Notes from a Festival Programmer: 60 Seconds Or Less, That's What You're Competing Against

Sixty seconds or less. There are so many good films capturing my attention in that amount of time this year. As a filmmaker, this is what you are up against. There is no "wait till you get to the good part." There is no waiting for Act II to kick in. As a filmmaker who is submitting to festivals, or will be submitting to festivals, you must keep in mind that your film is not existing in a void. If your film doesn't grab us till ten, twenty, thirty minutes in, and the ones before did it from the jump, which ones will we gravitate to most?

If you're worried that this means you can't have a film that is more meditative and takes its time, fret not. A few of the films I've seen have fallen into this "category"* and they're still captivating. One film I'm really digging so far has a ten minute long, dialogue free scene, with no other characters but the main one.

So what has that 60 seconds entailed?

For me so far, it's ranged from a series of beautifully composed shots, to an opening joke that made me choke on my drink, to a character introducing herself with some misleading dialogue, to a high energy action sequence. Will these films all get in?

Not sure yet. There are still so many more films to consider, however, they are the ones that I easily remember without having to refer to any of my notes. More importantly, I instantly remember why.


*Every year there are several filmmakers who email us asking if we take "slow, thoughtful" films. Their impression is that festivals don't program them much. One, they really haven't been to enough festivals, because "slow, thoughtful" films are selected all the time. Two, programmers may love those films, that doesn't mean their audiences do, nor does it mean those audiences still aren't adventurous. Festivals still have to put butts in seats and serve their audiences and not just dictate to them. Three, harsh reality here, if you're a filmmaker that describes your film as such, and your film has been rejected time and time again and hasn't been accepted into any festivals, it probably means your film is not slow, it's boring. Four, the issue with some "slow and thoughtful" films is that they're the intellectual flipside of the action blow 'em up coin. Just as we've seen the drug deal gone wrong movie a thousand times, we've also seen the contemplative movie in which a character wanders the Earth learning lessons a thousand times. However, when we see someone with a fresh take, we will take notice and maybe even fist pump (yes, I've done that, several times this year in fact) and nearly shit our pants because we enjoyed the film so much.