Donna ON PR: Big or Small, Film Festivals Celebrate Filmmaking

In a couple of days, thousands of people, press, filmmakers, investors, industry executives will descend upon the beautiful mountain town, Park City, Utah for not one but two film festivals: Sundance Film Festival (January 16—26, 2014) and Slamdance Film Festival (January 17—23, 2014). It’s a small town and those first few days it will be bursting at the seams as thousands of people attend screenings, workshops, parties (and more parties) to celebrate filmmaking at its best.

Credit: Karrah Kwasnik

Q&A with All That I Am; NHFF Grand Jury Prize Winner. From Left to Right: Producer, Grant Curatola; producer E. McCabe Walsh; writer and director, Carlos Puga; and actor, Chris Abbott

Last October, I attended a festival in Portsmouth, NH; a small seacoast town commuting distance to Boston, Massachusetts. The New Hampshire Film Festival is set in a quaint New England town and in 2013 ran from October 17-20th; prime ‘wow’ factor months in this part of the country. Red carpets are mixed with gold and orange foliage and this year, temps were near perfect – in the 60s with sunshine and hardly any wind.

NH Film Festival: The Little Festival That Could, and Did

As a television and film marketer – I’ve gone to some of the bigger festivals and industry shows during my career but never NHFF. I’m a NH native and attended University of New Hampshire in Durham… only 20 minutes away from Portsmouth. I’m currently living and working in Portsmouth and when I heard NHFF was kicking off October 17 – 20th and celebrating its 10th year in Portsmouth—I wanted to check things out and share for my Script Magazine column. How could I resist the chance to check out what this small, but proud, festival had to offer?

After spending four days exploring the festival, it didn’t disappoint. During my time at the festival I found NHFF programming team had put together a strong line-up of films and impressive list of attendees and presenters. I like to think of NHFF as the “Little Festival that could, and did, deliver.”

On Your Mark, Get Set, You’re In… But Now What?

It’s 2014 and a new film festival season is upon us. Many filmmakers I work with have submitted their films to some of the bigger festivals (SXSW, Tribeca, Berlin International Film Festival) and are now waiting and wondering. Will I get the nod? If so, what happens next? My advice to them, and you, is if you are waiting to hear word from a festival in the coming months – be ready. Social media presence, marketing, press materials, and photos – have these ready to go and also a sense for your budget so you know what you can, and can’t swing during your time at the festival. You can also do a refresher by reading some of my past columns for Script Magazine on crowdfunding and film budgeting to tackle how to prepare for Film Festivals.

One of the big takeaways in my conversations with a few filmmakers during NHFF was this festival went the extra mile for them which was appreciated and will be remembered for years to come. NHFF had the brilliant idea to partner with C&J Trailways and provided free service for New York City filmmakers. “How do I get there” becomes a pretty simple solution if you’re based in New York City.

Young Talent, World Premieres, and Industry Darlings

I sat down with young filmmaker, Ronen Rubenstein, whose film Something in the Way had its world premiere during NHFF. I met up with Ronen after his film’s world premiere and was impressed to learn about his accomplishments to date at such a young age; Rubinstein is 19 years old. The film, which he wrote, directed and starred in, is about the Vietnam War and the impact it had on soldiers returning home after serving their country.

While talking with Rubinstein, a New York City native, I was impressed with his determination and confidence – and ability to take on such a tough subject matter for his first short drama. It was obvious during our conversation that in the making of this film he wanted to make sure the story and feelings of veterans was told accurately – and that his storytelling honored those who have served. He started writing the script for Something in the Way when he was 16 and was able to connect with veterans from the Vietnam War and speak with them about their experiences on the battlefield. These are people who find themselves counseling many of the thousands of veterans now returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

NHFF hosted nearly 100 films this year. Try as I might I didn’t get to see every film but was pleased with the caliber and content of those films that I did get to watch. If I had to pick two favorites, they would be Palimpeset (Mike Tyburski), which won for “Best Short Drama;” and The Crash Reel (Lucy Walker), which won for “Best Documentary.

The Crash Reel has strong ties to New England; it’s the story of snowboarding legend Kevin Pearce, whose horrific accident while training for the 2010 Olympics leads to a severe traumatic brain injury. The film takes audiences through Kevin’s moment of injury, months long hospital stay, years long rehab and painful personal struggle to come to terms with the impact his injury has on his future as a snowboarder. For me, the most powerful element to this doc is the Pearce family. Watching their love and respect for each other is simply amazing and inspiring. It was an incredible film and it would have been amazing had someone been there for Q&A during the screening; but unfortunately for us and fortunately for them – the film was also screening at BFI London Film Festival which overlaps with NHFF. London vs. Portsmouth? Hmmm… Oh well… maybe someday.

