Award/Festival News

About a Donkey Festival Rundown (and the Reality of Festival Submissions)

We had a wonderful festival run for our feature film About a Donkey. I like to be fully transparent with audiences and other filmmakers to make my personal learnings useful to others. So I’m sharing a full rundown of where the film screened and where we didn’t get a chance to.

Festivals where the film was accepted:

  • Georgia Film Festival. My favorite moment was chatting with two girls around 12 & 15 who are aspiring filmmakers & were really excited to meet me & Kelsey after watching About a Donkey.

  • North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. One of my favorite festival experiences. It was so cool hearing from the head programmer that all programmers loved our film & fought over who would get to do the Q&A.

  • Austin Revolution Film Festival. I loved this trip because we all got to explore Austin. Favorite festival moment was winning Best Produced Screenplay.

  • Buffalo International Film Festival. My mom, Kelsey and I had a blast roadtripping to Buffalo. And I enjoyed a bonding moment on the red carpet being interviewed by a fellow vegan.

  • Adirondack Film Festival. Our favorite festival experience overall! It was especially touching when a woman came over in tears after our screening and thanked us for just making her feel so good.

  • YoFiFest. It was nice having a very thoughtful Q&A despite technical mishaps during our screening.

  • Flathead Lake International Cinemafest. We also loved this festival experience. My favorite moment was when an older straight couple seated behind us debated leaving after a romance between two of the women in the movie is alluded to, but then they decided to stay through it all.

  • Cambria Film Festival. Have you seen the elephant seals on the beach in Cambria? Haha, it was just so wonderful seeing some of the California team again after so long!

  • Queens World Film Festival. One of my top festivals forever, and one of our favorites with this film. Having a sold out screening of locals and a lovely Q&A conversation were so fun for us.

  • Capital City Film Festival. A final goodbye to seeing it on a big screen. I was touched when a woman spoke about how the film reminded her of how her dog helped her get through her husband’s passing.

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We made a feature on under $23,000 with no name recognition and not in any of the genres that typically get buzz on the festival circuit. I'm proud of what we accomplished, but the film’s not without its flaws. It's a quirky, sweet, talky but quiet, thoughtful and fun little film that really resonates with some but couldn't possibly appeal to everyone's style & taste. We didn't expect to even get into some of the festivals that we did, so we consider our run a success. But since I'm an advocate for transparency to benefit my peers, here's a list of the festivals that we submitted but didn't get in to.

  • Atlanta Film Festival

  • RiverRun Film Festival

  • Cleveland International Film Festival

  • Sedona Film Festival

  • Phoenix Film Festival

  • Oxford Film Festival

  • Oak Cliff Film Festival

  • Julien Dubuque International Film Festival

  • Stony Brook Film Festival

  • Newport Beach Film Festival

  • Lighthouse International Film Festival

  • River Bend Film Festival

  • Woods Hole Film Festival

  • Women Texas Film Festival

  • Sidewalk Film Festival

  • Indie Street Film Festival

  • Rhode Island International Film Festival

  • Moving Parts Film Festival

  • Cinema Diverse: The Palm Springs LGBTQ Film Festival

  • Citizen Jane Film Festival

  • Seattle Queer Film Festival

  • Indie Memphis Film Festival

  • Hell's Half Mile Film Festival

  • BendFilm Festival

  • Twister Alley Film Festival

  • SENE Film Festival

  • Twister Alley Film Festival

Many of these were long shots. If you don’t know, you should know that festivals as a whole are a borderline scam when it comes to features (some are completely in general, but that’s a whole other conversation). In the world of features, the films that get into top tier festivals are largely coming through labs or connections, even if they don’t have obvious names attached. Read this article, if you haven’t. And so you’d think then that regional festivals are truly indie friendly since they’re also the smaller fish in the pond. But there’s this whole world of monetized festival runs where films that have enough buzz (star-power or extreme social relevance with the right PR) can get represented by festival distribution companies and get their film invited (with screening fees and accommodations) to fill feature slots at festivals. And even without representation, premiere at the right festival and a film could get invited to all regional festivals around. Some festivals are transparent about this (about what percentage of features come from submissions vs invitationals or programmer connections), most are not. For this reason, a truly independent feature filmmaker could waste a ton of money submitting to festivals without ever standing a chance of actually getting in to any because all the feature lineups are filled with invitationals (and the submission fees are essentially bankrolling the ability for those festivals to pay those invitationals). I don’t mean to be bitter or hate on festivals (I love festivals, I’ll get to that in a bit), but this is very much a reality that filmmakers need to know about.

