Notes from a Festival Programmer: They Hated It, We Loved It, Why We Welcome Polarizing Films

It's early in the submissions process for ATLFF13, but we have enough films that the screeners have started watching and scoring films. This morning I opened the screening sheets to see how they were doing so far. Under the features one film immediately jumped out at me. Three screeners didn't like the film and each gave it a very low score. Two screeners gave the film a high score. In those respective camps the scores are almost identical.  This of course piqued my interest and got me excited.

I queued up the film and gave it a watch. Ten minutes in I immediately understood why the low scoring screeners didn't dig it, I also in those ten minutes saw why the high scoring screeners had written such glowing reviews of the film. It's a genre bending work that definitely isn't for everyone. And I loved it.

It's precisely because the film is able to neatly divide our screening committee that reflects why it's in my opinion such a strong film. It's a film that attacks its subject with a rigor, focus and audacity that's exciting and refreshing. Out of that rises so many questions and turns the film into a Rorschach test about the very subject it's covering. The filmmakers vision is evident in every frame. This is the exact kind of film that I'm thinking of when I tell filmmakers that the way they tend to think of scores as a barometer of bad, poor, good, great doesn't match what many festivals are looking for. To paraphrase: "Art that's created to please everyone tends to please no one."

Will it get into the festival? Way TOO early to say. We're still five months from our last deadline and a good six and a half months from having to make final selections. As Head of Programming my job is to stay as open minded to all the possibilities of what the festival can be and that changes every time a new batch of films come in. But to the filmmakers that made that film kudos and keep pushing the envelope.