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April 26, 2007



I agree 100%... Anthony quoted me in that piece, and my hopeis that people don't read that rticl and think "sour grapes"-- Our festival will play any film regardless of premiere status that we think matches our programming sensibility. End of discussion. I feel that all festivals would be well served to adopt this philosophy, provided that they have a broad enough range to be highly inclusive.

I also want to take Esther Robinson (who I admire very much) to task for her quote at the end of the piece; I've written extensively at my own blog about the unreasonable shift and burden of trying to make a profit for film on the back of non-profit festivals, but her final quote gets it all wrong. Festivals need to unite on this front and stop screwing the marketplace by playing this stupid game.

--Tom Hall

AJ Schnack

In case you haven't clicked over to Anthony's article, the quote that Tom refers to is:

"But a far more difficult and painful question," adds Robinson, "is what does this mean for most movies where the festivals are their release strategy? Premieres or no premieres, what the system needs is fewer film festivals and those that survive to be better funded so they can pay rentals, because for the bulk of these films that will be their only source of income."


Well, I guess we're called out. :)

It's a perceptive and incisive article, AJ, and a great companion to Anthony's piece.

The one exception that I take is to you saying that we "have no qualms about playing the premiere game."

We have plenty of qualms. I don't like it, and think that many mid-level fests have taken on similar policies to the big "premiere" festivals - policies which I think are unwarranted.

If anything, True/False has opted out of the game. From 2006 forward, no film that ever plays here will ever carry with it the tag of "premiere" nor will we make that part of our festival marketing. We're simply not that sort of festival.

The reason we do the secret screenings and sneak previews is to preserve, for the filmmakers, the chance to premiere at a larger, more media and industry filled festival. It certainly doesn't help our attendance numbers.

I appreciate your willingness to help maintain our press embargo on those screenings. In both cases, the request came from the filmmakers, not from Tribeca, and we have worked to honor their requests. I don't like that we are put in a position where we have to make requests like this, but, ultimately, I'd rather be able to treat my audience to a great film than say after the fact that we showed it.

It's hard to imagine any solution to this growing problem, short of some sort of governing association for film festivals that would set up rules for premieres, sneaks, etc. I've had lots of long conversations with other festival programmers and directors in the last year, and though some were fruitful, almost all involved laughable exercises in negotiating the language and details of what it means to be the first or second public screening of a film.

That some of these conversations were about the fourth or fifth public screening of a film is proof that this system (such that it is) badly needs to be overhauled.

thanks for your writing on this AJ, it's badly needed.

AJ Schnack

Saying "no qualms" was sloppy on my part. What I meant to convey was that True/False doesn't really play the premiere "game" and has no desire to start. I think that my initial post on your comments to Leahan were more to the point:

"Of note is T/F programmer David Wilson's statement regarding the out-of-control requirements regarding festivals and premiere status - something that True/False has chosen to rebel against"

To the point of the secret screening, I think that you raise important points, particularly to the contorted language that everyone engages in to try to preserve the "specialness" of their line-up. It is to True/False's great credit that your audience does not seem to require this sort of thing.

I think that my main issue with retracting the information wtih the film in question is to ask how long should this information remain secret? Is it free to disseminate after the Tribeca screening? After a longer festival run? After the film plays in theatres or on television? Certainly at some point (and my initial thought was that we had reached that point) the information no longer has the currency - or the threat of handicap - that it once did.

Brit Withey

Good God, I've been waiting for this discussion to come up for years. I tried to bring this up at the first Film Festival Summit in New York several years back and it was squashed pretty quickly.

I remember being taken to task by a critic a few years ago about the programming of the Denver Festival as being “raked over the coals” since the films had screened in other festivals. Well, yeah, they were raked over the coals for a couple of our local critics who attend Telluride and Toronto and they were brand new for the 40,000 other people who came down to the festival to see them. It's ridiculous. I have to say, though, that I also don't necessarily agree with the idea of screening a film in a festival as some sort of “sneak-peek” and not listing it in your program, not putting it online, basically pretending you are not screening it in order for some other festival to have the “premiere.” I think that perpetuates the problem, and AJ and I have had this discussion if he wants to comment…but if a film doesn't want to actually, truly BE a part of your festival, why screen it? There are lots of films out there. I could go on and on about this forever….


Well, I think that you make some good points Brit, but I also think that there's another way (or ways) of looking at this problem.

At T/F, we serve two audiences. One is our local crowd, who are wonderful and extremely enthusiastic, but tend to be pretty ignorant about the esoterica of documentary film. (most couldn't name three documentary directors, much less what the hottest new projects are.)

Our other audience is made up of filmmakers and invited guests - much smaller in numbers, but equally important to us. For them, we think we do a service by offering fresh films that they might not have had a chance to see yet.

And, from a programmer's standpoint, I just want to show the best films that I've seen. Period. So when I see something that's brand new, or has been promised to another fest, I'm going to try and figure out if there's a way to make everybody happy.

So far, I think we've been pretty successful with that. The filmmakers don't seem to feel slighted that they're not in the program or are listed as a "secret" screening - instead they're really thrilled to be somewhere without the pressure of a premiere - somewhere where they can just revel in their accomplishment with an energized audience.

Would I rather that we didn't have to play the premiere game at all? Absolutely. It would make my life TONS easier. But it's there, and it's not going away, and so we've all got to make do with what we've got. And I guess I really don't see it even being within our power to "perpetuate" anything. We're a tiny fest and what we do or say is a pretty small splash in the pond.

But I really appreciate your thoughts, Brit, and I'm glad you had the courage to bring this up at the FFS (even if you didn't get much response). It bears more discussion and debate and maybe we'll all get to a place where we can show movies without overwhelming restrictions.

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