At the Oil Valley Film Festival, their mission is to bring the voices and films of new and established filmmakers to the heart of Venango County, an area underrepresented in the world of film. Located in Oil City, Pennsylvania, and nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, attending the Oil Valley Film Festival will grant you the experience of watching engaging cinema within an intimate community with a rich history.
Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?
A: Well, we’re only a year in. This year is year two, but I think we’re heading down such a great future track as far as what we’re capable of providing for filmmakers. The “in competition” selections not only get the notoriety of being selected as just that, but each selection is in competition in every award category. Every screenwriting entrant receives an updated copy of the Hollywood Screenwriting Directory, and that’s just for submitting. We’re partnered with the Writers Store for the second year, and the directory is the premiere resource for screenwriters everywhere. It includes industry contacts, writing tips and advice, and is just a priceless addition to a career as a screenwriter.
Outside of those immediate benefits, filmmakers from all over the globe are able to get their films in front of a rural audience. I think it’s imperative that rural audiences get to connect with filmmakers they may not know, filmmakers outside of what flicks are being shown in their local multiplex. We offer that opportunity not only for a rural audience, but the filmmakers too.
MT: What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2017)?
A: Attending the Oil Valley Film Festival this year will, again, be an intimate gathering of filmmakers, audience members, and the festival staff. We’re in the process of adding panel events this year, which can give audience members an opportunity to learn about the different aspects of creating and marketing movies, but it gives filmmakers and writers the chance to network, and talk about their projects and experiences in doing so. If you want to get away from the city, spend a few days in the beauty of rural Pennsylvania, and enjoy quality cinema from around the globe, then our festival is for you.
MT: What are the qualifications for the selected films?
A: The films selected to screen at our festival go through a vetting process which includes our festival judiciary committee, which consists of filmmakers, producers, and cinema enthusiasts. It’s a select group, and they know their stuff. Each committee member is assigned with specific categories, with the final decision coming down to myself as director of the festival. We’re looking for amazing storytelling and production value, even if you don’t have the budget for the latter. Effort is imperative. Our selected films, while varying in many aspects, all find a distinct way to connect to our audiences on a personal level – as I feel quality cinema should. All selected films must not have been released theatrically or online. Premiere status isn’t a factor.
MT: Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?
A: I do think some films don’t get a fair shake. A lot of the established festivals, while they are amazing events and great opportunities for filmmakers, seem extremely selective anymore in order to ensure audiences show up, in order to sell tickets / passes. While some unknown filmmaker – with an amazing first feature – may be on the fence, pitted against a name filmmaker with a so-so flick, an established festival may go the route of the latter for the fact that they know more people will attend the established filmmaker’s screening, even if that film isn’t as good. But, then again, “good” is subjective. We have to remember that movies, like anything else, are a business, and that’s especially true on the festival end of the industry.
MT: What motivates you and your team to do this festival?
A: I think the thing that motivates us more than anything is our love of movies. It’s really that simple. Growing up I always got excited when I saw a new film that spoke to me, and I couldn’t wait to run and tell my friends about it, set them down and watch it with them, watch their reactions. This festival is almost an extension of that same excitement. But now, as an adult, I have a larger venue in which to share that excitement with more people than just my friends. It’s finding a way to connect a lot of people with movies that mean something.
MT: How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?
A: I cannot say enough great things about FilmFreeway. Their service is absolutely integral to our submission process. It’s organizationally comprehensive, yet simple enough for your entire team to use. Their online marketing options are worth the time, and they’re fairly priced. We’ve already received half of our total submissions from last year by this year’s early bird deadline.
MT: Where do you see the festival by 2020?
A: Well, 2020 will be our fifth year. By then I would love for us to be an Academy-Award qualifying event for short films. That seems quite doable at this juncture, by the way we’re steadily growing. It’s not out of reach. And, by our fifth year, I hope that we can establish ourselves as a premiere event in Pennsylvania. There’s a lot of love for the process of filmmaking here, and a great reception for quality cinema from the people in the area.
MT: What film have you seen the most times in your life?
A: Wow. That’s a tough question. I’m not exactly sure which film I’ve seen the most, but I will say that I can probably recite every line from both Peter Jackson’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and Kevin Smith’s ‘Clerks II.’
MT: In one sentence, what makes a great film?
A: How about one word? “Connection.” Everyone has a favorite film. If you connect to it, it’s “great” to you.
MT: How is the film scene in your city?
A: Oil City, Pennsylvania isn’t the hub of film in the area, but we’re looking to make our mark with what we do at the Oil Valley Film Festival. It’s nice for film lovers here for the fact that we’re about halfway between Pittsburgh and Erie, and we’re looking to bridge that gap not only with the film festival, but by making our own films here – promoting the area for other productions is another thing we’re striving to do. We’re a Rust Belt city, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a love and need for culture and art here. We’re adding to that need, helping it to grow.
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.