Buffalo International Film Festival Recap

Last Sunday was our Buffalo International Film Festival screening of About a Donkey; and my wonderfully supportive mom Marlene drove Kelsey & me up to spend the weekend experiencing the festival together.


We arrived Friday evening and were able to catch 2/3 of an Episodic Comedy block before settling into our hotel. We spent Saturday exploring the area, including the lovely Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and catching as many screenings at the festival as we could. I’ll be honest, I was surprised by the low turnout for all the screenings. Other than a shorts block of many local films, the average screening had 15 people. A high profile invitational at the main theater had 30ish people, which was low but ok; however, two other feature innovationals from Tribeca and SXSW had only 10 or 11 people. One was even the Saturday night feature! And a shorts block of 7 films late Saturday night had just 7 people in attendance. It was seriously surprising. For a festival in its 12th year, and the main festival of a City with not too much going on that weekend (except maybe football), I expected more local turnout. The festival seemed well advertised around town with posters everywhere, but I noticed the festival director was vocal about his disappointment with their local press not fully coming through on their promotion. And I think another issue was venue distances. The bigger name screenings or local screenings got featured in the beautiful North Park Theater, which is where badges were picked up, as was where the step & repeat was with red carpet coverage. I think the average local attendee assumed most, if not all, of the festival took place at that venue - so they just stuck around there. But there was also Hallwells, a nice but small event space across town. It was a 17-minute drive away and definitely not the flashiest of venues. Many of the screenings we attended were there because our NYC-based friends were programmed there (as were we), but I think most non-filmmaker attendees never stepped foot in there unless there was something very specific they wanted to see. Even we wanted to catch more screenings at North Park, but the timing between screenings and the time it took to get between venues rarely made it possible. So, I assume most locals didn’t bother going the extra mile to catch the content at the secondary venue even if they knew about it.

Going into the screening (2pm on Sunday), I was feeling a bit disappointed for two reasons. One, the low turnout I’d been seeing overall throughout the last 36 hours we’d been at the fest. And two, the film had been marketed by the festival as a drama. I think the film is definitely a dramedy, but definitely not a straight drama. The festival had changed our synopsis and specifically called it a drama in all their promo despite our labeling it a comedy. I figured that’s how they see it, but it was a bit odd for us because it’s not how we see it. The film is heartwarming & sweet, not particularly edgy, but there’s an intentionally offbeat quality to the film. It has an inherent quirkiness that I think either an audience wants or they don’t. We delve into some serious & sometimes dark subjects, but always in a heightened, humorous way. We try to be clear that it’s not slapstick or Hollywood blockbuster kind of comedy, but it’s definitely intended to be funny with a lot of dry wit meant to make you smile, if not straight up LOL. So, I think, anyone walking in to a screening expecting a drama would be a bit turned off when they find that the dialogue’s kind of constant banter and the plot never gets particularly dramatic.

And so, as expected, we ended up with 9 people in attendance (not including the 3 of us). Three of them were filmmaker friends with films in the festival, but the other 6 were locals and presumably non-filmmakers. That aspect was cool; and at the end of the day, I’m grateful when anyone shows up. So that was definitely a treat — to have 6 total strangers take an interest in our movie. But it was a bit uncomfortable; as Kelsey & I had been spoiled by nonstop laughs at our past 3 screenings and hearing rave programmer reviews in North Carolina or lovely comments from fellow writers about how well we pulled off smart comedy in Austin. This screening had a few chuckles here & there, but otherwise it was crickets. I also think, because this festival chose to downplay the LGBT inclusion of our film (not sure why because they’re definitely queer friendly overall), I think the non-filmmakers in the audience (who were mostly on the older side) were a bit taken aback by the inclusive nature of the film. Overall, I think they didn’t know what they were walking in to in various ways. So, it was interesting to say the least. That said, they all stuck around and were really nice to us afterwards. And one woman, who I believe chose our screening because of our facebook ad targeting, seemed to have really enjoyed the film as a whole and even signed up for our newsletter. So that felt like a triumph alone. 

Watch our Q&A video:

Overall, the picture and sound quality of the screening space were solid, and the festival director and staff were all really supportive and truly nice people. But I found the festival venues too spread out to really have a strong community feel amongst filmmakers; and the lack of local turnout was just disappointing. I’d be curious to hear how past years went for filmmakers. Maybe it was just an off year? In any case, I’m grateful to have had the film programmed, especially in a lineup of so many prestigious invitationals. (I appreciate that they do program from their submissions somewhat instead of inviting ALL features like so many other festivals out there (blog post about that coming soon)).

At the end of the day, it was really fun spending time with Kelsey & my mom, exploring a new City, and meeting a few other filmmakers at the festival. I’m glad we made the trip. Plus, we got our first official review (that we know of) out of the screening, via The Film Stage. It spoils pretty much the entire plot, so read at your own risk. I’d say it’s overall favorable. Interestingly enough, our B- rating from the writer was actually a compliment because most others he reviewed at the festival got the same or lower, and only one got a B (the highest he gave). So, for such a tough critic, I’m pretty happy with his assessment of the film. And I’m, of course, grateful that he even made the time to watch and engage with it so thoughtfully.


Local Vegan Treat:

  • I was disappointed that Fry Baby Donuts was closed all weekend. They’re apparently all vegan and amazing. But I tried a piece of vegan biscotti at, horror-themed & meat-free, Grindhaus Cafe. It was good!

Catch the film next at: