We're so excited that our feature About a Donkey is an official selection of of Cambria Film Festival in Cambria, California, which runs February 7th through 10th. It’s a festival all about love, which is a great fit for our multigenerational romantic comedy. Christina & Kelsey plan to attend, along with some LA-based cast & crew.
Last weekend was our About a Donkey screening at YoFiFest. It was my first time screening at the festival. I decided to submit because a few filmmaker friends recommended it as a festival with a nice & supportive team, and as one close enough to the City to not be a bad commute, but far enough that it may attract locals in a way that most City festivals have a hard time doing. I figured we’d get a nice sized crowd, since there doesn’t seem to be too much going on in Yonkers regularly, particularly in the arts. Unfortunately, though, that wasn’t the case.
I’ll start with the good. The festival directors were really organized and communicative leading up to the festival. I found them and the overall staff to be nice and welcoming on opening night, where there was a great party with free food samplers from local restaurants and an overall filmmaker-friendly vibe. Opening night had a solid turnout of maybe 100 people (of what seemed like a decent mix of filmmakers and non-filmmaker locals). The 3 shorts that screened and the feature were all well done, and showcased in a nice theater space. Overall, from what I was able to see from the programming, I think they have good taste with a nice mix of true indies and only a couple higher profile invitationals. All of their venues are within walking distance from each other. The Q&As are thoughtful and well-run. And the Fall foliage in Yonkers is definitely a sight to see, which makes visiting the area via a scenic train ride from Grand Central not bad despite there not being too much else to do or see in the general area of where the films screen.
Now for the not so good. Aside from opening night, plus the high profile features with celebrities and the couple local features shot in Yonkers, the attendance was very low. Most features, such as ours, averaged 12 people in the audience, including the filmmakers. Some fared worse than that. And even the shorts blocks; while having 35 to 40 people in the audience is by no means bad, it’s not great when considering the blocks featured 10 to 12 films each. I was surprised because the festival presented itself as having strong recognition in the community; but I attended enough screenings (and inquired about others from other filmmakers) at each venue at varying times of day, and found that, for the most part, it was just filmmakers and friends/family of filmmakers in attendance, with small exceptions here & there.
Our screening was the first full day of the festival, 12pm on Saturday. I wasn’t thrilled with the time because it meant not having much time to build any buzz with locals. And I was skeptical about how many people would go see a movie at that time on a Saturday. However, after our wonderful experience with the Adirondack Film Festival 2 weeks before, I’d realized you never really know what a good timeslot looks like. It all depends on the local community. So yeah, I went in to our screening with mixed feelings. The venue was small but nice; seating about 40 people with a good screen. I hoped it’d be almost full; but by the time it got rolling, we had 5 filmmaker friends in the audience (all there for their own screenings and thankfully came out to see ours first), plus 4 locals, including a man I met the night before who had come from further Upstate and was a friend of the festival directors. I was thankful he was intrigued enough by our title when we spoke at opening night that he chose to come back to Yonkers to see the film. And then it was me and Katherine (plays Ann in the film), plus Ben (plays Burgh in the film), who surprised us along with his brother right before the screening. A total of 13 in the room. As I said about our not-great Buffalo experience, I’m always grateful when anyone chooses to see our film; so it’s awesome that we even had 4 strangers there (and it’s lovely that our friends were interested in seeing our film enough to come to Yonkers early to support). But after our Adirondack experience where over 100 total strangers from the community came out for our film, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the low turnout. That is until the film started…
