Sharpening the Independent Focus

Continued (page 8 of 9)

As the festival grows, how do you guard against losing the vision?
Patrick: We have checks and balances, even among just this group that’s sitting here. It would never happen.
Shelia: We can try something, and if it doesn’t fit who we are,  we just say, OK, been there, done that, cross it off.
Patrick: We canceled a fundraiser that wasn’t working. There was a group we were going to work with, they’d promised us a lot of celebrities, and all sorts of stuff but I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach from the minute we started conversations with them, just saying this doesn’t fit what we want to do. We’re not all about celebrity here, and we saw a lack of ticket sales, a lack of interest in the event, three weeks before it – a lot of people would say, let’s try to pull it off, we’ll do the best we can, but forget it – why do an event that’s not what we’re all about? So we very quickly learn from things that work or don’t work. Shelia will always tell me, Pat, you’re too starstruck, stop it! [Laughs] Connie: There’s been a change in types of film, there’s now a real interest in animation, which is relatively new. I think it’s fair to say it’s been an enormous success. One of our festival favorites last year went on the next week to win an Academy Award.

That’s an interesting point. When you see festival favorite The Moon and the Son win an Oscar, or another one from last year, Sweet Land, open to rave reviews months later in N.Y. and L.A., how does that make you feel?
Patrick: Those films came to us in an interesting way. Eighty-five to 90 percent of films in the festival go through the submission/screening process. Other films come to us from other film festivals; we had eight films last year that were screened at the Tribeca Film Festival that we went after. John Canemaker’s The Moon and the Son was screened at Telluride.
Sagan: But when Pat gets films solicited through other film festivals, he doesn’t just make that decision, he asks people to screen those films too.
Patrick: I won’t even look at it again. I go into it with a bias. For instance, I happen to like John Canemaker, we had a very nice breakfast at Telluride, I couldn’t say let’s have this film in because I already have that personal bias. Sweet Land is a good example of how cool this festival works, I was working my other job – I go teach newspaper seminars twice a year, and I was in Chicago last year, and a friend I hadn’t seen for 12 years came up to me and said, Oh my god, you’re working with the film festival now? My brother-in-law’s a producer on this thing called Sweet Land that just won an award at the Hamptons Film Festival, I should give him your card.  So I took his phone number and when I came back to Sedona I called and said could we take a look at this film, it sounds kind of interesting and I know your sister-in-law Rita, and through these miraculous series of events we got the film for our Second Tuesday series, we were looking for a kind of romantic film for Valentine’s Day, a reason for people to bring their dates to the theatre and spend their Valentine’s Day with us. And it was beautiful. I gave it to Sagan and said what do you think of this film, because I’m a little biased, I have a friend with a connection to this film. Our biggest film of the festival came to us from Connie and her husband. Happened to come into the office and said, My nephew is the composer. Just composed the score for this very controversial documentary. Do you want to take the story from here, Connie?
Connie: My nephew is a wannabe rock star and a terrific composer. His cousin, Ricky Stern, is a documentary filmmaker. I e-mailed Patrick one of the writeups, and he took it from there. I had nothing else to do with it.
Marion: You asked at the beginning, and I remember now, we did recommend films [in the early years] that we saw at Sundance. They gave us this big book of all the contacts, so we knew how to find the filmmakers. We also went to the Palm Springs Film Festival, and we had people going to Telluride and Toronto, and other festivals looking for films.
Patrick: Now it’s a matter of people letting us know about great films, and nine times out of ten, now that we know the game, we can get them.

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