Wandering Reel is a traveling short film festival with a focus on bringing meaningful films to communities with limited or no access to compassionate, thought-provoking cinema. We strive to engage our audiences in deeper conversation about the role of cinema, and how films can relate to community, conscious living, and contribute to making the world a stronger and more unified place.
Interview with Festival Director Michael Harrington
Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?
Michael Harrington: Wandering Reel exposes films to a larger theater audience as well as a more rural, small town audience. We visit communities that don’t already have a film festival and/or do not have easy access to art films, independent films, international films and especially short films. We also facilitate conversation around the films to deepen the experience of a community coming together to watch films. Hopefully, some of the stories go home with some of the audience members and they care a little bit more about what the films were trying to say.
MT: What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2016)?
MH: Great movies. Great conversation. Theaters are the perfect meeting place of people and yet people tend to gather, watch and leave without actually interacting about this shared, cultural experience. Wandering Reel engages the audience a little deeper, first by allowing them to ask questions about how and why the films were made but also encouraging conversation with each other about how the films relate to their own lives and own community.
MT: What are the qualifications for the selected films?
MH: We only ask the films relate in some small way to the greater mission of Wandering Reel, which is to demonstrate how cinema can be a powerful tool in inspiring conversation around important topics and creating meaningful change in the world. We show narrative, animated and documentary films. We show students films and professional films. We show local films and films from the other side of the world. We show films fresh off the press and films from a decade or more ago. The point is to extend the life of short films so we offer very few hurdles for filmmaker to cross once they’ve made an outstanding short.
MT: Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?
MH: Nowadays anyone can make a film. Our phones capture pretty good images and our laptops come with editing software. And it’s easier than ever to submit to film festivals because it’s all done digitally with a few clicks of a mouse. So, there are hundreds if not thousands of films vying for festival slots each year. The good news is there are more festivals than ever, but it’s really easy for the best, trendiest films to play 100 festivals while some smaller films only find a few niche markets. The biggest name festivals are hit with thousands of submissions for only a small amount of slots. Emerging festivals have to work much harder to garner lots of submissions and need the best of the best films in order to succeed and grow. It is my wish that more film festivals will program based on heart, ingenuity and merit, rather than politics or celebrity.
MT: What motivates you and your team to do this festival?
MH: We think it’s extremely important to support meaningful filmmaking. We think it’s important for films to be viewed in an audience with other people and to allow for a forum to talk about that experience. We think there’s a hole missing in the distribution of short films and that we can help fill it in our own small way. When an audience member shakes your hand after a screening and thanks you for bringing a film to their community, that’s motivation like no other, if only because they wouldn’t have likely seen that film that inspired them otherwise.
MT: How has the festival changed since its inception?
MH: Wandering Reel evolves each year based on the films we receive, audience reaction and the communities we visit. We are a young festival entering our second year and we are still learning how to motivate people to pause Netflix for an evening and come out for a fun and engaging event. We are working hard this year to connect deeper with each community we visit. This means visiting schools, retirement communities, prisons, hospitals and any other members of the community that may not be able to come to our festival. It also means collaborating with local artists, activists and thinkers to connect the work we curate with the great work being done in the local community.
MT: Where do you see the festival by 2020?
MH: At the moment, funds limit our reach to a couple small tours per year and just one curator. Our goal is to have curators all around the world traveling with our films simultaneously. In five years or so, we should be able to reach all regions of the United States with a few international curators as well, likely in Europe and Australia to start. We also want to grow the outreach wing of our festival so that free screenings are offered whenever possible. No one should ever be turned away because they can’t afford the ticket cost. We also want to reach more people that can’t come to community screenings: the elderly, prisoners, students, and people in our poorer urban communities to just name a few.
MT: What film have you seen the most times in your life?
MH: Probably The Princess Bride, if only because I watched it on loop as a child and to be honest quite a bit as an adult. But since we are a short film festival, I’d also like to make a nod to our grand prize winning film from last year, “Stop” by Reinaldo Marcus Green, because that’s probably the short I’ve likely seen the most, and a short everyone in the U.S. should see right now.
MT: In one sentence, what makes a great film?
MH: How about one word: passion.
MT: How is the film scene in your city?
MH: I live in Portland, Oregon a city known for its indie theaters and growing film market. We have lots of film festivals and a very attentive indie film audience. The film production scene here is beginning to really blossom. This is the perfect alternative city to Los Angeles and New York for emerging filmmakers: beautiful urban landscape, incredible access to nature, amazing food and drink and a thriving art scene.
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 Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.