Interview with Festival Executive Director Steffanie Finn (WINTER FILM AWARDS INDIE FILM FESTIVAL)

 

New York City’s Winter Film Awards (WFA) is a volunteer-run and operated celebration of the diversity of local and international film-making. Our Mission is to recognize excellence in cinema and to promote learning and artistic expression for people at all stages of their artistic careers with a focus on nurturing emerging filmmakers and helping them gain recognition and contacts to break into this difficult industry. We pride ourselves on our diverse collection of Festival selections, allowing our audience to enjoy films they normally wouldn’t think to seek out.

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

George Isaacs: Seeing your film on the big screen with a real audience in New York City beats pretty much everything!

Winter Film Awards is all about showcasing the work of emerging filmmakers. It’s so hard for emerging filmmakers without huge budgets or celebrity contacts to get their work seen! We firmly believe that it is critical to provide an absolutely fair and bias-free selection process, and we require at least four judges to view and score each submission. To ensure a diverse slate of films, we make an enormous effort to seek out filmmakers from around the world and are incredibly proud of the awesome films we screen.

Each year, we award over $100,000 in cash, prizes and distribution opportunities. Since SEO and google presence is critical for a film’s success, each selected film gets a page on our website with links to their social media and we have a team of bloggers who write about most of our films for posting on our website, social media and a press release.

And, we ensure that attending filmmakers are interviewed live on the red carpet and post that to social media.

At Winter Film Awards events, filmmakers see fantastic films in a terrific theater, make life-long connections, get their work seen by NYC distributors, get useful filmmaking tips, experience the wonders of New York City and have a whole lot of fun.

What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2018)?

In addition to our awesome parties and events, we host a variety of panels to help your career – including sessions on getting financing, producing the best sound on a budget, legal issues for indie film and casting considerations, plus we’ve had New York City and State representatives explaining the permit and tax credit process. For our 2018 Festival, we are excited to team up with EarthAngel to host a session on Green Filmmaking for the indie filmmaker.

We also throw the fanciest Awards Ceremony Gala of any Indie Film Festival in town, complete with live performances at one of the most beautiful venues in New York City.

What are the qualifications for the selected films?

We don’t have specific qualifications other than basic awesomeness – we accept all genres and all lengths. Our screening judges have a wide range of interests and include film industry professionals, film enthusiasts and film students from around the world; each film must be viewed by at least four judges including at least one woman. To keep them from getting burnt out, we have at least 50 judges at any given time and they are assigned just 2-3 hours of viewing per week.

We provide our judges with virtually no information about the submitted film in order to ensure there is no bias in scoring. They score each film on ten technical points (cinematography, acting, directing, etc) and give an overall score. These scores are then averaged together and run through an algorithm to determine a final overall score for each film. We then craft the program based upon score and available screening minutes – we generally accept the top scoring 8-12 films for each category. Basically, if four people with wildly different experiences and tastes love your film, your film is awesome and we want to screen it.

The absolutely most important thing for an indie filmmaker to do in order to qualify for any Film Festival is to make sure the film’s sound is excellent. Terrible sound will tank your chances immediately!

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

There are a lot of film festivals out there, and it is important to do your research before submitting your film. The “big boys”, like Sundance, generally are looking for celebrities and big budgets – emerging filmmakers are unlikely to have any chance there. Don’t overlook smaller festivals!

Be sure to check out the Festival carefully before submitting – if your film doesn’t meet their basic criteria, it will be turned off within a few minutes. And, be sure to submit your final work – Festivals will judge your film based upon what they see, not promises that sound or color will be fixed in some future edit.

Legitimate Film Festivals take submissions judging very very seriously. Make sure the Festival is legitimate — go through their website to see what sorts of films they show and how they showcase them on their site. Make sure they have live screenings in a real cinema, and look for a written policy on how they make their selections. Take a look at films the festival has shown in previous years – if you keep seeing the same names, they are probably mostly showing films by their friends; you want to see a nice variety of countries and directors in there. Don’t only apply to the big boys – your chances of getting in are miniscule. Look for local festivals first – festival organizers love showing
local films so you have a better chance of acceptance.

What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

Hosting a Festival is an enormous amount of work! We do it for love of film and
filmmakers – it is so exciting to meet everyone and we are so proud of the integrity of our organization and our process. We keep in touch with our filmmakers after the festival ends and cheer them on throughout their careers.

How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

FilmFreeway is fantastic! From an organizer’s perspective, it is so simple to gather, promote and review submissions. Administration of the Festival’s listing is easy and the customer support is really terrific.

Where do you see the festival by 2020?

We continue to grow year over year. Our dream is to become the Tribeca of the little guy. Emerging filmmakers with limited budgets work so hard and deserve to be celebrated.

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

Probably The Rocky Horror Picture Show (I was a weird teenager). Otherwise, the three films I will always watch if they are on TV are: Fight Club, The Breakfast Club and Working Girl. I’ve seen Working Girl at least 100 times and I always cry at the end.

In one sentence, what makes a great film?

A great film needs a special magic combination of story, originality, wit, and production values.

How is the film scene in your city?

New York City’s film scene is crazy! It’s a $9Billion industry here and NYC is a world leader in indie film production. There are tons of film students, alternative screening venues, film festivals and events. It’s all very exciting!

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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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