Why Not Start Your Own Film Festival?

By Guest Contributor Quentin Lee, cross-posted from You Offend Me You Offend My Family

Exactly. Why not start your own film festival if you have movies to screen that didn’t get into other film festivals? I have to say that’s the best motivation to start a film festival—having that passionate need of showing films (whether your own or others) that other film festivals neglected.

That’s how Slamdance started. It was a reaction against Sundance not accepting several filmmakers’ features. Those rejected filmmakers went to Park City in 1995 and started their own festival–Slamdance–which has become a bit of an institution of its own.

In the same fateful year, I remember that due to the limited slots in shorts programming, the then Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival ended up not taking Justin Lin’s and a few other Asian American students’ shorts. Jennifer Kim, Daric Loo, Justin Lin, a few students and I banded together to form APACT, the Asian Pacific American Coalition in Film & Television, at UCLA. We also started our own annual film festival to showcase the films made by both undergraduate and graduate film students of APA descent at UCLA.

I remember we had our first screening event titled “Fortune Cookies From Hell.” We brainstormed together and came up with what I thought was a creatively anti-Orientalist title. When we were doing the festival, we were trying to give an award to an established Asian American director so as to give our festival some sort of credibility. But that Asian American director turned us down, and we had to give it to someone else. I remember at one point we were running around like chickens without heads trying to get someone to accept our award.

A small disaster happened at our first festival where the projectionist played one of the shorts backward and ended up burning the end credits of Stanley Yung’s graduating short “The World of Longing.” I remember someone came running to us about the mishap and Stanley’s face turned red at the after party. We were so poor then that we didn’t even have budget to pay for a new 16mm print for Stanley’s film. But Stanley forgave us and went on to help us on “Shopping for Fangs.”

We can all laugh about it now, but we all felt pretty bad then about ruining the only print of someone’s graduating thesis.

Asian American film festivals used to be a platform for young and emerging Asian American filmmakers. But ironically it has become increasingly difficult to get programmed at these festivals even for filmmakers with decent Asian American shorts and features. And when Asian American filmmakers don’t get the support they do at their own festivals, where would they go?

That’s the same reason why Koji Steven Sakai and I started ID Film Fest in 2008 to showcase global Asian works that have not gotten a chance to show in Los Angeles yet. Essentially some of these works have been passed by the usual suspects but we decided that they should see some exposure in Los Angeles or the U.S. In our first festival, we presented the U.S. premiere of Michael Frank’s “Ra Choi,” a challenging and sometimes difficult drama about four Asian teenagers torn by poverty and drugs in urban Sydney. In 2009, we presented a slate of Hong Kong works along with a reunion of the 1997 Asian American New Wave.

In the 2010 edition of ID Film Fest, we presented the L.A. premiere of Kit Hui’s “Fog” and the Lobit sisters’ “The Things We Carry.” In response to the lack of development in Asian American features, we also started the Asian American Independent Feature Conference for Asian American filmmakers to network with each other and industry professionals.

So there really is no reason why you shouldn’t start your own film festival if you feel the need for it. Just partner up with a venue, pick a date, get in touch with the filmmakers you want to showcase, start telling people about it and show the films.

In the first two years of ID Film Fest, Koji and I practically did everything. We are of course indebted to the Japanese American National Museum who funded the program and sponsored the venue. But beyond that, the two of us programmed the festival, designed the website and programs, did publicity, projected the movies and even sold and collected tickets.

If we did, you can do it too. Just do it!

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