to make a great project and get a lot of attention for filmmaking in New Mexico, which does have a good filmmaking pedigree. My vision is that as the festival grows, so does the grant. Last year, in Arizona, we designated Wes Martinez’s project The Conduit as the recipient for the grant. It’s already had success. It’s a great way to engage the community.
Beyond ticket sales, what do you do for advertising and raising money?
For advertising, we mostly use social media outlets, our website and word of mouth. We have sponsorship opportunities. In fact, Three Horizons Productions has a spot. We don’t aggressively pursue sponsors. We just need audience members for a successful run.
What has been one of your major successes with Filmstock?
This year, a major success has been working with the City of Albuquerque’s film office. They gave us the use of a 660-seat theater in downtown. It is completely sponsored by the city. I’m very excited about it. I think it really resonates with people.
We have other successes like the Barry E. Wallace Award. We have also been able to improve our program. Our 2012 program was spot on. We had a lot of folks show up. Our exit surveys showed that everyone loved the movies. Our content was stellar. I spent about four hours a day for three months contacting filmmaker after filmmaker to make sure we found the best films. It paid off. Now word has gotten out. We’re on Withoutabox. Submissions come in now with little to no effort and we have made some great partnerships. We also were able to obtain the film rights to show Shane Acker’s original short film 9 at our 2012 closing.
Filmstock Film Festival opens in the Land of Enchantment on March 8, 2013, at the KiMo Theatre in Albuquerque. The circuit continues on to Colorado in June, Utah in September and will wind up 2013 in Arizona. Award-winning, unique films will be announced at each festival. Be sure to check out the Filmstock Film Festival website for the latest updates.
Three Horizons Productions is a team of independent filmmakers who want to develop, acquire, and produce multi-media projects that showcase inspirational themes, compelling stories, and provocative characters to entertain or educate international audiences. Three Horizons Productions, located in Arizona, has a global outreach.