For this reason, I tried to be very strategic about where I submitted. We didn’t get any invitationals; all our screenings were through cold submissions on FilmFreeway. For festivals that interested me, I looked up past feature lineups to see if any of the acceptances seemed to lack the budget and industry access my film lacked or if most were top tier festival premieres who had clearly been invited. I also asked other filmmakers I could reach how they got in; if they knew a programmer or really submitted through the same channels as the average submitter. From there I decided to submit to those two lists above. That said, I did submit to some festivals knowing our odds were extremely low. I submitted to those because I had many fee waivers (15 to be exact) via Seed&Spark's Filmmaker Rewards, which is a benefit of being a successfully crowdfunded project with over 500 followers; so I could make that gamble. A few of the smaller ones that I did pay for, though, I was bummed to see that even they invited a lot of their feature in-competition lineups. There's a lot of debate about the reliability of Vimeo analytics. I used a different file for every festival, and I tested the analytics in a lot of different circumstances, so I feel confident that the ones I believe never watched, really never did. However, I do understand that the analytics could be off for any unforeseen reason. I won't publicly call out the festivals that I believe didn't watch my submission at all. From the rejections, though, I'd like to positively shout-out some that I feel fully considered my film. Oxford watched a few times all the way through and gave us excellent feedback. Same goes for Cleveland, they watched 3 times and gave good feedback. Julien Dubuque was super communicative and watched our film at least 7 times all the way through before deciding. Moving Parts watched all the way and made us a Finalist before personally notifying us as to why we weren't quite the right fit for their festival. And Newport Beach, Hell's Half Mile, Indie Memphis, Seattle Queer, and SENE all watched a few times.

For anyone just starting out in the world of festivals (features or shorts), please do your research and really know if a festival is right for your film and if your film is right for the festival. This applies not only in terms of what gets programmed from submissions vs invitationals, but also in what they program overall. Does what you’ve made suit the mission of the festival and their intended audience? Festivals have their own agendas, and are often focused on what will make them most buzz-worthy and sell the most tickets to their local community. Also, human biases skew the programming decision-making. And I've seen enough festival directors screen (sometimes even award!) their own films in competition to know that sometimes it’s so not about your film at all and all about the ego and taste(s) of those involved in the festival. But even when a festival is operating with integrity (which I like to believe most are), they probably only have the space, both in terms of venues and runtime, to program at most 30% of what's submitted; and themes (thus programming priorities) change from year to year. I can say this with confidence from experience of running my own local-filmmaker focused screening series. So, you want to be sure that your film is really what each fest is looking for (genre, target audience, local interests), so that you position yourself to standout amongst the likely thousands of submissions they're getting. And know what your goals are, truly. I think filmmakers often focus on what would be most impressive within the industry or where they’re supposed to submit to look successful. But I can tell you from my goals with About a Donkey for instance, I wanted to reach people who don’t work in the industry, would never know about our film from our limited marketing efforts, and who wouldn’t typically seek out inclusive content in their own movie theater or home viewing. With that in mind, even if I had the connections to get this little movie into a top tier festival, where everyone in attendance is part of the industry and there isn’t room for locals to come out and catch a screening if they wanted to, screening at any of them wouldn’t actually achieve those goals I mentioned above. So starting at the top and working down the tiers of festivals, as most filmmakers tend to do, was not my strategy for submitting this film — not just because realistically it couldn’t get in at the top (I definitely don’t have those connections), but also because it wouldn’t really make sense to. I instead set out to screen at festivals in smaller cities with good word of mouth marketing where people come out for festivals because there’s nothing else to do in their area for that particular week or weekend. We largely targeted festivals that were either in destinations we wanted to visit or right-leaning politically so that we could reach more conservative viewers and hopefully spread some empathy. Based on all that, I consider our run a super success and I’m really proud of what we pulled off and thankful to the festivals that programmed us.

For anyone in the early stages of notifications where you’re probably only getting rejection after rejection, remember that a festival rejection doesn't invalidate your film and all the work you did. And honestly, a festival shouldn’t validate it either, or at least not be your main qualifier of success… you’d be setting yourself up for unnecessary disappointment if that’s your barometer. I love festivals for their ability to bring audiences together for communal conversation (see my linked recaps above for Adirondack, Flathead Lake and Queens World as examples). The real gems out there are run by genuine film lovers & sometimes makers who have a mission and are doing their best with limited funding to create a platform for independent creators where there isn't currently one. However, the circuit as a whole is a very flawed, and often exploitative, system. Some see an opportunity to profit off of hopeful filmmakers just trying to reach an audience. People like to say, "it's a numbers game." And it is, but you have to have a certain amount of privilege to be able to play the odds. I submitted to what many would consider a modest number of fests for the "numbers game." I had 15 waivers, 7 discount codes, and the other 15 were early bird deadlines (one of which only cost $1). And I still spent $750 just on submissions (over 70% of which were rejections). That's a month's rent for a lot of struggling filmmakers. So please, please, don’t blindly submit to every festival you could and think you should. Really make conscious decisions about what makes the most sense for you and your film.