A short film screened before ours and I noticed that the dialogue was muffled. I didn’t know if that was just the quality of the film or if there was something off about the speakers. Then our film started and it sounded equally muffled and very bassy. I had an internal freakout (though was suddenly grateful the room wasn’t packed). The tech in back managing the levels didn’t seem concerned, so I wasn’t sure what to do. And the dialogue was kind of just clear enough to hear that I wondered if it was simply the quality of the speakers and not something that could actually be fixed, so I wasn’t sure if I should say something or just accept it as the quality of this venue. But after 5 minutes or so, I couldn’t stand to listen to it like that anymore and left the room. I found the technical director in charge of the venue and talked to him about it. He went in to listen, then came out and definitively said it’s not supposed to sound like that. That was a relief, but also a disappointment because the movie was already underway. The co-festival director Dave showed up and went through the screener files and inspected some stuff in back while the film was still screening, and he eventually came to the conclusion that he had mis-wired the speakers that morning. Dave gave me the choice to pause the movie and have them bring the lights up, try to figure out how to correctly wire the speakers, and then pick it up where it left off. But at that point, the movie was nearly 40 minutes in. I felt that, if by chance people were actually engrossed in the film despite the audio, it didn’t feel worth it to interrupt it and go through that hassle, especially if there’s no guarantee they’d be able to rewire it correctly. So, we just let it play out. I sat in the hall cringing and then eventually went back in the room for the very end. I can’t speak to how the film was received during the screening. But Katherine said there were still a decent amount of laughs because the dialogue was overall understandable, just very hollow sounding (though there was apparently one key scene where overly bassy music combined with the muffle made the dialogue nearly impossible to hear). I guess I’m grateful I didn’t hear it and can choose to believe others’ comments about it being “really not that bad.”
All that said, no one walked out of the movie, which is either a testament to the politeness of this group of people or maybe the overall enjoyment of the characters and story. To be honest, I’d probably have to walk out of a dialogue-driven film that sounded like that, even if I liked aspects of it. I just found it painful to sit through, not only because I knew my movie doesn’t/shouldn’t sound that way, but the heavy bass was truly hard on the ears. Despite that, to my surprise, people seemed to genuinely enjoy the movie. Filmmaker friends came over after the Q&A to compliment the production design and color scheme (I share that compliment with DP Peter Westervelt & Art Director Nicole Solomon), the authenticity of the family — both from a visual perspective as well as acting & chemistry, and the overall way the ensemble stories were weaved seamlessly together. People called it sweet and charming, and a really fun and relatable family dramedy. The locals in the room had great inquiries and thoughts during the Q&A, which can be watched below. Getting to speak with them made me feel a bit better.
After the screening, the technical director was able to rewire and fix the speakers. I’m glad I was able to save other filmmakers from my experience (my friend’s feature in the same room the next day sounded great), but I wish they had done a tech test after they set up the room that morning before jumping into the day. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t annoyed & disappointed that that wasn’t done … and that no one seemed to notice during the 2 hour block that happened in the room before my screening.
Patty, the festival director, was really apologetic. I can tell she works hard to run a smooth ship, and she was really frustrated that such a major ball was dropped. She tried to make it up to us by offering us another screening. I appreciated it but ultimately turned it down because the only people we knew attending the fest had already experienced it at the first screening, and, considering the turnouts overall, I didn’t have faith in the festival attracting any locals with a last minute screening. I figured I’d just end up sitting alone in an empty room whereas a local filmmaker with friends & family in Yonkers would probably appreciate the extra slot far more.
All in all, I like the people who run the festival despite their mess up (tech issues happen with such a big operation sometimes, I get it), and I really enjoyed the conversation with & reactions from the few locals at our screening. And, ultimately, I had a really good time at the festival because it gave me a reason to spend a bunch of time with Katherine, who’s just such a great person and movie-viewing partner (though that’s really more to the credit of our friendship than YoFiFest specifically), and get to see Ben and meet his brother (though only briefly, unfortunately). But, aside from those pros, I don’t think the festival has too much to offer someone not from Yonkers. Without local community engagement, I feel I essentially reach the same people (filmmakers) I’d reach at closer festivals in the City; and I can get the upper NY Fall foliage fix from the Adirondack Film Festival (along with all the other perks that that festival offers). So YoFi doesn’t make my personal list of top festivals worth attending. But maybe, as they continue to grow and gain a foothold in the community, it could be worth it a few years from now.
Local Vegan Treat:
Yonkers is not vegan friendly (another con). This is the first time I have nothing to report.