Closing ceremonies brought out many locals and visitors to the Portsmouth Music Hall; the Music Hall has stood in the community for 135 years and was almost demolished in 1987. The space is sensational, I’m a sucker for old theaters and this one doesn’t disappoint. A few hours earlier, I got to interview the eventual winners of NHFF’s “Grand Jury Prize,” the cast and crew from All That I Am. Although at the time of our interview in a crowded bar on Congress St., I had no idea they’d soon take the stage to accept their “Granny” (NH is the “granite state”…”granny” award is solid granite…so clever!)

During my interview I spoke with cast member Chris Abbott (Girls); director and writer Carlos Puga; producer Grant Curatola; and producer E. McCabe Walsh. We got into the nitty-gritty about filmmaking, bartending, marketing small-budget films, small town filmmaking and festivals. Next month, I’ll highlight excerpts from my interviews with the All That I Am crew and up and coming filmmaker, Ronen Rubinstein.

Whether you’ve got your eye on this year: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival September 4-14 or perhaps the 2014 New Hampshire Film Festival is now on your radar…go for it and keep in mind sometimes being a big fish in a small pond can be lead to BIG things. Keep an open mind and do your research; talk to those who have had their films screened at the festival and figure out what makes sense for this particular film. Through my conversations with different filmmakers over these four days – there was universal agreement that NHFF rolls out the red (gold and orange this time of year) carpet for its filmmakers.

Portsmouth is a town that offers much in the way of arts, culture and it offers different events and festivals throughout the year. It’s an accessible town and the festival is stimulating for the community but hardly chaotic. For me, living in Portsmouth and covering a Festival in my “hometown” had just enough “industry” edge to make Portsmouth feel transformed; it definitely made me feel like I was somewhere else, yet…right at home.

Interview with Nicole Gregg, Film Festival Director at New Hampshire Film Festival

Q: What are some of the goals for 2013 NHFF?

Gregg: Putting audiences in front of great films. Increasing attendance numbers. And, creating an all-around spectacular celebration of film and Portsmouth. We also hope to have gotten filmmakers’ films in front of key industry members.

Q: There are so many festivals for filmmakers to choose from today – if a filmmaker is considering entering their film at NHFF – what are some of the things they might want to consider?

Gregg: When we’re selecting our program, we keep audience in mind. Our goal is to keep attendees wanting more and wanting to come back year after year, so we select films that are enlightening, entertaining and inspiring. We look for independent films that are not necessarily going to be seen on a big screen and might push the envelope slightly. At times we look for films that might take the average audience member out of their comfort zone but also offer a reward. In general, if the film is really well done technically as well as well written and well-acted, it has a shot.

Q: What’s the vibe at NHFF?

Gregg: Unpretentious and surprisingly sophisticated. We also tend to be very filmmaker-centric and nurturing and very welcoming to all – filmmakers, industry and guests.

Q: What was one of the funnier moments from the festival – a Festival blooper perhaps?

Gregg: I’m pretty sure the comedy panel took the cake on funny moments of the film festival. Standing room only and non-stop laughter for an hour and a half. Hopefully we’ll see Rae Dawn Chong on Dancing with the Stars! [Tom Bergeron, host of Dancing with the Stars,was also part of the festival jury and participated at a Comedy panel on Saturday morning.]

New Hampshire Film Festival 411

According to NHFF organizers, one of the other major goals included social media; giving NHFF a big imprint through the use of its hashtag, #NHFF. The tag was incorporated on all its marketing materials and the 2013 social media team was larger than in years past. The final numbers confirmed these efforts paid off, with #NHFF documenting approximately 3.2 million online impressions over the four day festival.

Location: Portsmouth, NH is one hour north of Boston, on the boarder of Maine and banks of the Piscataqua River.

2014 NHFF Dates: October TBA

2014 NHFF Submission Deadline and Cost: TBA; FYI: last year’s early bird date: June 5; early date: July 5; and late date: August 5, 2013

2013 Festival Grand Jury: Sharon Badal (Tribeca Enterprises and Tribeca Film Festival); Tom Bergeron (Dancing with the Stars and America’s Funniest Video), Justin DiPietro (IFC Films); Maureen Masters (Magnolia Pictures); and Drew Vinton (Pearl Street Productions).

Hashtag: #NHFF

Website: www.NHfilmfestival.com

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