Held at Hollywood's Raleigh Studios, 17th annual the International Family Film Festival focused on what films can bring the family together.
I especially enjoyed the panels on financing (moderated by Bill Gottlieb and joined by Page Ostrow, Franco Sama, Suzanne Lyons, T. Noel Paynter and Nancy Rae Stone) which discussed the various incentive programs from the states. I didn't know that our own California has recently begun a program, but they are limited and the winners are drawn by a lottery, which still might discourage filmmakers to apply. I also learned what Page Ostrow, a producer's rep does - helping to find financing - and that while Louisiana and Georgia are among the most well known for their help to independents, other states as Alabama are good, too. It's important, apparently, to understand the difference between a tax credit state and a rebate state. It's also crucial to have a good marketing plan before you start filming.
In the distributor's panel, (moderated by Alex Barder and joined by Shauna Shapiro Jackson, Tanya York, Miriam Elchanan, and Cindy Menegaz), I learned that sometimes it's best to get your director first, but that getting a cast that is acceptable to the international audience is crucial. Many of the distributors, if you call them before you start casting and give them a list of the cast you are thinking of, will let you know which will hold up overseas. As the market is changing from moment to moment, one never knows what to write or produce next, but at this writing, dog movies are still in though they are waning. It's important to understand your audience and know your marketplace.
Being a woman in the industry has always been a problem, women are getting more and more acknowledgement says the panel Closing the Gender Gap. Nevertheless, we still only 7% of the directors. (Moderated by Jennifer Famer and joined by Madeline Di Nonno, Terry Kalagian, Diane Baker and Marion Banta, it also brought forth the first female producer/director from Mongolia Numoning Huar.) Women, they say, will not be looked at as equals until we are at least 33%. Despite this MPAA tells us that 51% of movie ticket buyers are female. They instructed us to shift our mind so that we are not in victim mode and know that if you love the industry and are passionate about it, you will succeed.
The screenwriter's panel (moderated by Quendrith Johnson and joined by Kay Ballard and Graham Kaye) let us know that the spec market is slowly returning, but it's still tough for new writers. Good writing will surface to the top. Since the studios are becoming more corporate and less creative, the independent market is becoming the place to go. Knowing how to pitch effectively is crucial for your career. The downside is that many agents will not take you on unless you are already selling. It's often better to start with a manager who will really be working for you.
A wide variety of feature films, including many by students and from across the globe, were presented during the week long festival. Drama awards went to Brother's Keeper (Joshua Mills); Sweet Little Lies (William Saunders). Best foreign were Anshi Bala from Kazakhstan (Elan Nurmukhanbetov) and Habana Station from Cuba(Ian Padron). My favorite comedy Ira Finkelstein's Christmas (Sue Corcoran), while Sam Steele and the Crystal Chalice (Thomas Whitus) ran up. China took the awards for the best foreign producer - The Noodle Man (Ligeng Tan) and The Youth of Hero Yue-Fei (Zhawei Zhu) while best foreign animation went to Canada for Wapos Bay: Long Goodbyes (Dennis Jackson) and Taiwan's Memory Lane (Cold Leng and Gloria Kao). Three Days of Hamlet (Alex Hyde White) and Street Dogs of South Central (Bill Marin) were best in documentary. China also gave us a musical Gentle Breeze Pavilion (Zhaowei Zhu.)
Short films were not forgotten. China's Hong Zhou (The Blue Bike) and UK's Mel Mercer (The Decree) won for best drama, while Italy's Domenico Ciolfi (Sally and the Egg ) and Ambika Leigh (Switchboard) became best comedy. Best in documentary went to Jeanne Meyers (My Hero Report) and Egypt's Chakir Lakhlifi (A Normal Day.) Students won for drama and comedy Rachel I Johnson (White Sugar in a Black Pot);Germany's Nadine Keil (Invasion from Planet Schrump); Dale Arroyo (Welcome Home) respectively.
Child actors were acknowledged too - Aley Underwood won for the Letter Writer, which also won for the Spirit Award, and Emily Morris for A Second Chance. Audience award went to Life Fine Tuned (Nina May) while China's Blooming Lily (Hongxing Wu) took Foreign Cinematography and The Star and The Sea, also China, was given the award of excellence. The Pearl Award went to Reconciliation (Chad Ahrendt.)
For more information on the International Family Festival and the wonderful programs they do during the year go to www.internationalfamilyfilmfestival.org