Interview with Festival Director Todd Looby (BendFilm Festival)

A near-constant fixture of MovieMaker magazine’s 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, BendFilm celebrates independent films and the risky, passionate, tough and talented people who make them. This year’s festival runs from Thursday, Oct. 6 – Sunday, Oct. 9, with most venues located in Bend’s historic downtown in Oregon and the nearby Old Mill District.


Interview with Festival Director Todd Looby

Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Todd Looby: BendFilm is committed to considering each film that comes in our door fairly. We want to champion the work of independent filmmakers who deserve more attention – whether we premiere ‘discoveries’ or present the work of established filmmakers whose work is under-appreciated by commercial audiences. We fundraise to pay travel expenses for our feature filmmakers and provide free lodging for all of our filmmakers. Last, but definitely not least, we award up to $8,500 in cash awards including $5,000 for the “Best of Show” as well as a $60,000 camera package from Panavision.

MT: What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2016)?

TL: We received a great grant from the Roundhouse Foundation to host at least 5 female filmmakers and their films. We want to be a force to overcome the vast gender disparity in filmmaking. A huge part of that is introducing and championing accomplished work to our audience. Though our programming process is still in an early stage, we have an incredibly promising crop of films to present to our audience. We are lining up intriguing panels, one of which will hopefully be our 3rd straight Film Fatales panel. Finally, we have commitments from some of Bend’s best venues to host what we think will be our best parties yet where our filmmakers and audience will continue make lasting bonds.

MT: What are the qualifications for the selected films?

TL: Selected films for the majority of our slots will not already have screened in the region, not yet have wide distribution and must be solidly independent.

MT: Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

TL: I can’t speak for other festivals, but it is something I felt as a filmmaker myself. Our Programmer Erik Jambor and our programming team make an extraordinary effort to give everyone a fair shake by watching each submitted film at least twice. Every film that we accept or have to reject will be fairly vetted and include input from our loyal and talented screening committee.

MT: What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

TL: I fell in love with the film festival experience as an aspiring filmmaker attending the Chicago International Film Festival. That love was solidified when I presented my first film festival at the Iowa Independent Film Festival. Since those early years, I’ve screened at dozens of festivals and they all reinforced the importance of the festival world in building filmmaking careers. We want to make discoveries to champion the work of filmmakers that should be doing this for a living. And, perhaps most importantly, connect those filmmakers with such a generous, critical and appreciative audience that we have here in Bend.

MT: How has the festival changed since its inception?

TL: Our festival was great since its inception in 2004. For many years it was a “best kept secret” festival to the independent filmmaking community. Now we have 3-4 times the amount of submissions than we did just 3 years ago, so it is catching on quickly. With our community’s incredible support and enthusiasm for our programs we’ve added many year-round screenings and education programs that meet our community’s demand for greater access to films while at the same time foster more filmmaking from aspiring filmmakers.

MT: Where do you see the festival by 2020?

TL: That’s hard to quantify, but what the Board, Erik and I really want to do is make BendFilm a “must-stop” on the festival circuit. By 2020, we want to parlay our commitment to discovery to gain filmmakers the distribution and larger audiences that they deserve.

MT: What film have you seen the most times in your life?

TL: It’s probably a tie between “Midnight Run”, “Dances with Wolves” and “Blues Brothers”. The first 2 stem from the late 80s when I was a teen with a lot of time discovering the magic of film at the same time we first got cable at home. Those films still resonate with me, though I haven’t seem them in years. “Blues Brothers” was one of the first films I saw in the theaters at the age of 5. Growing up in Chicago, it was a mainstay on all of our TVs and VCRs. I think each of those films holds up so well and serve as the standard-bearers in their respective genres.

MT: In one sentence, what makes a great film?

TL: To me, as someone who’s made (or attempted to make) 3 narrative films for under $10,000, I love films that overachieve their budgets and transcend what the script may look like on paper. That “litmus test” can be applied to films working on every level – from independent to Hollywood or Academy-nominated films. 3 films that come to mind in recent years are Eric Steele’s “Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self”, Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separartion” and Ruben Ostlund’s “Force Majeure”.

MT: How is the film scene in your city?

TL: Almost every week I get emails from filmmakers that are new in Bend or are seeking to move here. We already have solid production companies doing great work and a lot of talented filmmakers living here, but mostly working outside of Oregon. With the support of the Oregon Film Office and the newly formed “Central Oregon Film Office”, we hope to see a better utilization of that talent and more narrative and documentary work produced right here.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go for more information and to submit your work to the festival.


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