Interview with Festival Director Grant Slater (SBE’s Hamilton (New York) International Film Festival)

“SBE’s Hamilton International Film Festival presents an incredible opportunity to network with other ambitious filmmakers, exchange ideas and fundraising strategies while experiencing the charm of Hamilton, New York. The Hamilton Theater is a gorgeous venue and Grant Slater has put together a 5 star festival with a great selection of film, food and local beers. This is a must-attend festival that offers more than just frivolous laurels to it’s filmmakers… one could say that you leave Hamilton with a new group of friends that offer a different perspective on making and watching movies!”
-D.J. Higgins Director, Writer/Producer Meet Mario

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

Grant Slater: When we started SBE’s Hamilton (New York) International Film Festival in 2009, we were looking to create an event where the filmmakers would get an opportunity to not only showcase their work, but also have a chance to hangout with each other and do some networking. The nice things about Hamilton is that once you are in the village everything is walking distance so the filmmakers kind of move around town in a group showing support at each others screenings and then meeting up at one of the local bars or restaurants after the screenings. Over the years there have been some great collaborations between filmmakers, but if nothing else some new friendships in a tough industry are developed at SBE’s Hamilton (New York) International Film Festival.

What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2017)?

First of all Hamilton, New York is a really nice place and and was recently named one of the friendliest towns in the USA and Colgate University in the village is regularly named one of the prettiest campuses in the USA. So it is a good place to be in July. But we also always have a great group of film enthusiasts in attendance at our screenings. That is probably the biggest thing I hear from visiting filmmakers.

During the Festival week, especially Thursday to Sunday it is not uncommon to see a group of filmmakers and film fans moving around the village. It is nice to see. I always felt it was boring when you go to a screening, the filmmaker does a Q & A after the screening and then that was it. We keep the conversations going in the restaurants and bars after we leave the theaters and it gives the film fans and filmmakers a chance to get to know each other. The Hamilton community has been really supportive of the Festival.

What are the qualifications for the selected films?

This is always the most difficult part from our end. We try to have something for everyone and set up our programming so there is always a wide range of genres. The experience levels of our filmmakers range from student filmmaker to Emmy award winners. After nine years and some good reviews the number of submissions has gone way up. That makes our job more difficult on several levels. One, we want to make sure to watch every film and discuss every film. We owe it to the filmmakers. There are quite a few festival options so we want filmmakers to know we appreciate them choosing us. There is never a perfect formula in the selection process, but we try to rely on a wide range of people inside and outside the industry to help us with the decision making.

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

As filmmakers ourselves, we are very sympathetic to that notion. The thing I hear most from filmmakers is that they never really know if their film was even watched during the process. So in that regard we try to communicate with the filmmakers throughout the process. We want them to now that we received their submission, plan to to watch and give feedback. That goes for both films that we accept and do not accept.

I should note that we hit a point where we were seeing so many terrific films but we only had so much screen time so we moved to a seven day format a couple year ago so that we could accommodate more films. It still bothers us when we run into a great film but just don’t have the room to fit it into the Festival. There have been times where we did not accept a film one year, but we kept it on on radar and reached out the following year. I hope other festivals are doing the same.

What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

First of all you better love watching films. We do and it is so cool when you bring all these filmmakers together to share their work with the community. It is also super cool when you see filmmakers that attended our festival and then decide to work together down the road. That happens pretty much every year. Putting on a quality and caring Festival is hard work and very time consuming, but at the end of the day it great when it comes together. The actual Festival days are really fun. It is the stuff leading up to the Festival that is the work.

How has your Film Freeway submission process been?

Filmfreeway is so well designed. It makes life so much easier for the filmmakers and the film festivals. After about our third year, the number of submissions has really gone up. Every year we get more than the last. I think the key for us has been showing the filmmakers you care and don’t forget about them once the Festival is over. I have so many friendships that started during the festival.The Filmmakers are really our best promotors. I have always believed that since filmmakers have thousands of festival options, we better show some appreciation when they decide to submit to SBE’s Hamilton (New York) International Film Festival.

All that being said, Filmfreeway has exposed SBE’s Hamilton (New York) International Film Festival to a world of filmmakers and has played a significant role in our growth.

Where do you see the festival by 2020?

Our goal is to continue to grow. Continue to showcase a wide range of experience levels. Continue to be responsive to the filmmakers. The reality is that the bigger we get the more expensive the Festival is to produce, so as long as we can provide the quality that we are offering now, but on a larger scale, I will be happy.

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

Waking Ned Devine. Love it. Makes me laugh every time.

In one sentence, what makes a great film?

A great film should always touch your emotions.

How is the film scene in your city?

Very strong. The village of Hamilton is not a big place, but we seem to attract film enthusiasts from all over the region. We have visitors from Boston, New York, Ottawa, Toronto and quite a few other locations. Hamilton and all of Madison County is a great place to visit, but now after nine years the Festival has become a major attraction.
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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.

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