Updated: Sep 8
Most of us share a certain level of appreciation for films, but have you ever delved into the world of film festivals? This article aims to shed light on the significance and benefits of independent film festivals, delve into the various types that exist, and uncover the manifold advantages they offer both filmmakers and audiences. From the filmmaker's perspective, these festivals provide an unparalleled platform to showcase their creative endeavors, connect with fellow filmmakers, industry professionals, and potential collaborators, and even secure distribution deals. Meanwhile, audiences partake in a uniquely immersive cinematic experience, gaining access to a diverse array of films that often challenge mainstream conventions. As a firsthand account, I'll also be recounting my recent enriching experience at the Las Vegas Premiere Film Festival. So, whether you're a cinephile or a creator, join me in exploring the captivating realm of independent film festivals.
WHAT IS A FILM FESTIVAL
A film festival is an organized event that showcases a curated selection of films to an audience, typically in a specific location and over a designated period of time. Film festivals serve as platforms for both established and emerging filmmakers, encompassing a diverse array of sizes, scopes, and thematic focuses. These events can be found on six out of the seven continents, with Antarctica being the sole exception. Within this cinematic realm, a vast spectrum of topics and genres is embraced, ranging from the encompassing to the distinctly niche. Featured genres include documentary, animation, music, horror, and sci-fi, to name just a few. Each festival exhibits its own unique blend, with some showcasing a broad spectrum of genres while others hone in on more specific niches.
TYPES OF FILM FESTIVALS
These festivals celebrate the art of filmmaking in its many forms. They may center on feature-length films, delve into the realm of short films, explore the world of documentaries, experiment with unconventional cinematic techniques, or even highlight animation. Some festivals cast their spotlight on films hailing from specific regions or cultural backgrounds, giving audiences an opportunity to embark on a cinematic journey around the globe.
But the beauty of film festivals lies in their ability to cater to various interests and perspectives. Some festivals are dedicated to amplifying the voices of underrepresented communities, offering a stage for minority-focused films and celebrating women-inspired filmmakers. The diversity doesn't stop there—attendees at independent film festivals can revel in a kaleidoscope of experiences, from thought-provoking social injustice films that tug at heartstrings, to lighthearted comedies that ignite laughter.
BENEFITS TO THE AUDIENCE
In the same vein, these events often act as bridges between cultures, introducing foreign films to new audiences and fostering cross-cultural appreciation. With each film festival, attendees embark on a cinematic exploration that transcends borders, languages, and genres. As the screens light up and stories unfold, these gatherings remind us of the universal power of storytelling and the enchantment of the silver screen.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS FOR INDEPENDENT FILMMAKERS
Independent filmmakers may be provided with valuable networking and deal- making opportunities from being introduced to other filmmakers, directors, producers and other prominent figures in the film industry. The film festival also provide aspiring film makers with insights about how to handle anything from where to get funding to what camera is better used for a particular shot. They give film makers the opportunity to talk about their film, and answer questions from other filmmakers and audience members. It is during this time that others in the audience learn how other filmmakers handle various obstacles. This is also where they (filmmakers) may get valuable audience responses.
THE LAS VEGAS PREMIERE FILM FESTIVAL IS AN INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL
The film festivals that cater to our creative, independent filmmakers are some of my favorites. Over the last 20 years, their numbers have been steadily growing, providing a platform for the art of filmmaking to flourish. Many organizers initiate these festivals with the hope of making a difference for these underdogs, while others strive to spotlight the independent filmmakers in their regions. As the CEO of Creative Artist Magazine, I'm fortunate to receive numerous invitations to events throughout the year. Among them, the Las Vegas Premiere Film Festival holds a special place, organized by my friend and festival founder, Mr. Walt McConnell. The Galaxy Theatre on Maryland Parkway in Las Vegas serves as the designated home for Walt’s festival, and I can wholeheartedly attest to its well-organized operations, cleanliness, and guest-friendliness.
ACKNOWLEDGING AN ICONIC FILMMAKING LEGEND
A standout moment from this year's Las Vegas Premiere Film Festival was the presence of the legendary filmmaker Michael Schultz. His screening of the classic movie “Cooley High” evoked cherished memories of my childhood. “Cooley High” remains a timeless classic with an enduring appeal. Adding to the excitement, the audience had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Schultz’s son, Brandon Schultz, who was a baby in the film, now attending the festival as a grown individual.
