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January 16, 2008



Hey there,

It’s a doc blog love-in. I love it! But, listen, this is what I meant when I said that film festival programmers have a vested interest in the films that they vote for. Classic example: Spellbound. There’s a movie that Sundance passed on but South by Southwest gave the Jury Prize to. Spellbound then goes on to being recognized for the great film that it is. That makes South by Southwest look good, especially if the film’s Oscar run ad campaign mentions its being at that festival, or the DVD has on its jacket that it was at such and such festival. So, when voting time comes for the AJ Awards (hey, that has a nice ring to it, no?), the South by Southwest programmer has more of an interest in it winning more awards than, say, the Sundance person. It compels the programmers to champion the most popular films from their own fest rather than, simply, the best films. I’m not suggesting that there’s an award show under the sun that has totally impartial judges or that festival programmers are toads. I just think this issue needs to be considered.


Tom Hall

As one of the Programmers who was involved in the selection, I wanted to chime in here; I think this is a fair concern. The only counter-argument I can offer is that you'll have to take my word for it when I say that the films I voted for in each category, many of which never played my festival, were the ones I thought were the best qualified. I hope that critics will take notice of the fact that I rarely discuss films that have played our festival on my blog-- we're not really in the business of self-promotion in terms of attaching ourselves to the non-festival success of the films that play our festival. The Sarasota Film Festival wishes all of the films that played our festival (and those that did not) to have a vibrant life before and after our festival; We gain nothing from the awards that films at our festival go on to win. We don't put out press releases crowing about the success of the films, I don't blog about award winners, and non-Sarasota FF awards are never mentioned in our festival's publicity materials.

That said, I can see where people are coming from in thinking that some might use their votes as an act of self-promotion; All I can say is I know most of my colleagues who voted and I doubt any of them would participate in this way. Obviously, the reason the films on the list that played at Sarasota were programmed was because we very much liked those films. But I also loved several films that did not fall within my festival's window or that were not available to us and I voted according to my own belief in the movies as art; the thought that somehow Sarasota would share in the glory never crossed my mind. My vote was for the films I thought best represented the art of documentary filmmaking as I know and love it.

--Tom Hall
Director of Programming
The Sarasota Film Festival

AJ Schnack

Tom Hall,

Thanks for those comments. I was going to express the same thoughts but you said it better than I was about to.

It is a fair point of concern to raise, but as Tom Hall suggested, it was not borne out in practice. And although I smile thinking about a fictional situation in which programmers from Sundance and SXSW try to one-up the other with their tally of nominations or wins in the new nonfiction awards, it's probably not in the character of this particular batch of programmers. (Nor have we yet established such sought-after luster, but give us time.)

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