We premiered About a Donkey in California over the weekend in Cambria as part of the Cambria Film Festival. I flew into LA the weekend before to work out of the Seed&Spark office for a few days before heading to Cambria. It was nice getting to see my coworkers in person (I hadn’t been back to LA since September 2017!).
Alexandra Clayton (who plays Annie in the film) was kind enough to drive the full 4 hours to Cambria on Thursday. I have to say, truly the best part of the festival for me was getting to catch up and spend time with Alexandra all weekend, who moved to LA right after we wrapped production on the film back in April 2017. The opening reception was that evening, where Katherine Wessling (who plays Ann in the film) met us. I was so glad she happened to be in California that week and could join us. She always makes any experience more enjoyable with her warmth and humor. It was a nice night where the local community welcomed the filmmakers with great food & wine.
With About a Donkey, since it’s such a small indie without any names or industry connections, our mission has largely been to reach regular people who would never see our film if not for the festival in their small town. So our strategy with submissions has largely been about targeting smaller festivals that appear to get good local attendance. We’ve also targeted festivals in areas we’d personally like to visit and/or areas where the election data implies a conservative leaning audience. We’ve largely been trying to reach people who wouldn’t typically seek out inclusive content, in order to hopefully spread a bit of empathy and engage in conversations about acceptance and inclusion. Cambria being in California near the beach, the choice to submit fell more into the “area to visit” qualifier. That said, it is a retirement community, so we felt our inter-generational story could really resonate, and that we may find some locals still a bit behind the progressive times whose minds we could open a bit with our #loveislove story.
I was happy to see that Cambria really delivered on what we hoped to get out of it. The festival as a whole had great local turnout for the screenings, where people were excited about the filmmakers in attendance and wanted to delve into the artistic intentions of the work; and as for the area being a place to visit, it definitely is! It’s beautiful. I hope to return to explore more of the coastline someday.
On Friday, we took a trip to the beach to see the amazing elephant seals before heading back to the festival (photos below). Our screening was at 2pm and we had 77 strangers in the 100 seat theater. I will say that I was disappointed with the sound quality, something I expected from hearing the films the night before. The main venue had one speaker behind the screen that kind of muffled the dialogue track. And if a film’s sound was in the slightest bit tinny (which ours is at times), that tinny quality was mega amplified with the muffle. So, I watched the film with mixed feelings. It was getting laughs and people seemed to be enjoying it for the most part, but some lines (in our dialogue-heavy film) were missed because of the muffled quality. That said, we got really nice feedback. A lot of people told us throughout the weekend that they loved the film and that it was so sweet and uplifting. A couple people said that they appreciated the positivity of the story. Many people recognized Alexandra throughout the weekend, jokingly asking her where the baby is (her character is pregnant in the film), and some spoke about the relatability of Katherine’s character and how impressive her performance was.
On Saturday, Katherine had to head back to LA for an event, so Alexandra and I explored the many quirky antique shops and watched a few films. One that we tried to watch the night before in the second venue had major sound issues. The dialogue track wouldn’t play at all, so they had to reschedule the screening. Thankfully, it played fine (though muffled) in the main venue, but it made me super nervous for our screening in the second venue Saturday night (and I just felt bad for the filmmakers, who had a lot of cast & crew in attendance for their first screening). Alexandra Kalinowski (AK), the film’s composer, drove up with her husband Spike for the Saturday night screening. They had moved to LA about 6 months ago, so it was so nice to grab dinner and catch up. The screening itself, thankfully, went mostly well in the second venue. The volume of our tracks were off, which was odd because it was the same file we screened in Montana 2 weeks ago (in a beautiful theater with great sound); so that was a bit disappointing again. But even so, people seemed to really enjoy the film. It got some big laughs. In the 80 seat space, we had 27 people in attendance, which wasn’t bad for an encore screening.
I’d like to shout-out my LA-based friends Allen Negrete, Alpha Faye, and their 2 friends for driving up just to see our film that night! It was the sweetest thing. I don’t think I expressed enough to them how much I appreciated that. It can be tough just getting friends to take a 40 minute train ride in NY to come see a film at a festival. Allen and Alpha are such kind and cool people. I’m so glad they were there, and hope to collaborate with them somehow someday, even though we’re on opposite sides of the country. They had really nice things to say about the film, as did a few of the locals in attendance. One of my favorites was from a woman who is a retired family counselor; she said she really appreciated the way we handled heavy subjects. She said it all felt touched upon in an accessible way because we were doing it with humor and heart. And she said the family dynamics felt really authentic. That was just wonderful to hear. After the screening, we all hung out at the only bar in town open past 9pm and had a great time catching up and getting to know each other.
Sunday, we grabbed breakfast and then AK had to head back to LA. Alexandra and I explored Hearst Castle a bit before I had to head to the airport (which a festival volunteer was kind enough to drive me to), and Alexandra and Katherine (who returned right as I was leaving) went to the awards ceremony at Hearst Castle. We didn’t win anything, but Katherine and Alexandra said they got more nice comments from people who told them they enjoyed the film, and a few even said it was their favorite of the features.
All in all, it was a lot of fun. Cambria is beautiful and charming. The festival is well-organized and offers great perks (like giving filmmakers a free hotel and doing airport runs), and the locals really come out for the screenings. They just need to get better sound equipment and a more knowledgeable projectionist, and they’ll be solid. Since this was only their second year, I think they can definitely take feedback and get better. It is lovely having a festival completely devoted to love, so I do hope they stick around.
Local Vegan Treat:
Soto’s True Earth Market is the place for vegans in Cambria. They have really yummy cupcakes and muffins from a local baker.
Catch the film next at:
Next month, on March 24th at 5:30pm, we’ll be at our local favorite, the Queens World Film Festival!