Following the screening, Mr. Schultz participated in a discussion hosted by Tico Wells, known for his role in “Five Heartbeats”. During this engaging conversation, Mr. Schultz made a surprising announcement about his cult classic film “The Last Dragon”. He revealed that he and the screenwriter, Louis Venosta, were actively developing a franchise around the iconic film. Recognizing his significant contributions to the world of filmmaking, the Las Vegas Premiere Film Festival honored Mr. Schultz with a well-deserved LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD which was beautifully written by Ms.Tracey Valenzuela.
Mr. Schultz’s extensive filmography includes other notable titles such as "Car Wash", "Greased Lightning", "Which Way Is Up", "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band", where he managed one of the largest budgets entrusted to an African American at that time, and "Carbon Copy", which marked Denzel Washington’s film debut, to name just a few. His legacy is undeniably impressive.
INTERVIEW WITH THE FESTIVAL FOUNDER: WHAT WAS HIS INSPIRATION, CHALLENGES, AND REWARDS
I had the privilege of sitting down with my friend Walt and delving into the inspiration behind his decision to launch a film festival. He recounted how filmmaker Ava DuVernay played a pivotal role in shaping his vision. Walt marveled at the impact of DuVernay's work, particularly her film “When They See Us,” which brought the spotlight to the Central Park Five case. He underscored that this case didn't receive the attention it deserved from conventional news outlets; instead, its resonance was ignited by the world of film. This realization kindled his belief in the potential of independent filmmakers to amplify their messages. Intriguingly, one of the prerequisites he upholds for films featured in his festival is the presence of a compelling message.
LAS VEGAS PREMIERE FILM FESTIVAL: ORGANIZER’S VISION:
Having established his roots in Las Vegas, Nevada for the past eight years, Walt McConnell views his film festival through a distinct lens. He envisions it as an educational forum, where the power of the message takes precedence. During our conversation, he had just returned from a meeting at UNLV, where he was actively fostering a partnership with the film department. In forthcoming editions of the festival, aspiring filmmakers from the university, along with theater students and professors, will converge to engage with this platform for learning. The students, in addition to soaking up the experience, will extend their support through valuable volunteering. Remarkably, the festival predominantly operates with a mere two-person team, orchestrating a complex event that sifts through approximately 90 submissions to curate a selection of around 45 films for the two-day extravaganza.
Walt McConnell has garnered substantial acclaim for his brainchild, The Las Vegas Premiere Film Festival, over the span of five years, enduring even the challenges posed by the recent global pandemic. Notably, in the festival's second year, he boldly ventured into the digital sphere, hosting a Facebook Live screening of more than 40 films with the charismatic actor, director, and writer Robert Townsend as the host. The subsequent year marked my inaugural attendance as the pandemic's grip began to loosen. While safety
precautions were still observed, the spirit of the event remained unwavering, and I recall donning masks while reveling in the cinematic brilliance. Fast forward two years, and Walt's festival continues to thrive, his unwavering passion steering the ship. I've had the privilege of returning each year and have borne witness to the festival's organic growth—a dynamic celebration of filmmakers who harness their craft to weave compelling narratives that resonate deeply.
In the midst of our engaging dialogue, I probed Walt about the most rewarding facet of overseeing a film festival. His response echoed his commitment to meaningful storytelling. He expressed his gratification in ensuring that these films, often laden with poignant messages, find a receptive audience, thereby amplifying their impact. Across the span of the last three years, one particular independent filmmaker has seized my attention—Marc Cayce. This year, his thought-provoking film “Blackskin,” winner of the golden laurel for Best Docudrama, ingeniously blending real-life footage with fictional characters, commanded the audience's attention from start to finish. The discussions it triggered lasted well beyond the credits and solidified its status as a must-watch cinematic gem.
As our conversation meandered to its close, I sought to uncover the challenges that accompany orchestrating a film festival of this magnitude. Walt candidly shared that the most formidable hurdle lay in balancing the aspirations of countless filmmakers. A scramble for the prime slot often transpired, with each filmmaker yearning to showcase their work during the pinnacle moments of the festival. Walt elucidated that this decision hinges on a medley of factors—film duration, travel logistics, and local participation—ultimately distilled by a panel of discerning judges.
