About A Donkey

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.


Local Vegan Treat:

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FLIC Recap

We premiered About a Donkey in Montana over the weekend in Polson as part of the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest (or FLIC). Kelsey & I flew in on Friday and immediately jumped into the festival experience via our shared ride from Missoula to Polson with a couple, Ray & Marianne Robison, who grew up in the area. Ray had a short, “An Affair Remains,” screening at the festival. I’d like to give a big shout-out to them for driving & keeping us company throughout the weekend! They made for great car buddies, who consistently shared fun facts about the state and area with us.

When we arrived in Polson, there was a nice Opening Night reception with food and casual mingling with other attending filmmakers and local sponsors. We enjoyed chatting with the other filmmakers visiting from out-of-state and especially clicked with journalists from The Washington Post, Whitney Shefte & Alice Li, who made an incredibly moving & well-done short doc titled “The Next Edition,” which can be watched on the Post’s site.

The opening night shorts were a great mix of films. Overall, I’d say the programming leans most towards narrative films related to family & relationships, short & sweet animations, and docs with a strong focus on environmental issues & Indigenous stories. I was really happy to see Native American stories so represented at the festival, considering the Flathead Reservation right there (and just generally the Native land Polson was formed on). One doc from opening night, “Spirit of Atatice,” told a really important local story that I never would’ve known (or seen told so beautifully & effectively) if not for attending the festival. It was a great reminder of how erased Indigenous stories are from our history books and contemporary culture as a whole, and it acted as an important parallel that showcased how the current situation regarding the border wall and overall exclusionary ideology is rooted in the founding of our country (which Kelsey & I were pleasantly surprised to hear a white audience member astutely point out despite the fact that the audience overall seemed to be more conservative-leaning politically).

Speaking of that, Kelsey & I weren’t quite sure what our screening would be like. I looked up the 2016 election results for Flathead County before we arrived and saw that it voted 65% for Trump, so we weren’t sure how our inclusive family dramedy would go over. Of course, that Trump-majority is part of why I chose to submit to the festival, we have been trying to screen it in red-leaning states to get some conversations going about acceptance and hopefully spread some empathy (even if we’re just planting the tiniest of seeds). But that’s easier said than done. Despite being part of our mission with touring with the film, I can’t say it’s something we’re fully comfortable doing.

However, all that said, we actually had a really lovely, completely non-confrontational experience! For one thing, we had one of the highest attended screenings. The locals really come out because there's nothing else to do in Polson in the winter (that’s how it looked from the outside to us but also a couple locals stated as such). We had over 70 people at our screening for our feature, with no local connections or marketing. And only about 8 of the attendees were other filmmakers; all others were local non-filmmakers. It was really cool. (We had a strong timeslot, but even the features with not-great slots had over 30 people, and most shorts blocks had around 100 people. Overall, that’s way better than many better known fests out there, which you know if you read my recaps.) Even more surprising was that we were programmed up against another feature that was made in Montana and had a lot of the cast & crew in attendance, yet so many people chose to check out our little film from NY! I think our family-oriented synopsis really draws people in, in a community like Polson. It’s something we witnessed in Glens Falls, as well. But unlike with that festival, no one walked out during a sweet moment between two of the women in the film. Maybe some people weren’t fully onboard with the unexpected romance (not really unexpected once you start watching, but it’s not a major plot-point in our marketing), but no one seemed overtly intolerant. The film as a whole got a ton of laughs in the right places, even some vocal affirmations to bits of dialogue throughout, and an overall positive response. It was one of my favorite audience-viewing experiences. I’d say top 3 overall. Also, the picture & sound quality were great. It was so cool screening in an actual theater (and at DCP quality, which the fest made for us from the mp4 file we sent)!

After the screening, we had a nice Q&A (though I wish there had been more time because I feel like people were starting to warm up to questions only towards the end), and we got some nice comments. While exiting, two women said “fantastic job, I loved it!” and many made eye contact with smiles & congratulated us on a job well done. Our car buddy Marianne said she loved the arc of the mom character and generally loved the optimism of the story. At a networking party later on, a local woman came to talk to us and raved about how much she loved it and even asked if it’d be possible to buy the donkey from the film because she loved her so much! Another woman encountered Kelsey and told her she loved it and thought it was “so sweet and cute,” before correcting herself to say “and artistic.” Kelsey said “we’ll take sweet & cute;” it's not not what we were going for! ;)

On the last day, before the awards, a man turned to me and said “we quite liked your film,” and then his wife turned around and got excited to recognize me and said, “we’ve seen almost every film and yours was one of my two favorites.” I was so grateful and chatted with them a bit (her other favorite was the feature Octav.) We didn’t end up winning any awards (though we were nominated for Best Picture & Christina Shea-Wright was nominated for Best Actress for her performance as Cecilia), but we did make the top 5 in Audience Votes (out of 56 eligible films). We were told it was super close, but a local film made by affiliates of the festival won. It’s really lovely that our little movie made in NY resonated with this audience of local Montanans! It shows how much about being human is universal and that we can see ourselves and our wants/needs in each other even if we’re not all exactly the same (#loveislove).

Overall, Kelsey & I had a blast. Flathead Lake is beautiful and the town is small but cute. (Food's not great, though.) The festival directors & staff were really nice & supportive. (And offered solid accommodations, like a free hotel room.) And the locals were super welcoming & truly excited to have us in their town with our film. I’m not sure I’ll ever make another film that suits their audience (they don’t really program genre work), but if I do, I’d definitely love to be back.


Local Vegan Treat:

  • Polson is not vegan friendly, but they have a cute coffee spot (it’s like a truck but shaped like a tiny house), called Chipper Chick Coffee that Kelsey & I enjoyed stopping at. And if you’re ever in Missoula, even just passing through, you must find a Tandem Doughnut!

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P.S. Since I highlighted some films that screened in this recap (which I typically only do in posts on twitter), here are my other favorite films: shorts “Homecoming” by Jennifer Blair and “This Is Cindy” by Terance Miller. And the feature film “Ginger” is moving & powerful. I’m glad we’ll be screening with it again at Queens World. The filmmakers Melissa & Jimmy Boratyn were lovely and now new friends we have based in Chicago!

About a Donkey at Cambria Film Fest

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.