Monmouth Film Festival, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization designed to promote and connect filmmakers from all over the state and country. The festival is more than an opportunity for artists to have their work showcased, it is a forum for educational opportunities through workshops, networking, Q&As and special panels with industry guests; that provide insight, growth and inspiration. Our unique platform strives to create an atmosphere where filmmakers of all levels, including high and low budget works, can be seen, heard and interact with movie-goers, promoters and other artists.
Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?
Our primary mission is to promote, connect and educate filmmakers. For promotion, we work with companies such as iPitch.TV, who helps filmmakers pitch their films to the major studios; thus opening up distribution opportunities for the films that win at our festival. For connecting/networking, each year we hold an Industry Networking event, featuring special industry guests, press, artists and even reps from our partnered companies such as Backstage who all come together in Red Bank to meet and greet during the event. As a non-profit, education is one of our biggest focuses. We offer many different forums for education including workshops, Q&As, Internships for students and our annual Industry Film Panel; featuring a panel of esteemed industry professionals who take the stage to discuss their careers and offer insight and inspiration for the filmmakers in attendance. There’s much value in attending Monmouth Film Festival as both a featured filmmaker and aspiring filmmaker or artist. There’s something for everyone.
What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2017)?
Something fresh, exciting; the finest, top-quality independent cinema around. We’re different than most festivals around. We like to call ourselves ‘By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers’, meaning that as filmmakers ourselves, we understand the struggles and difficulties that go into making a film. So those who submit can be sure their films are receiving a fair shot when being judged for selections and awards. We are always reaching wider for films; looking for hidden filmmakers and talents across our state, country, and the world (as we are an international film festival). At Monmouth, there are no favorites, no special treatments, and no ‘good old boys club’. Every film gets the same fair opportunity to be chosen.
What are the qualifications for the selected films?
The story is above all in our selection process. Specifically, with independent cinema, your film should be an extension of yourself. We love to feel the voice of the filmmaker behind their film, especially when they come for a Q&A and can speak about the motivations behind it. We are open to all styles and techniques; which is why we have a diverse screening committee, all having niches in different categories including documentary, narrative, international art cinema etc…
Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?
I can’t really speak for other festivals selection process only because each are so different and of course, filmmaking itself is very subjective. What a story means or how it gets received can and usually is different from one person to another. What I can say, knowing from collaborating with many different programmers from different respected film festivals is that each has a different taste. Sometimes a film may be submitted that was technically perfect but doesn’t fit in with the vision for that particular festival. So the moral of the story is if your film doesn’t get accepted to a festival, it doesn’t mean it’s not good, it’s just not the right festival for that film. It’s difficult even for our festival that we only have a certain number of slots each year for films, so sometimes films that we very much enjoy get cut due to the tight time slots we have for programming. What I can comment on though in addition is that as a Filmmaker, and I have done this myself, do some research into the festivals you are submitting to. See what they’re all about. Who’s running them, who they work with and what value there is for you and your film being a part of it. Submission fees add up, so make wise choices when submitting. Eight out of ten times a not for profit festival like Monmouth Film Festival will always give you a better return for your money because we are here for you, the filmmaker, not ourselves and our interests.
What motivates you and your team to do this festival?
We love film. If I said nothing more, that should say it all! Along our own journey as filmmakers, having won many awards myself across multiple festivals, I have come to appreciate the opportunity to network with filmmakers and meet many important and distinguished guests across the industry who have always reached a handout. With that being said, not every festival I have attended lived up to its expectations. That’s what I wanted to change. I wanted to take the best aspects of all these festivals I attended and put them all into one. Together with a diverse team of artists from all interests and backgrounds, we are able to passionately drive forward to raise the bar each year higher and wider. I would like to say we have already made a bold mark after year one – having received rave reviews from critics and audiences along with top ratings – and next year, it will be ever bolder.
How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?
Submissions have been great. This year we are working with Withoutabox as well, trying to open our submissions to as many filmmakers as possible. We’ve been very happy with the submission numbers so far and already have a handful of films we are interested in screening August 2017. Submissions are open through June so don’t forget to submit! Feature, Shorts, Student Films, Trailers, Screenplays, TV Pilots and Web series; this year we have a category for every artist!
Where do you see the festival by 2020?
By 2020 I see Monmouth rising higher and brighter to a festival that filmmakers will call a “must submit” along the festival circuit. By that point we’ll have many more companies working with us, expanding our opportunities for filmmakers even further. Our community and tri-state area will recognize us for being an asset for artists all over and look forward to each year’s program. I would like to see us at that point operating as a year-round company, offering seminars, special screenings and educational workshops throughout the year. This is definitely a direction we are already moving in fast.
What film have you seen the most times in your life?
That’s a tough one! Being that I write a lot of comedy, I am a fan of the older Adam Sandler movies, so I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen “Happy Gilmore”. But next to that “My Cousin Vinny” and “The Graduate” aren’t too far behind!
In one sentence, what makes a great film?
Before the lights, camera, editing, locations and all of that, the characters are the single most important element to any film. Whether we like them, hate them, love them, they make us laugh or cry, we need to know these people so well, and invest in what they are trying to tell us; that’s why we keep watching. That’s why when they’re alone, we’re alone. When they’re scared, we are too. Characters well developed with much depth sell a film every time (same for documentaries too).
How is the film scene in your city?
Red Bank, NJ is the arts mecca of Monmouth County, New Jersey. For the past decade, Red Bank has been growing its way back to the top due to great venues such as Count Basie Theater and Two River Theater, where we hold our festival. We are glad to be a part of revitalizing the arts community and life within our County and State. It’s really an amazing sight when you can stand in the middle of a beautiful glass wall lobby and see so many passion artists travel into Red Bank from all over, coming together for one main purpose, film.
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.