CRAFTING BRILLIANCE AGAINST THE ODDS: CELEBRATING THE PERSISTENT SPIRIT OF THE INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER
Independent filmmakers face numerous hurdles, and two major ones stand out: budget constraints and lack of exposure. These creators often need to showcase remarkable ingenuity and creativity to bring their cinematic visions to life. From securing locations, assembling sets, casting actors, editing footage, managing lighting and camera work, to obtaining permits—these are just a few of the challenges they navigate. Some manage to scrape together a modest budget, while others rely entirely on self-funding. Frequently, they kickstart their journey with a short film, hoping to gather the momentum needed to transform it into a full-length feature, launch a series, or secure distribution.
The most remarkable aspect is witnessing films crafted on shoestring budgets—films that, despite their financial limitations, exude the grandeur typically associated with bigger productions. The cinematography displayed in these films is truly exceptional. Equally astonishing is the swiftness with which these filmmakers create their art.
A case in point is the film "Trade," directed by Alycia Cooper. My astonishment knew no
bounds when she revealed that she had completed the film in a mere three days. "Trade" delves into the world of a young man imprisoned for a white-collar crime. Upon his release, he and his family find themselves relentlessly pursued by his former cellmate. This gripping drama emerged as a standout during the Las Vegas Premiere Film Festival. I hold genuine hope that "Trade" secures the backing and distribution necessary to evolve into a full-fledged feature—a captivating testament to Cooper's talent.
Alycia Cooper's versatility shone through as she also presented "Fat Stripper,” winner of the golden laurel for Best Short, is a short film with a romantic comedy twist. This side-splitting tale revolves around a woman facing financial struggles, who returns to stripping to make ends meet. What makes this narrative even more remarkable is that Cooper herself stars in the lead role. She recounted how she tackled this project during the recent pandemic, necessitating unconventional choices, including casting herself in various roles. Her tenacity, coupled with her prowess as a filmmaker, undoubtedly positions her as a rising star in the industry—a name deserving of keen observation and anticipation.
Filmmaker Detdrich McClure graced the LVPFF with his presence, presenting his captivating full-length film, "Red Camaro,” received the golden laurel for Best Feature is now also available for streaming on Amazon Prime. The event saw the majority of the film's cast joining him, including Bobby Davis in the role of the villainous cop, Jimmy Vibert portraying "The Kid," Kaleila Jordan as "Bacardi," and Jo Rae, who masterfully embodied Bacardi's mother. Notably, my close friend, the accomplished actor and filmmaker Mark E. Ridley, made a memorable guest appearance as a paternal figure, offering guidance to "The Kid" amidst his heedless actions—true testament to the essence of a supportive community.
"Red Camaro" weaves a gripping narrative, where a young car thief crosses paths with an exotic dancer while behind the wheel of a stolen red Camaro. As their story unfolds, they discover the car's true owner is a corrupt cop, and the vehicle conceals a bag laden with ill-gotten gains. This dynamic film encapsulates the essence of the age-old adage, "It takes a village."
Upon returning home, I seized the opportunity to delve into another of Mr. McClure's creations available on Prime Video—“Brown Paper Bag.” This offering also boasts the formidable talents of Mark E. Ridley in a compact yet commanding role that he executed flawlessly. It's heartening to recognize that supporting independent filmmakers yields mutual benefits—a rewarding endeavor for both creators and their audience. You'll discover many of these cinematic gems gracing streaming platforms like Amazon Prime and Tubi, offering an enriching experience that resonates on multiple levels.
FUELING INNOVATION: REASON TO STAND BEHIND INDEPENDENT FILMMAKERS
No matter what film festival you attend, you’re sure to find a hidden gem. By supporting independent film festivals you are opening the doors to include and add an expansion to films we see in theaters and in our homes on our favorite streaming devices.
One of the other big take aways for filmmakers at the festivals are the awards for best in category. Receiving the golden laural for best in, is a badge of honor for these independent filmmakers and some can collect them as they make their way through the circuit, earning their film more credibility and a better chance at getting the attention of a bigger studio. Due to the fact that many film makers didn’t have the budget, getting the attention from a studio can help them obtain their wish list. That may include actors, location, set designs, and the technology used to take their film to the next level. With a bigger budget the sky is the limit for these creatives who do so much with what they have.
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