The American Documentary Film Festival and Film Fund (AmDocs) is one of the largest Docs only festivals in the United States, located near the media capital of Hollywood in beautiful Palm Springs. This unique event focuses on international films in both the short and feature categories as well as showcasing animation. In conjunction with the festival is the American Documentary Film Fund where U.S. filmmakers compete for start-up or finishing funds in order to complete their film masterpieces. AmDocs, seeing the bigger picture.
Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?
Teddy Grouya: Our festival has been successful at pushing the boundaries and offering expanded exhibition opportunities for our filmmakers. For example, we were the first festival in the world to introduce a new formal alliance with other prominent events outside of North America. This alliance, the North
South Doc Network, gives filmmakers a chance to have their works screened at other festivals outside of their home country. AmDocs will share a select number of U.S. origin films in Latin America and Europe, guaranteed. In turn, our partner events get to curate films from their regions at AmDocs. Additionally, we pick a number of select films to participate in our local school district program catalog which complements academic curricula. We also screen AmDocs films throughout the year in our non-profit theatre thereby affording our filmmakers the opportunity to make a bit of revenue.
What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2017)?
For 2018 we will continue to push the boundaries offering a great experience for our filmmakers, industry guests and audience. We already were the first docs only festival in the world to require films to be exhibited in DCP. We want our filmmakers to have a completely enjoyable and successful experience. And while we cannot guarantee sales, those marks have been going up as the
festival continues to gain international acclaim.
What are the qualifications for the selected films?
We screen short docs (40 minutes or less), feature docs (41 minutes or more) and animated works. We are not premiere whores but we always like to discover and share new or recent works. Films cannot have screened at another event within a 70 mile radius. Also, if submitting to us and invited, we will want the filmmakers to pull their films from any internet service like youtube for a month before our festival. (It is not fair for the audience to pay a ticket to see said film if it is offered for free on the web.)
Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?
If a festival or programmer is worth their salt, then know that the process is very complex and not always based on the quality of one’s work or story. There is a lot of frustration on filmmaker’s part when submitting their film(s)- we know as we are filmmakers, so we respect how tough the process is. Certainly there are instances where films are not viewed by festivals taking submissions or in many instances, you will see only a very few of submitted films accepted into a program because the festival has invited works from other sources. Of course, we program films from discovery at other festival events, but we can truly say that the majority of our films invited in any given year are
programmed from films submitted directly to us via submission platforms.
What motivates you and your team to do this festival?
Our motivations are simple and complex at the same time. We want to share with the world films that entertain as well as have great import. We realize that all of this is subjective in nature but believe that we are doing a good thing when we help build awareness on a subject without forcing it on our audience and industry guests. We want our filmmakers to be successful, to remember their
experience at AmDocs and to tell the world that this is one of their favorite, if not favorite, festival they have attended. Proudly, many testify to this.
How has your Film Freeway submission process been?
When FilmFreeway came onto the scene we felt we had to add them to our platform options for our filmmakers even though WAB was the main force in the submission business. Each year their number of submissions to AmDocs has increased by about double. We hope this trend continues though it may be a push as WAB’s numbers have concurrently gone down. We offer all submission platforms that we are aware of, trying not to play favorites. FilmFreeway clearly deserves accolades on a number of fronts. They were aggressive and hit the market running. Their acceptance and friendly solicitation of filmmakers has made them a worthy business opponent to WAB which has forced WAB to change their commission formula as well as their branding to be more filmmaker accessible- they are essentially rebirthing themselves as FilmFreeway. Whatever the course of these entities, FilmFreeway’s entry has improved the opportunities for filmmakers and that is what is most important.
Where do you see the festival by 2020?
By 2020 we hope to be acknowledged as one of the top events in the world for docs and animated works. Each year our reputation grows and by 2020 we want to have a full-fledged and respected film market for our filmmakers and industry insiders, a great place to meet and cut deals.
What film have you seen the most times in your life?
When Oliver Stone’s “JFK” came out over 20 years ago on PPV I must have seen it 20-30 times. I tend not want to see films more than once even though I have an extensive catalog. The complexity and editing of this film was mesmerizing. I am not saying this is necessarily my favorite film, but I learned more each time I saw which speaks volumes to its keeping my interest. Certainly, there are
many film favorites and each day that grows as I personally view over 1,600 docs and animated works every year. I fall in love with a good doc, will do whatever I can to share with other festival colleagues and industry friends.
In one sentence, what makes a great film?
A great film is made up of many great moments or one defining and memorable moment that sticks with you your entire life. As far as the process goes, it is vital outside of experimental works, to have a story that you can effect with solid structure. If you can do this you will succeed in making something someone or many people will want to see, no matter the subject.
How is the film scene in your city?
The film scene is Palm Springs (the California desert resort city not far from the mecca of Hollywood.) It’s famous for film festivals, appreciative audiences, weather and fun. One of our new mottos this year is, “Filmmakers Work Hard And Party Hard” and at AmDocs and Palm Springs you have the perfect combination to enjoy the fruits of your filmmaking labors.
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.