Interview with Festival Director Gian Smith (The Black Film Festival of New Orleans)

From Gian Smith: The Black Film Festival of New Orleans, in it’s inaugural year, has been created with the intention of highlighting American film makers, and content creators of color. While we personally enjoy movies of all types, by all types, we wish to highlight films and content more relatable to our experiences. As a film maker, often times I feel like the nuance, importance and brilliance of my own film making and the films of my black colleagues has been lost on audiences and evaluators who simply don’t relate to our personal experiences as black people in the United States. Through my festival experience I have found that my best results have come from audiences catered to me by festival directors and teams who could understand my content. So in that vein I felt it important to give yet another outlet for the black filmmaker to be recognized.


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1) What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Our goal is to provide a great platform for filmmakers to celebrate their film. We want filmmakers to have an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the labor of making a movie. A large welcoming audience, a festival director who communicates directly with the filmmaker and lots of events that show how great New Orleans is as well as make the filmmaker feel like the star (s)he is.

2) What would you expect to experience if you attend your upcoming festival?

The first thing we’re going to make sure the filmmaker does is have a good time. New Orleans is typically not too chilly in our winters so the weather will allow the filmmakers to enjoy the town with no restrictions. And we’re going to do our part making sure they have plenty of opportunities and places to experience. Several parties held by the festival including our jazz brunch awards ceremony. All topped off with a warm welcoming audience.

3) What are the qualifications for the selected films?

The Black Film Festival of New Orleans prides itself in making sure the spotlight is squarely placed on black Americans. Wether behind the camera, in front, or both we are curating a space where the black voice is recognized and appreciated. Which leads into question #4

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

As a black filmmaker I understand that my voice is sometimes lost in the shuffle. Relatability can be a very important factor in being recognized. But when the people making the decisions don’t or won’t relate to your voice it’s easy for the talent to not be recognized. That won’t be the case with BFFNO. Just as importantly. As festival director I personally put eyes on every single submission that comes through. If a film deserves to be recognized it will. Even if it doesn’t suit my taste, if the effort and quality are there you will screen at BFFNO.

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

As a filmmaker of color I have been looked over man times myself by bigger festivals, and festivals that give more volume to non-voices of color. New Orleans is a town that needs a festival like this one, and as one of the best filmmakers here, who better to do it than I and my team?

6) How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

Filmfreeway has been an easy transition for me, both as a filmmaker and a festival director.

7) Where do you see the festival by 2023?

In five years I believe we’ll have some of the brightest filmmakers as alums. Hopefully they will come bak and hold master classes, and bring their movies to BFFNO for premieres. By that time I hope we will have grown to be recognized as not only one of the best black film festivals but one of the best overall, and most importantly, the filmmakers favorite festival.

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

Besides my won films during editing… I probably have watched “The Color Purple” more than any other movie. That being said I’ve also watched “The Wire” from episode 1-60 about a dozen times over.

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

A great film needs a team of people who all care about doing their part in telling a great story.

10) How is the film scene in your city?

The film scene in New Orleans is certainly robust. Both for the big budget productions as well as the indie scene. There’s always a production being done down here. Who doesn’t want to be in New Orleans?!


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