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January 14, 2008

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Darryl Macdonald

This blog entry is a typical example of the way someone affiliated with an unsuccessful festival will attack another Festival it sees as a competitor - just plain tacky. The comment I made taken out of context of a long conversation with Brandon Judell: he asked if the big stars and directors were a pain in the ass to deal with and I responded that most of the big names were easy to deal with, it's their handlers who are a pain; I further said that actually it was often the filmmakers who were at a festival for the first time that tend to be difficult - meaning not that all first-time filmmakers are difficult, but if a filmmaker is a problem for festival staff, it tends to be a neophyte, who wants things that any seasoned director wouldn't ask of a Festival - things like a test screening of the print in the middle of a crowded screening schedule, or 20 extra tickets and a reserved seating section to a sold-out screening, to a myriad of other requests and demands. This is a much larger topic, and there is much more to say about it, but to imply that SIFF or the Palm Springs Festival or any other major Festival is down on lesser-known or first-time filmmakers because of my remarks is absurd. During my 30 years running SIFF, we charged no submission fees to Washington State filmmakers, and the relatively small submission fee we charged ($50 - less than many other festivals) was instituted to cover the costs associated with the mountains of work involving viewing and keeping track of more than 2000 submissions - especially because in the years before submission fees were charged, we had amateur filmmakers submitting multiple films that were the equivalent of home movies because it didn't cost them anything - though it costs festivals much time and money to handle and view those submissions. To characterize STIFF - whose very moniker is a rip off of SIFF - as somehow more 'pure' or sympathetic to independent filmmakers than SIFF is ridiculous on the face of it. SIFF has helped launch the careers of such independent filmmakers as Richard Linklater, John Sayles, the Coen Brothers , Lars von Trier and scores of others long before any other film festival embraced them or filmgoers were aware of them. To use ( actually misconstrue) my off-the-cuff remarks to a reporter covering the Palm Springs Festival in order to brand SIFF as unsympathetic or uncaring about independent filmmakers is just plain wrong.To attack another film festival with an admirable track record of supporting independent films and filmmakers in order to boost your own is nothing short of pathetic.

Darryl Macdonald

Clint

Thanks for chiming in Darryl. The big problem is that most filmmakers who I have talked to, particularly local filmmakers, have a general feeling that festivals only care about big films with stars in them or films that have played at Sundance. They continue to submit anyway, hoping that their fears are unfounded. But, many will never get accepted because they are fighting against studio-indies that have more resources, connections and stars.

I take nothing away from SIFF. I have been a volunteer there in the past and it was always fun to be at a party where you may run into Drew Barrymore. They do a great job of bringing the films that made a big splash at Sundance to theaters in Seattle for sneak previews before their national theatrical releases. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the volunteers and filmmakers who pull it off every year and am in awe of the giant machine that they have behind them. But rarely, do you see someone affiliated with a festival go on record with an adage similar to what you have espoused. To be honest, for many filmmakers, it is an opportunity to see their greatest fears come to light.

You are correct that STIFF’s moniker is derived from some degree from the international fest. I understand how you might make the knee-jerk assumption that STIFF is an unsuccessful film festival since we don’t typically have the high profile stars that seem to be so important to you, but I would wholeheartedly disagree with your assessment (and since I have actually been to STIFF before I am probably in a little better position to know). STIFF continues to grow and thrive in a city at the same time that the largest film festival in the world is also happening, due in large part to the fact that many people don’t seem to be getting what they need from SIFF. Filmmakers who have screened their films at SIFF have actually come on board here because they don’t like the creative direction of a festival that seems to be more concerned with what celebrities they can get to their screenings. STIFF has helped and continues to help first time filmmakers get exposure and distribution. While your claim to fame appears to be that you helped launch the career of Richard Linklater AFTER he had already screened Slacker at Sundance. Way to go!

Thanks,
Clint

Darryl Macdonald

Clint -

Thanks for responding - but perhaps you'd better ask Richard Linklater about that: He stated point blank that SIFF was the first festival that accepted his film, SLACKER, after he presented it in his hometown of Austin, despite the fact that he had submitted it all over the country prior to that. That was why he gave SIFF the world premiere of his followup film, DAZED AND CONFUSED. SIFF always booked and continues to book films on the basis of the quality of the filmmaking - and I am not referring to the production values, but the talent involved - not the star power or 'big machine' behind any particular film. Look through SIFF's archives on line, and I think it's pretty clear just how off-base your characterization of it is. It's a very big festival that has always made room for the most obscure or unknown films and filmmakers, alongside the bigger productions. Your description of SIFF and its priorities is simply wrong.

