I arrived Friday afternoon and immediately got excited about the festival when a super sweet box office clerk named Key told me she thought that that movie looked fun & interesting and she was thinking of going to see it when I asked to reserve my ticket for the About a Donkey screening. When I told her she definitely should see it and that it's my movie, she got excited and promised she would. I then met the Women's Programming Co-Chair, Piper, who, when I thanked her for programming our film, told me the whole programming committee loved it and that it was such an easy one - "just an immediate yes." That really made my day. As we're hearing back from festivals, averaging a 20% acceptance rate, it's easy to start to question whether or not we'll really have a shot at reaching an audience outside our existing circle and if anyone objective will really get & appreciate what we're going for. So, to hear that the film resonated with the programming team and it wasn't even a debate ... well, I was just overjoyed. The VIP reception that evening was a nice event for mingling with other filmmakers in attendance & sponsors of the festival. Everyone was really lovely and welcoming.
At Saturday morning's filmmaker luncheon, Matt arrived and we got a chance to meet a few other talented filmmakers (who funny enough were all also New York based) and chat with more of the programming team, including Piper, her Co-Chair & wife Monique, and a teacher who was programming with the festival for the first time this year, Layla. I have to say, I really love this team of women (I'm sure the guys are great too but I only had a chance to engage with the women). They're so lovely and clearly care about the festival and the filmmakers so much. Just meeting them alone would make me want to return again & again. But that's not the only reason! Before I get to our screening though, one of my favorite comments from the luncheon was by Layla, who said that not only were we her favorite feature that she reviewed, but also she felt it had an inviting quality where she could show it to her homophobic mom and maybe see a little shift in perspective. That was so incredible to hear because engaging people who don't typically seek out inclusive content and trying to get a dialogue going with them is a big mission of ours with the film.
After the luncheon, we caught a block of 8 shorts. I wish I had a chance to watch more because, based on the quality (both in story and production value), I think I would have really discovered dozens of new favorite films & artists - which isn't often how I feel coming out of shorts blocks at most fests. I really enjoyed what I was able to see at this one. Then we met another programmer, Marilyn, who was going to be our Q&A moderator. She told me that she and two other programmers fought over who would get to do our Q&A because they all loved our film so much (one of whom, Laurie, I only met very briefly but who also emphasized how much she loved our film and told us she couldn't wait to watch it again at the screening). That was so awesome to hear from Marilyn, who went on to explain that they get so much of the same kind of story (as an LGBTQ festival), and so it was so exciting for them to receive a film that was inclusive enough to meet their standards but wasn't specifically about being gay. They felt that it being about a family was so relatable and felt authentic, and just "so fun, and funny, and moving." I was moved to hear her talk about it with such enthusiasm. And, having recently been rejected by the 3 other LGBTQ+ fests we submitted to, it was especially nice to hear that our approach and mission were appreciated by the community at this festival.
Our screening was in the beautiful Fletcher Hall at the Carolina Theatre, which seats over 1,000 people. To our happy surprise, we ended up with over 100 people at our screening. The box office said we sold 101 tickets, which didn't include the programming team or volunteers that sat in to watch (again)! I can tell you, from traveling for my Seed&Spark job and seeing indie features at a variety of festivals, that is a GOOD turnout. This is especially so when you factor in our complete lack of names, connections to North Carolina, or marketing funds. Outside of one twitter connection who came out to support me (thanks Jim!), the audience mainly came out of interest from the festival's efforts. That's really something! So often, the audience is just the filmmakers in attendance. And with a feature, that can be a really tiny crowd. So, I'm truly grateful and impressed with the way this festival hooks people! As for during the screening, the image looked great (I was worried because I couldn't afford a DCP, so sent a blu-ray - but was pleasantly surprised by how solid it looked) and the film got a lot of laughs. I think that maybe some were expecting the central storyline to be more prominently queer, but I don't think that that stopped them from enjoying it. We heard some positive comments afterwords. And the Q&A was very engaged. We had 10 minutes, and they had to cut off the questions to get us out in time. (Watch below.)
The festival apologized to me multiple times for the "bad time slot," 5pm on a Saturday; which I didn't realize was considered bad until I understood that we played before two centerpieces, the winning Women's feature Freelancers Anonymous at 7pm (which was delightful) and the Paul Rudd/Steve Coogan-starring Ideal Home at 9pm. I suppose non-filmmakers are unlikely to watch more than one feature per day, and definitely not 3 right in a row. So, considering that, I guess we were given a not-great slot. However, that fact just makes me even more impressed with the festival and the crowd we got. Not to mention, we were also programmed against 2 other screenings happening at the same time! So, that really says something about the crowd this festival draws! I'm so thankful to the people who chose to come to our screening - including and especially Key, the box office clerk who not only raved about the film afterwords but also encouraged other people to see our movie when they asked for recommendations, and even asked me to sign her ticket stub after the screening! It was just such a wonderful experience overall. The only downside was that Kelsey couldn't make it. But that's even more incentive to return in the future with another film!
Local Vegan Treat:
- The Parlour makes handmade ice cream and always has 2 sorbets, a vegan chocolate, and a revolving vegan soft serve option every day. I lucked out in that Friday had almond joy mocha as the soft serve option. It was SO good! It's rare finding vegan soft serve anywhere. Definitely a must try if you're ever in Durham. (I also had the pineapple mango soft serve on Sunday, which was great, but more sorbet-ish than legit ice cream.)
Catch the film next at:
- It has an encore screening this Wednesday, the 22nd, as part of NCGLFF at 5:10pm (unfortunately, I can't stay for it, but hopefully some people attend)
- Austin Revolution Film Festival on September 21st at 3:30pm
- Buffalo International Film Festival October 4-8 (time TBD)
- Adirondack Film Festival October 18-20 (time TBD)
We're so excited that our feature About a Donkey is an official selection of Buffalo International Film Festival, which runs October 4th - 8th! It's our 5th festival acceptance and will be the 4th public screening, happening between Austin Revolution in September & Adirondack in mid-October. Details to come.