A general update about festival submissions and approaching earlybird deadline
Hello Filmmakers,

Thank you for submitting your film for consideration for the 2013 Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF13). The flow of films has been steady and we already have submissions from 38 countries.

You're probably thinking "Submission Update? What's this?"

As the Head of Programming for ATLFF one of my driving missions is to make the submission process less mysterious and more transparent. Since 1976, when ATLFF's parent organization IMAGE Film & Video (renamed to Atlanta Film Festival 365) was founded, we've been a resource for filmmakers. In that spirit, we want to upend the traditional "submit and wait for your acceptance or non-acceptance" mode of communication to give you occasional glimpses into how things are going, things we're seeing and some of our general thoughts.

Admittedly, this is still going to be fairly broad and won't feature specifics about your film, but we're hoping that the four to five updates we'll send between now and Final Selections will be helpful. 

We also want to use this to give reminders and share answers to questions that we may be getting from more than a handful of filmmakers.

I'm not sure how intensive each of these updates will be. I'll strive to make sure they're not just spam though.

So on to the Update:

Arrive By Deadline
First things first, I want to remind filmmakers that haven't sent their films in, or uploaded them to Withoutabox yet, that the July 6th Earlybird Deadline is an arrive by deadline. Films have to be in our office, or uploaded to Withoutabox by Friday, July 6th. We saw a mark increase in submissions last year, receiving 500 more films than our highest year with lots of those films coming in the later deadlines. That pushed back making announcements by several weeks.

We're trending to meet or exceed that. For us to stay on track with properly evaluating films and announcing films on time, we're requiring that films this year be in our office by the deadlines. 

We do take works-in-progress as long as the story/structure is around 90% locked. An updated version can always be sent later, provided it arrives by the December 7th deadline. Do keep in mind that our first priority is films that have not been screened yet. We can't guarantee that we will be able to get to new cuts once the old one has been screened. 

How's the Judging Going?

Screeners have started watching films and we're happy to report that we're exceeding our minimum two score goal and most films are being reviewed by at least four screeners. We hope to maintain that four minimum bar throughout the process.

I'm also excited to say no issues with films not playing so far, knock on wood.

Other Worlds, Experimental and New Mavericks, Women Directors Shorts Programs

If you've read the FAQ on our submission page we say we generally don't preselect the themes for our shorts programs each year. That will be true for most of the 10 to 13 shorts blocks we will program for next year.

We are strongly exploring bringing back the Other Worlds (Sci-fi, Fantasy, Horror) block due to popular demand. We received a lot of feedback this year that folks we're looking forward to it and were sad to see it not a part of the lineup. It's not a lock to be included, however the response was enough that we're considering it.

There are no themes being applied to the Experimental shorts block or anything in particular we are looking for. No, the news we wanted to share is that we're working with groups like Contraband Cinema here in Atlanta to figure out how to make the Experimental block an even better experience for the filmmakers and the audience. We're rethinking how we screen the Experimental films and/or how to better structure the Q&As to better showcase the films. The feedback was that after many of the films, audiences and filmmakers wanted to instantly talk with filmmakers. The standard festival Q&A is an ill fit for that, so we're seeing if we can't tinker with the model a bit. 

The one section we know we will be bringing back is the New Mavericks, Women Directors block. The number of Narrative Features directed by women overall is still disturbingly small. Industry wide the number hovers around 5% and we always inordinately receive more Shorts and Documentaries directed by women than we do Narrative Features by a wide margin. We'd like to use the New Mavericks section to be a highlight of emerging talent.The focus of the New Mavericks section will be on Women Directors who have yet to make their first feature film. 

How Scores Work for ATLFF

I haven't been able to start watching a lot of films yet. As of Head of Programming I'm also working on our screenwriting and directing workshops, working on ATLFF365's new partnership with Atlanta's Plaza Theatre, and our other programs that will be unfolding over the next few months. I am closely monitoring the screening process to make sure we're on track and in the next month or two I'll start digging in myself (last year I watched roughly 1,000 films myself; so when I start watching, I'll start watching). 

In monitoring, one film did jump out at me. Three screeners gave a particular film below average scores, while two others gave the same film glowing scores. One of the hig
h scores came from one of our veteran screeners whose opinion we trust quite a bit. So I queued up the film and in just a few minutes I instantly saw where the polarizing reactions were coming from. There's a saying that I'll paraphrase: “Art that’s created to please everyone tends to please no one."  It's definitely not a film for everyone and it can be a bit challenging. It’s a film that attacks its subject with rigor, focus and audacity. Out of that rises so many questions and turns the film into a Rorschach test about the very subject it’s covering. I can't say if the film is definitely in the festival or not, but it's definitely the type of film we screen at ATLFF and audiences enjoy. We're still 6 months and many, many films away from the end of this journey but I can see it making the final lineup. 

While we do use scores to help us in the process of selecting films for the festival, the scores are only a guide and we're not beholden to them in the way most people traditionally think. Putting films into bad, poor, good or great buckets is too simplistic and isn't what we are about. Films and all art derive a great deal of their potency in causing strong reactions. We're looking for more than the good or the best films. Our goal is to program a festival that's full of energy and great discussions. 

That's the end of my first update. I hope it's been insightful and useful. Barring any pressing information that needs to be sent out immediately, I'll be sending another update closer to the Regular Deadline.

Charles Judson
Head of Programming and Industry Outreach/Festival Director

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