Clint

Darryl –

In 1991, I was a senior in high school where I was probably spending most of my available brain power thinking of ways to touch boobs. Aside from imdb and bits and pieces I have read, I don’t have any real first hand knowledge of who was more instrumental in Linklater’s beginnings, so I’ll have to take your word for it. If my characterization of whether you were first to show Slacker or Sundance was first to award it the Grand Jury prize offended you, then please accept my apologies. My goal wasn’t really to get into an argument about whether STIFF was better than SIFF, it was simply to discuss a quote attributed to you. As a “small filmmaker” it was one that made me take pause and I’m sure has had a chilling effect on many who have read it.

You can be upset with me for posting it on our blog, but I am not the uttered it and I am not the one who wrote it. I simply read it, was offended by it and wondered aloud if any other filmmakers may have been offended by it.

In just the last 5-6 alone years I have noticed quite a few changes in how films are exhibited, so I imagine that things have undoubtedly changed since you first got started in the film festival business. I have noticed a real consolidation of power as many festival leaders sit on the boards and programming committees of multiple festivals and studios take a very calculated approach with their “independent brands”. You and I probably have very different opinions on whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, but I am very passionate about helping smaller, True Independent filmmakers achieve their goals. I am glad that once upon a time you seem to have cared about that, and I challenge you to continue to use your platform(s) for the sake of goodness – even if it may turn out to be a bigger pain in the ass for you in the long run.

Randy Mack

Gee, Darryl... You're coming off like a pompous, pretentious, deluded dickhead here. Time to let someone else from SIFF do the talking, eh?

Darryl Macdonald

Randy,
I haven't lived in Seattle or been anything more than marginally involved in the programming there for 4 years. In responding to Chris, I'm merely addressing his attack on SIFF, launched under the guise of an attack against my own misquoted off-the-cuff remark that was printed in Indiewire, and setting the record straight as regards my own comments to Indiewire's journalist. If you really want to know my history and SIFF's history of support for Seattle's own independent filmmakers, you'll look back through the SIFF archives or SIFF's 25th anniversary book at the very long list of low-budget Seattle films and filmmakers we've showcased, and the large programming platform we carved out for them. We also created the Fly Filmmaking program - the first of its kind in the world - which provided the tools and support to let Seattle filmmakers make their own films and own the rights for those films at no cost to them, and provided a showcase for exhibition of those films within the Festival. Our support for "truly independent" filmmakers from the rest of the country and the world is equally obvious. I don't have any idea who you are, but deluded is something I've never been accused of being - simply a realist who has toiled in the field of film festivals long enough to earn the respect of the vast majority of the journalists, 'truly independent' filmmakers and film lovers I've had the good luck to work with or on behalf of over the years.

And hey, Clint has a forum to say what he wants about the state of the world or independent cinema or anything else he likes, but I think it's important to call his bullshit and factual errors about SIFF and the work that it has done on behalf of independent cinema for over three decades. That's allowed, isn't it - or is this supposed to be a one-way street? And once again, for the record: I'm speaking on behalf of myself - not SIFF - they can respond for themselves if they think Clint's comments even warrant a reply.

megawump

Some filmmaking friends of mine in Seattle call SIFF....because it's IF you get accepted (unlikely) and being from Seattle doesn't seem to help your chances. I've seen some very, very good films that were created in the Pacific Northwest get rejected by SIFF.

If they have to quote examples of filmmakers that maybe they helped get a start TWENTY YEARS AGO, then I'm not impressed. And who from the Pac NW have they helped launch a career? SIFF what have you done to help local indie filmmakers lately?

Also, I'm with Clint on the assessment of the Fly Filmmaking. Big deal...five pre-selected filmmakers get a chance to make a film. It's a mystery to me how they choose the filmmakers. It's not like there's an open call. If you look at who they choose, I think it really helps to know someone in the programming dept. of SIFF.

On the other hand, STIFF has the 48 hour film challenge and WAY MORE people get a chance to make films and see them screened.

Don't get me wrong, I love seeing the movies at SIFF and I often volunteer. But I read the Hollywood Reporter. I see the same listing of films at Cannes, Sundance, SIFF, Toronto....etc. I would suspect that half the films are chosen for the programming before the final submission deadline for SIFF is even reached.

megawump

correction in the first line:
They call SIFF, IF. IF you get in. And it doesn't help to be from Seattle.

CTO

Thanks for this thread. It helped me make my decision today to not apply to SIFF. I only have so much in my budget to spend on entry fees and am aiming for smaller, less competitive festivals that don't mirror other festivals programming.

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