Interview with Festival Directors Lisa Wisely & James Felix McKenney (GREAT WESTERN CATSKILLS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL)

The first ever Great Western Catskills International Film Festival will be held in town of Andes, New York for one weekend this fall. Come experience the best in independent film from all over the world, sample local food & drink at our screening venues and mix with the filmmakers at nightly parties.

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

Lisa Wisely & James Felix McKenney: We are filmmakers ourselves and really enjoy going to festivals that make the event as much as much about the filmmaker as it is about the audience. We plan to host a few special events over the weekend of our festival to celebrate their accomplishments as filmmakers and give them opportunities to meet with the very appreciative audiences and fellow filmmakers.

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

A really beautiful region of the Catskill Mountains in New York. A very warm and appreciative community of people who will welcome the filmmakers and want to talk to them, find out more about their projects and their motivation for making films. We live in a quite agricultural area of New York State but that happens to be full of culture enthusiasts who really welcome engagement and provocative discussion. We anticipate that those who attend the film festival will be eager to watch, enjoy, consume and engage with the filmmakers and other audience members. We also chose to have the festival in a small but very active town called Andes, New York. The town has a number of bars, cideries, restaurants, galleries and great shops so there will be a lot to do for those who come to see the films, filmmakers or audience.

3) What are the qualifications for the selected films?

We’re open to everything — features, shorts, documentary, drama, comedy, horror, fantasy, science fiction, animation… you name it! The main thing is that regardless of budget the storytelling should be solid and that we’re seeing something that we haven’t seen before.

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

It seems that more and more festivals are playing it safe with the types of films that they choose to screen. If every festival is scrambling to premiere the next Lady Bird, a commercial film with a decent budget and established name actors, where does that leave the filmmaker who takes risks? With the technology that’s at our disposal now, there are so many opportunities for fresh daring new voices to make films outside of the mainstream, but we see more and more festivals giving favor to films that are just following well-established formulas or are throwbacks to other films of the past. Festivals should be a place where you see things that will never make it to your local multiplex.

5) What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

Delaware County is a very rural and agricultural based community with a strong second home owner, weekender and visitor population. What many may not know is that it’s also an incredible area full of arts and culture. We have some of the most fantastic arts organizations that nurture arts in the area like Roxbury Arts Group, we also have some really incredible art and live performances happening every season at our performing arts centers like West Kortright Centre, Franklin Stage and a variety of other places through the region. What we have not really had in the area is a thriving film scene even though we have a variety of filmmakers who live in the area and who make films in the area. This felt like a great opportunity to nurture this areas a great place to make films and also introduce new audiences to the area. We’re only three hours form New York City, a little over an hour from Albany and we’d love cultivate a stronger film community here.

6) How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

So far, so good. The submissions have been trickling in slowly, probably because we’re a first year festival and our final deadline is still a ways off. We’re mostly getting submissions for short films right now and looking forward to seeing more features come our way.

7) Where do you see the festival by 2023?

I anticipate that the film festival will grow but not too large. I want the experience of the filmmaker and the film lover to be an intimate one so I’d rather it not get too large. I would like the festival to grow in reputation, for people to be super excited to exhibit their films here year after year. I want everyone who comes to see the film to have a really great experience and to leave Delaware County, New York wanting to come back for more.

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

It would be nice to say Citizen Kane or a classic Bergman or Fellini film, but the truth is that we were small children in the 1970’s when the original Star Wars arrived and kind of changed everything. That film is stamped on our generation’s DNA. So, yeah, Star Wars.

9) In one sentence, what makes a great film?

A great film is one that transports the viewer to another place, makes them feel and then makes them think about what they’ve seen for days after they’ve left the theater.

10) How is the film scene in your city?

Small, close knit, evolving. We have a lot of creative people doing great stuff and anticipate that scene will continue 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 single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.


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