Catch the film next at:
We have a January screening in Montana & a February screening in California, but we can’t announce those festivals yet. Stay tuned!
We just wrapped up an AMAZING weekend in Glens Falls for our About a Donkey screening at the Adirondack Film Festival. It’s a newer festival in its 3rd year that I had honestly not heard of until a few months back. A filmmaker friend told me that they had a great time at the festival the year before, so I decided it was worth the low-ish submission fee to give it a shot with our feature. I’m so glad I did because it is now on my personal list of top film festivals, for sure. There are a few reasons. First, they were extremely organized & communicative leading up to the festival, and overall had a really filmmaker friendly vibe. They also stood out right away because they created a distinction between their high profile feature invitationals (which they called headliners) and the truly independent features in competition that came in via submissions; something festivals so rarely do (blog post on that coming soon). Then they offered all filmmakers one free hotel room during the festival, which is also very rare, especially for ALL filmmakers. And on top of that, they gave us a code for free Uber rides to & from the main venue. So, considering the perks and overall very open & honest approach, I had a good feeling going into the festival. However, I didn’t expect to have as phenomenal a time as we ended up having.
For one, everyone part of the fest knew who we were right away and made an effort to make us feel included and taken care of the whole weekend. And something incredibly unique & creative is that they had local artist Anthony Richichi create pieces of art inspired by each film with a filmmaker in attendance. Anthony was happy to meet us; he told us he loved our film, and showed us the art he made - which he said was inspired by two moments in the film that really stood out to him. We feel he captured moments that definitely embody those two characters and tend to get good reactions from the audience at screenings. It’s such a cool thing he and the festival do, and it really shows how they make every individual filmmaker feel seen and appreciated.
And then there’s the audience! For such a new festival, it has some serious community support. So often, especially with a feature, it’s a struggle filling a screening. It requires a lot of networking with the other filmmakers at the fest, hoping that they’ll choose to see your film instead of whatever other films or blocks conflict with it, and promising you’ll do the same for theirs. It can be good for film-community building, but it can also feel salesy and competitive. We’re all film fans, as well as film makers; but I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I don’t want the only people at my screenings to be the other filmmakers with work screening at the festival. I love the ways we can support each other, but festivals should be a way to also reach non-filmmakers in their hometowns. Getting one’s work in front of general audiences will always be the dream, but so few festivals actually create that access & engagement. This festival, though, somehow manages to do it! The locals were genuinely excited about the festival’s existence in their town, and they really came out to discover new films and filmmakers. Of course, we did network and make new filmmaker friends too, but the festival didn’t have that pressure of selling your screenings to each other in the way others do. We all just got to pick what interested us most, and show up where we could, when we could.
So, having witnessed the high local turnout at opening night, we were very eager to see what ours would be like. We were a bit skeptical of our 2pm on Friday timeslot, but the 12pm feature screening before us had over 50 people in attendance; and the vast majority seemed to be locals, completely unfamiliar with the film or filmmaker. That got us excited for our own turnout! And it only got more exciting when we saw the staff needing to add more chairs for all the new people coming in for our film! We ended up with a full house of 77 strangers in attendance. There was one filmmaker friend who came to support, but all the others were not only locals to Glens Falls, but seemingly not filmmakers at all. They were exactly the kind of people we wanted to reach, individuals outside our network or usual reach who appreciate independent art but probably wouldn’t seek it out on the kinds of indie platforms our work would later be distributed on. As for the screening itself, the venue was beautiful and the film looked incredible in the space. The film got a lot of laughs. However, there was one negative aspect of the experience; there’s a moment in the film where two women are on the verge of a romantic (but not sexual) moment, and an older woman in the audience got up and walked out with her two young grandsons. And then a kiss happens in the film between those two characters, and another elderly woman shot up out of her seat and walked out at that exact moment. We were definitely disappointed by those two reactions. It put a bit of a downer on the experience for us; but only for a moment because, as soon as the credits rolled, we had people surrounding us with compliments. A woman shouted, “what a beautiful little film” as she exited, and others told us they loved it and that they would vote for us for audience choice. An elderly man, who’s a demographic we thought least likely to identify with our film, chatted with us the longest, asking us questions about the filmmaking process and complimenting us on how strongly the story came together and touched the audience. We were riding high after that, and enjoyed the rest of the day, taking in more screenings (all of which were extremely well attended by locals), and enjoying the filmmaker party that evening.