I hope this has been helpful!

We released About a Donkey on Vimeo on Demand this week. It’ll be streaming on Seed&Spark in early June, and then Amazon Prime later that month. It’s $4.99 to rent or $12.99 to buy on Vimeo, which comes along with exclusive access to Special behind the scenes features that’ll only be available on that platform. Seed&Spark has a pay what you wish model, starting at $3 per month. It gives you unlimited access to over 300 films and series in their cinema, and they pay the filmmakers per minute watched. So the more you spend on your subscription for the month that you watch our film, the more we stand to make per minute. And Amazon will be included in their Prime offering, so if you're already a Prime subscriber it's great for you -- but they do only pay filmmakers $0.04 per 60 minutes. We'd love for you to watch and review it on Amazon once we're live in order to help us reach strangers who’ve never heard of the movie; but spending the money on either of the other two platforms for your first view would be the most financially supportive of us! That said, ultimately, we just want you to see (and hopefully enjoy) the movie. So please support About a Donkey's VOD release however you can. Thank you!

-Christina

Blackbird Film Festival Recap

I spent Saturday and Sunday at Blackbird Film Festival for a screening of my short “Night In,” and to teach Seed&Spark’s Crowdfunding to Build Independence workshop. I really enjoyed the festival last year when I screened “Enough,” so when they reached out about offering the Crowdfunding workshop, I knew I’d like to attend again. I planned to submit my latest short “The Gaze,” but when the deadline was approaching and I realized I wouldn’t finish that new project in time, I decided to submit “Night In,” since it’s always a fun one to screen in front of an audience and I had only recently released it online.

I again drove up with my amazing mom and we had a fun time over the weekend together. We didn’t get to experience opening night because we were actually coming from Toronto, where I taught a workshop as part of Hot Docs. And We didn’t get to stay beyond Sunday morning because I had a 6am flight to catch for more workshop teaching (this time in beautiful Grenada)! But from what we experienced all-day Saturday and Sunday morning, it was another strong lineup with uniquely curated blocks and tons of opportunities to connect with other filmmakers. I especially enjoyed spending time with some of my NY-filmmaker friends who I don’t get to see very often outside of when we happen to be at the same festival. The overall local attendance was excellent, with most screenings averaging 75 people. Opening night had 125, I was told, and even the 9am Saturday block had 60. My screening, The Dark Side, was unfortunately the lowest attended with just over 50 people; but still a solid turnout when compared to most festivals and especially when considering the late hour, genre focus (for a non-genre festival or audience) and the fact that there was only one local film in the bunch. Like last year, I felt the horror Q&A was more rushed and less personalized than all the other blocks, which was disappointing (my only real critique of the festival and one I will offer feedback on for hopeful improvement), and “Night In” didn’t get the laugh I had gotten used to with genre and especially women in horror fans, but it was still well received. And it was just nice seeing it on the big screen again after a year since the last live screening I was able to attend. All in all, the weekend & festival were a lot of fun, and I hope to be back again next year!

-Christina

Local Vegan Treat:

  • Brix Pubaria has a great vegan menu, with vegan s’mores as a listed dessert. I didn’t try it but hope to next time!



Capital City Film Festival Recap

Saturday was the final festival screening of our feature About a Donkey. It was our 10th festival (though 15th public screening) and thankfully a solid way to end our run! I honestly hadn’t heard of CCFF before 2018. I came across them on Moviemaker’s 25 Coolest Film Festivals list, then saw their reviews on FilmFreeway were good, and then their photos looked … well, cool! That and a low submission fee made it worth giving a shot; and I’m so glad I did. The festival itself is fairly small (they expanded this year from just 4 days to 11 days), and seems to have no major funding, so they aren’t able to offer the perks I’ve experienced at other festivals (like filmmaker swag and free accommodations), but they stand out in other ways. For one thing, the programming director and staff are some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. They were truly excited to meet Kelsey & me and had such wonderful things to say about our film. Multiple staff members throughout the weekend kept emphasizing how much they loved our movie and the charming world we created with characters they wanted more of. One programmer said that films can sometimes end on such a depressing note, which can be a lot in our current political climate; so it was such a pleasure to watch our film that left him feeling so good. The needed optimism of our story was a frequent comment throughout the weekend, and it was really lovely to hear. The other thing that made the festival standout is how incredibly inclusive it is. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a festival that wasn’t a specifically LGBTQ and/or women-focused festival that was so intentionally inclusive in its programming. I also love that it’s not something they necessarily market or make noise about, they just commit to it in all that they program. Some of my favorite examples of this beyond the films, they had local musicians perform after hours that were overtly intersectionally feminist and they had an interactive, experimental exhibit that was inspired by Black feminist critical theory, as well as a panel devoted to discussing trauma and sexual assault specifically through the lens and voices of women of color.

