Interview with Festival Director Omar McClinton (Various Artists independent Film Festival)

The VAiFF (Various Artists independent Film Festival) has succeeded in joining two 21st century opportunities together for filmmakers to get their films released and screened by as many people as possible.

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

Omar McClinton: First, we have eliminated the 2-year expiration policy. In most festivals if your project is older than 2 years from its completion, it is no longer eligible for the festival circuit. This is not the case with VAiFF. Blood, sweat, tears and talent don’t expire. If your film was good 10 years ago, it’s still good today. Matter of fact, we received a submission in the winter submission season that had to be transferred from VHS tape. It was submitted, and actually won its nomination in its category. It is one of the finalists this year!

The other way we succeed in creating accomplishments for filmmakers, both novice and experienced, is by giving them an opportunity to raise their fan base and social following by allowing their projects to be screened and voted for on social media, ‘liked’ and shared with a global audience that may not otherwise be able to attend the festival in person, but could eventually become a fan for life.

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

A filmmaker would expect to experience ‘opportunity’. There are no excuses as to why you shouldn’t take one more shot at getting your project out there. We’ve removed any rule hindering a filmmaker and they should take this opportunity and run with it.

We’re a first year festival. It will take time to earn the trust of other filmmakers and it will take time for us to gain the following of many of the other festivals. But we are confident that when someone, filmmaker or audience member, attends our festival they will appreciate our PROFESSIONALISM, identify with our ENTREPRENURIAL SPIRIT and respect our TENACITY in making sure we help nurture the next generation of successful filmmakers while concurrently raising our own bar each and every quarter to provide the best festival and competition experience for all involved. Those whose projects are on the screen, those who will eventually be sitting in theater seats and those working behind the scenes. We’re all lovers of film. We have to respect the art and the artists. VAiFF will do just that.

What are the qualifications for the selected films?

√ Films should be no longer than 45 minutes long (not including end credits)
√ Should fit in either category: Animation (Short), Children / Family (Short), Comedy (Short), Documentary (Short), Drama (Short), Foreign Film (Short), Horror / Thriller (Short), Music Video and TV/ Web Series Pilot.

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

If you’re asking if I’ve heard horror stories and claims of people being cheated out of their time and money when entering other festivals, yes I’ve heard of it. If you’re asking if I’ve personally been a victim of this myself as a filmmaker when I tried to enter a film festival years ago, yes, I have been. But honestly, that’s not enough to warrant a blanket statement over the entire film festival community. A few bad apples shouldn’t spoil the whole bunch. I’m not qualified to judge what does or does not happen at other festivals. I am qualified to speak to what I know. VAiFF will WATCH EVERY SUBMISSION. The board members will vote as honestly and truthfully for every submission. VAiFF will post EVERY SUBMISSION FOR ONLINE VOTING BY THE PUBLIC and provide FAIR and ACCURATE RECORDING OF VOTES. Our INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL JUDGES will vote for who they feel is the best picture in their categories and VAIFF will honor that decision.

So many people work hard on their projects. It’s terrible to not give them the fair chance they deserve to either fail or succeed.

What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

I’ve been in the film / television industry for over 20 years. I’ve had scripts stolen from me, opportunities that should have been afforded to me based on my knowledge, hard work and effort given to someone else. I’ve learned a lot about the industry and about life. I want to share this knowledge with the next generation in the hopes that they can learn from my mistakes and shortcomings.

As one of the organizers and program directors I can’t join the festival, but I know that there are people out there like me that wish they had a ‘mentor’ or advisor. I, with the Various Artists Board members, Zernul Shackelford Jr., Zohra Hasta and Robert Parsons II, have given every opportunity we can to artists out there so the ones my age can turn back the clock, and the filmmakers of this younger generation can speed pass my missteps, and experience the career they were born to have, make movies.

How has your Film Freeway submission process been?

Film freeway has been nothing but great. I’ve had absolutely no problems with them. I hope our artists submitting feel the same. I’ve heard of no complaints. VAiFF will be using them again and for as long as we can.

Where do you see the festival by 2020?

By 2020 VAiFF will be one of the top festivals in the country. Having earned the respect of the global film community, both independent and otherwise, we will have not only afforded the opportunity to many filmmakers that had once given up hope, but we will have introduced the world to the next great filmmakers and artists and the world will be a better place because of it.

2020 will be great, but VAiFF will make sure we enjoy the journey of 2017, 2018, and 2019 just as much. We have a lot of work to do, and we’re doing it with everything we’ve got.

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

Omar’s Reply: ‘Superman, The Movie’ (1978). This is the film that made me become a filmmaker. After seeing it I had no doubt in my mind that a man could fly. When I found out that it was just ‘movie magic’. I knew I’d have to be one of the ‘magicians’ for the rest of my life.

In one sentence, what makes a great film?

A great film must be great from start to finish, not total running time, but from concept and development to sound mixing and color correction to theatrical sound systems and the smell of popcorn and comfortable seats.

How is the film scene in your city?

Chicago has dipped its toe in the film community for many years. It comes and goes in waves. Right now things are going very well in Chicago and the very talented and special crew and actors continue to make me very proud. Things are great in Chicago and I hope it stays that way for a long time.
 

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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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