On Saturday, we watched a bunch more of the excellent content (programmed by the lovely Programming Director Jessica Levandoski), including films by existing filmmaker friends in attendance. One of my favorite things about the festival, too, is that the thematic shorts blocks were heavily curated and very short. None went over 70 minutes, which I think is perfect. So often, shorts blocks go on for so long without a break, and films don’t get their deserved processing time. I think the scheduling of the festival was really efficient. My only complaint is that they don’t do Q&As. On one hand, I get it & appreciate it for the fact that more films could be screened and people could get from one venue to the next (all 5 were in walking distance) without missing the beginning or end of films. But as a filmmaker, I think a lot of the satisfaction of discussing your work with an engaged audience is lost when there’s no designated Q&A time. We had some great conversations with people who had time to stick around, but I do think we would’ve been able to get more feedback and build relationships with people who’d take an interest in future work if we had the platform to discuss the film in an allotted amount of time immediately after our screenings. That said, I think the festival did an excellent job of facilitating conversations with the local attendees at the evening parties. I’d love to see more balance there in the future, maybe even just 5 minute Q&As for the single screening feature blocks.
Anyway, at 6pm, we had our second screening (another perk of the festival was that all films screened at least twice), where we were put in a smaller venue at the hotel (still looked & sounded excellent) with 40 seats. We had 36 people in attendance. Four were filmmaker friends but all others were locals. It seemed that the Saturday screenings overall were less attended than Friday, and ours was considered one of the bigger crowds of that day. But even so, I didn’t see a single screening with less than 20 people (which was such a refreshing change from our last festival experience). Not to mention, every screening had 4 other screenings happening at the same time. The fact that all were decently attended is seriously impressive. (Trust me, I attend a lot of festivals for work. It’s legit amazing. Only matched, in my experience, by NCGLFF.) Our film, again, got great laughs. And no one walked out this time! Afterwards, many people told us they loved it as they exited. One woman was on the verge of tears and said “thank you for making me feel so good,” which nearly made us cry. Our filmmaker friends complimented how we created “such vivid characters … and so many, in such a short amount of time,” and how much “the family felt like a family,” and they appreciated how well we “built up the sexual tension in the main romance so that it all really paid off.” All lovely comments. An older woman came over to us and said “now, I have to say, as someone over twice your age, you really showed me your world … and it’s not my world, but it’s yours … and all of that is so normal, and that’s just great … and I loved it. Thank you for sharing it with me. And I’m so glad girls made one of the best ones!” It was such an unexpected and sweet comment. We had to decipher it a bit, but we assume she was trying to make a positive statement about the way we presented our queer and interracial relationships in the film as just existing without any drama or needing to label them. And it’s cool that she deemed our film as one of the best she had seen! Also, again, an older man who we wouldn’t expect to come over to express feelings about the film came over and asked what inspired such a creative story, and then told us we did a great job and he really enjoyed it. It was so wonderful having people come up to us with curiosity and appreciation. So few festivals manage to create and capture that kind of engagement (especially when there’s no Q&A or pressure on them to say anything to us at all).
The Adirondack Film Festival is really special and will definitely be a staple on my submission lists moving forward. I recommend you check them out next year; even if you don’t have a film screening - it’s in a sweet & scenic town with beautiful Fall foliage, and the festival has overall very worthwhile programming!
Local Vegan Treat:
The town is very vegan friendly. Raul’s Mexican Grill has pretty great vegan churros.
Catch the film next at:
YoFiFest, November 3rd at 12pm.
We have a January screening in Montana & a February screening in California, but we can’t announce those festivals yet. Stay tuned!
P.S. As I was typing this, I received a super sweet message through my website. See below <3