As for our our actual time there, we unfortunately were only able to be there for a few days and didn’t get to see as much as we would’ve liked; but we enjoyed what we did get to experience. Lansing isn’t the hippest of communities on first glance. Despite having the MSU campus there, it feels a lot like the farm town it apparently is. But there’s a ton of diversity within the community, and a real appreciation for the arts, as witnessed by the turnouts and conversations had at the festival.

Our screening was on Saturday at 5pm in a hot tub warehouse that had been converted into a cool art exhibit and screening space. The sound and picture were solid, and all seats were nearly full with 45 locals in attendance. The film got a lot of laughs and sweet comments afterwards. One woman told us how much she loved the multi-generational approach and only wished that Annie, the pregnant sister, had delivered by the end so that there could’ve been 4 generations of women onscreen at once. And another woman raved about how much the film touched her and that she appreciated our portrayal of how animals can change lives; she told us about how rescuing her dog saved her life after her husband’s death. Overall, it was a sweet way to end our festival run. We’re now excited to start reaching viewers online!

-Christina

Local Vegan Treat:

  • For Crepe’s Sake has vegan batter as an option! Their sweet sauces (chocolate, caramel, cinnamon butter) aren’t vegan, but maple syrup with strawberries & bananas was a go-to for me.

Catch the film next at:

  • I’ll be putting out a blog post about this further, but we’ll be on Vimeo on Demand and VHX on May 7th, with later releases on Amazon Prime and Seed&Spark. Our Vimeo on Demand is already available for pre-order, and we’d love it if you helped spread the word about that as we get closer to officially being available to public!

Thanks for following the run of this film! I hope my recaps have been interesting & informative. And thanks for making it all possible if you were a Seed&Spark supporter who started it all!

Queens World Film Festival Recap

Queens World Film Festival is my favorite festival. Not just because it happens in my community of Queens. But also because, now in its 9th year, I can honestly say it’s one of the most well-run, supportive and lovingly programmed festivals out there. I travel the country attending festivals regularly, for my own work and my job with Seed&Spark, and Queens World is truly top notch. Katha and Don (the lovely festival directors) curate content that reflects the diverse voices and stories in Queens (and thus from around the world), and they make it a point to get the local community involved through a variety of events surrounding the screenings. They have so much heart and integrity; it's clear that they care about every film and filmmaker that's part of the festival. Don shows such thoughtful nuance in his programming and Katha makes every filmmaker feel seen and appreciated. Their welcoming and encouraging energy is contagious. Being part of the festival really feels like being part of a movement, not just showing up for a screening.

I’ve written many recaps about QWFF because this was my 5th year with a film at the festival (though my first with a feature). I'll keep this one short because I’ve already said so much and because it’s a little different from my usual festival experiences where I show up in a city for that specific event and spend all my time engaging with the festival. QWFF is 11 days long, and this year screened over 200 films. I don’t get to experience it as much as I’d like every year because my daily life is still going on around me. That said, I always attend opening & closing night. And this year I was able to spend 4 of the 11 days at the festival, getting to meet new filmmakers and see & support a few local friends with their films also in the festival. I can confidently say that the lineups are consistently compelling and well-organized. The Q&A hosts did a great job this year in particular of having specific questions for each film, as well as encouraging questions from the audience. And many screenings were packed. It’s really one of the only NYC festivals (other than the top tier ones like Tribeca and NYFF) that get actual audience attendance of not just the screening filmmakers.

As for our About a Donkey screening, we had a solid slot at 5:30pm on a Sunday. Our theater sat 68 people and it was completely sold out. Mostly friends, family and early supporters of the film were there, but also some other filmmakers of the festival and a couple strangers from the local community filled the room. The film looked and sounded spectacular, truly it was maybe out best screening in terms of quality; and it got a lot of laughs and wonderful reactions. Many comments after complimented the ensemble and the hopeful message of the film. One woman in particular thanked us for the non-stereotypical portrayal of struggling with depression, and another highlighted how wonderful it was to see women of different generations onscreen with fully-realized personalities and story-arcs (because it’s still such a rarity in mainstream movies, unfortunately). We also got a great review out of the screening on Unseen Films.

Our Q&A was fun, with a lot of great questions. Watch it below.

And to my surprise and great honor, the festival awarded me the Lois Weber Pioneer Award for leadership . I was genuinely not expecting it and got a little emotional as I gave a probably awkward speech. (See below)

Thanks again to Katha, Don, and the entire Queens World team! I hope to be back again next year with a new project. <3

-Christina

P.S. If you don’t know who Lois Weber is, fix that here. Also, if anyone has video of Katha’s introduction for the award, I’d love to see it. Her words were really lovely and I feel like I didn’t fully process the end of what she said after my name came onscreen.

Catch the film next at: