christina raia

About a Donkey streaming on Seed&Spark!

As of today, our 2nd feature film is not only on Vimeo on Demand, but also on Seed&Spark's streaming platform. Seed&Spark has a pay what you wish model, starting at $3 per month. That one fee gives subscribers unlimited access to over 300 streaming films and series! Why not give it a shot for a month and watch About a Donkey (and other excellent, inclusive content by other independent creators) via desktop or Roku app. What’s especially great about this platform is that creators make money per minute watched!


Our day was made when we received the below message through our website! <3

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Cambria Film Festival Recap

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.

-Christina

Local Vegan Treat:

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Austin Revolution Film Festival Recap

Our About a Donkey screening at Austin Revolution Film Festival was this past weekend, and it was an overall great trip & festival experience.

The festival started Tuesday evening, but I didn’t arrive until Thursday afternoon. We decided to make the Austin trip a full (film)family affair, so my husband Justin came along. He spent Thursday evening catching up with friends who recently moved to Austin, while I went to the Filmmaker Mixer, joined by About a Donkey cast member Alexandra Clayton (who also flew in for the festival). We mingled a bit with new faces, but spent most of the hour catching up with each other (Alexandra moved to LA shortly after we wrapped production in 2017), and with a few filmmaker friends I’ve met at festivals in the past. It was a fun night at the Alamo Drafthouse, where we watched that night’s screening of one trailer, a music video, 5 shorts, and a feature — over a 3 hour block. It was a long lineup for one sitting, but mostly compelling enough to warrant the length.

That night was, unfortunately, the last screening at Alamo Drafthouse. It’ll admit, it’s a bit disappointing that only 1/3 of the films got a chance to play at their fullest quality in that venue; but I do appreciate the festival trying to squeeze in as many there as possible. The festival director explained that their weekend conflicted with Fantastic Fest (Alamo Drafthouse’s own resident festival), and as a truly independent festival that doesn’t allow the industry and celebrity to dictate what they program, having all of ARFF hosted at the theater just wasn’t an option. I totally get and respect that.

Friday and Saturday moved to the Crowne Plaza hotel, where two rooms where converted into theaters, along with a third space for panels. I’ve been to a few festivals held at hotels and have mostly experienced poor screening quality and non-stop tech issues, so I was a little wary of this one. However, ARFF clearly put in the prep work to make sure the spaces felt as much like theaters as possible. And while the picture and sound didn’t have Alamo Drafthouse crispness, there were no tech disruptions that I encountered throughout the fest.

Having arrived late Thursday night, Kelsey & her fiancée (and CongestedCat collaborator) Dani Thomas, joined me & Justin for breakfast Friday morning. Matt and About a Donkey actor Katherine Wessling flew in that morning, and met up with us, as well. (Like I said, full film-family affair.) As our first time in Austin, we tried to balance sightseeing, eating all of the things we could, and film watching/supporting as much as possible. We spent the first half of the day walking around South Congress street, taking in the artsy area of the city.

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Our screening was then at 3:30pm. I’ll admit, this wasn’t a great slot and we were worried we’d have a low turnout. And, unfortunately, that was the case. I do understand that finding a good fit for everyone isn’t possible in a lineup of 150ish films. However, our 5 local friends really wanted to attend but they all had work. If our slot had been just 2 hours later, they could’ve made it. So, though I understand, I’d be lying if I said the slot wasn’t a bummer. I’ll also say that, after our North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival screening, we were maybe a bit spoiled by how embedded that festival is in the community & how much of a local draw it has. So, our standards of a successful screening for this film had maybe skyrocketed since our Georgia screening. We did some targeted ads on social media for NCGLFF, but our over 100-person audience was really the benefit of that festival’s reach. So, we had high hopes for this festival; not to that degree but we thought it’d have at least a bit of a general public following, as well. That doesn’t seem to be the case, though. We ended up with just 27 people in the crowd (not including the 7 of us and the 4 filmmakers from the 2 shorts that screened as part of the block). And while I am absolutely so appreciative of the fact that other filmmakers came out to see our film, I was really hoping to get some local, non-filmmaker attendance. Our mission with the film is largely to reach people and generate some conversations; maybe even open minds a bit towards empathy & acceptance. It’s a big part of why we’ve been targeting bible belt areas through our festival submissions. So, to not have anyone in the room that wasn’t a filmmaker with a film screening in the festival was a small letdown. That said, the response from the crowd was truly wonderful. They laughed (someone even told me they cried at a sweet moment), and all had lovely comments during the Q&A and for nearly 30 minutes of chatting afterwards. I’m so honored they chose to see our film, especially since there was another block and a panel happening simultaneously.

After the chatting wrapped up, we decided to go out for celebratory drinks. Then, we explored downtown Austin (and by explored, I mean sped-walk through it) to get to the infamous South Congress Street Bridge bats, which I was told by many people were overrated; and I’ll admit they kind of are, but I’m glad I saw them anyway because I would’ve always wondered otherwise. (Hopefully the fam feels the same way and doesn’t resent the walk to see them. I think I made up for it by making sure everyone got to have Texas BBQ that night, while I grabbed a vegan bite from the delicious food truck Arlo’s.)

After that, everyone slept off their food coma, while I caught part of the late night horror-comedy block. As a festival that originally started as a genre festival, horror filmmakers are in high attendance at the fest. So, that was a fun one to attend.

Sunday, we had amazing breakfast tacos (at a vegan-friendly place called Taco Joint), and then spent the rest of the day catching films as we could, here & there, before the awards ceremony. We ended up winning Best Produced Screenplay (and Best Animal Actor; go Cinnamon)! Being nominated in 7 categories was an honor in itself, but we have to admit we’re extremely proud & grateful to have taken home that award.

All in all, the experience was lovely because we all got to spend time together in Austin, as well as share our film with an engaged audience. And I got to meetup with filmmaker friends, both old & new — many of whom I’d only known via social media. The festival itself is run by really kind & fun people who, as filmmakers themselves, clearly care about storytellers and why we do what we do. The festival director, Jim, was so enthusiastic about our film. His affection for the film alone made me really excited to attend the festival and meet everyone. There’s a real family vibe. It had the most filmmaker attendance I think I’ve ever seen at a festival of its size, which is pretty amazing. However, as I said, it was really only filmmakers or friends & family of selected filmmakers at the screenings; and not just ours, all of them. I think that, like in New York where there are top industry festivals and so many things to choose to do on any given night, Austin is too booming of a City for a truly independent festival to hook a non-filmmaker audience. They could definitely get there as they grow each year; but I’m sure it’s incredibly hard to get attention & support with Fantastic Fest happening at the same time and the Austin Film Festival right around the corner (not to mention SXSW in March). All in all, I would say Austin Revolution is excellent for networking with other filmmakers to find friendship & country-wide collaborators, as well as for seeing truly independent films of wide variety without genre discrimination. It’s not ideal for reaching and engaging non-filmmaker audiences, though. I think that’s totally fine; filmmakers should just know what their goals are out of every festival and what they can expect from attending. So, hopefully sharing my experience offers that insight.

In any case, we had a blast. I’d like to thank ARFF for showcasing us and our film, AND for the generous donation they made to the West Texas Donkey Sanctuary in our honor! <3

-Christina

(P.S. Listen to the Austin-based radio interview we did before our trip.)

Local Vegan Treat:

  • Bananarchy, the frozen banana truck (not stand), is AMAZING! They label all vegan options. It’s definitely a must-try if ever in Austin.

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