Interview with Festival Director Jacques Paisner (Santa Fe Independent Film Festival)

The Santa Fe Independent Film Festival was named Moviemaker Magazine’s “50 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2014 & 2015”. Santa Fe Independent Film Festival is invested in Santa Fe as a destination for film. Bringing cutting edge programming, the latest independent films and directors, Native cinema, New Mexico and Student films, and masters discussions with visiting artists and professionals in their field, all in the setting of downtown Santa Fe.

Interview with Festival Director Jacques Paisner:

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

Jacques Paisner: While exposing their pictures to a discriminating and unique audience here in Santa Fe, filmmakers also get accommodations, chances to interact with celebrity guests, and peerless artists, plus access to all films and events at the festival, and place in a highly selective program amongst the best international and independent films of the year each season.

Matthew: What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2016)? 

Jacques: You can expect exciting world cinema, top independent films, flawless projection in a little city with some of the best theaters in the world. You can attend epic parties, and rub elbows with people like Shirley Maclaine , And George RR Martin, and even the legendary Gena Rowlands. 
Matthew: What are the qualifications for the selected films? 

Jacques: We’re really looking for films that tell a unique story, a film that invites you into a world all its own, captivating films from all over the world that push the boundaries of the imagination, that are on the cutting edge of what a film is or what a narrative is or what a documentary is, films that reinvent the genre, or more importantly allow an artistic medium to come face to face with itself.
Matthew: Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

Jacques: There are some very good films every year, and there are many not very good films every year, and the same goes for festivals. There are some really good ones that put a lot of time and attention and professional efforts into their programs, and there are some really bad ones too.

Matthew: What motivates you and your team to do this festival? 

Jacques: Well I guess the first motivation is that it’s our job, but beyond that I think there’s a real sense of responsibility and purpose and decency that runs throughout the organization, with this greater common goal of Santa Fe as this Mecca for independent films and filmmakers. Our office is above the Jean Cocteau theater and George RR Martin is her landlord, and we have coffee and pizza, young interns, and really spend a lot of time talking about movies,  so it’s fun work and I think there’s also a sense that what we’re doing is dynamic and important and cutting edge, and also sort of sticking it to the Man in a creative way.

Matthew: How has the festival changed since its inception? 

Jacques: The festival started as a fringe fest in a community center, now the biggest festival film festival for hundreds of miles in every direction, with five theaters, over 10,000 attendees anuli annually, and called “a young Sundance” by IndieWire, The festival has grown into a top art event in Santa Fe.

Matthew: Where do you see the festival by 2020? 

Jacques: We would like to expand the attendance to about 50,000 people, with about 30,000 of those traveling here from out of town. We want Santa Fe to be a top destination for films and filmmakers and to host more and more screenings and more special events each season.

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

Jacques:I don’t think I’ve seen it the most times but I know I have seen “My Life as a Dog” many times.

Matthew: In one sentence, what makes a great film? 

Jacques: Orsen Welles said “A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet” however, I think a film, or any piece of art, really succeeds or fails based upon the standards that it creates for itself.

Matthew: How is the film scene in your city?

Jacques: We are now one of the top movie theater cities on the planet with Violet Crown, the historic Lensic Performing Arts Center, George R.R. Martin’s Jean Cocteau Cinema, the Center for Contemporary Arts programmed by “Sembene” director Jason Silverman, and The Screen at the Santa Fe University Film School chaired by Chris Eyre. 

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Denise Gossett, Festival Founder/Director for the Shriekfest Film Festival

Heading into their 16th year, the Shriekfest Film Festival & Screenplay Competition is one of the top Horror Festivals in the world today. Founder Denise Gossett was voted number 5 out of 13 Most Influential Women In Horror History!

Go to the website and find out about the 2016 season.

I recently sat down with Denise Gossett to talk about her festival.

deniseMatthew Toffolo: Bottomline, what are you attempting to accomplish (and obviously succeeding at) with the Shriekfest Festival?

Denise Gossett: Well, my goal has always been to help get exposure for all of these talented filmmakers and writers that people may not know about. We are all about the indie filmmaker.

Matthew: Why do you think there is such large fan base for Horror Films? Why do so many people like being frightened and scared when watching something?

Denise: I think it’s the same reason people look at a car accident, we are curious, however, we like to experience it when it’s not a life or death situation..that’s where horror films come in. Being frightened is fun and exciting, it’s a visceral experience. Same reason people love roller coasters. The thrill of it all.

Matthew: What motivated you to start this festival?

Denise: I had starred in a horror film & realized that there weren’t any horror festivals in the U.S to help promote it, horror seems to be the ignored step child of the industry and I wanted to change that.

Matthew: What have you learned the most running a successful festival for over 16 years?

Denise: You have to be kind, you have to help people and you have to enjoy it and be passionate….these creatives are trusting me with their babies, whether it’s a script or a film, and I should treat that baby with the utmost care and love.

Matthew: How has the festival changed since its inception?

Denise: The main passion and caring has remained the same, of course, but, now we get submissions from every country out there, Shriekfest wins all kinds of awards, and we have regular fans that attend every year. Also, if you have a win at Shriekfest, it does seem to open doors for people.

Matthew: How many films do you anticipate showcasing at your 2016 Film Festival?

Denise: We will screen approximately 45 films!

Matthew: Can you give us a sneak peak of what to expect for the 2016 Festival?

Denise: Hmmm, we are discussing that right now….ways to make our “Sweet 16th” birthday extra special. New trophies, bigger, better parties, some new categories.

Matthew: Where do you see your festival in 5 years?

Denise: Oh goodness….well, I may not be running it by then. I am an actor as well and my career is really taking off and it’s making it very difficult for me to do both. We’ll see. 🙂 As long as Shriekfest is around, I will be involved in some way. It’s my baby and like I said earlier, I want it treated well. So, in 5 years, it will be extremely hard to get tickets to any of the screenings. How’s that? LOL

Matthew: What film have you seen the most in your life?

Denise: Grease 🙂 I was obsessed with it when I was younger.

Matthew: Is there a country that consistently makes great horror films that you show at your festival year after year?

Denise: Spain really produces some amazing films.

Matthew: Has there ever been a case where a film that you watch that gets submitted to your festival is just too violent or just too gory?

Denise: Well, there are some, but I have an audience that loves that stuff, so, it doesn’t affect decisions.

Matthew: In one sentence, what makes a great horror film?

Denise: A great horror film has a great story with some new or unique ideas, great acting, great filming, great sound, great editing, basically, a complete package.

Thank you so much for the interview. I’m honored.

* * * *

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the festival director for the WILDsound Film & Writing Festival.

Short Film Movie Review: GREECE (Canada, 16min. Drama)

  MOVIE POSTERGREECE, 16min, Canada, Drama
Directed by Sarah Deakins

On a rainy afternoon in a British nursing home, a woman struggles to make a last connection with her seemingly catatonic mother.

“A tribute to the complicated relationships between parents and children with moving dialogue and expressions…A deeply personal journey with beautiful cinematography.”
– Best Shorts Competition

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of GREECE from the FEEDBACK Film Festival:

Movie Review by Amanda Lomonaco:

This film hits near and dear to my heart. With many family members who have suffered from Alzheimer’s and dementia, I am all too familiar with the struggles and frustrations the disease can cause on victims, family members, and caretakers alike. Sarah Deakins has done a fantastic job in portraying these struggles through an incredibly simple, yet equally powerful screenplay.

I suppose my personal experience with this illness creates an obvious bias towards this film, but it wasn’t so much the subject matter that drew me to this film so much as the way the subject matter was treated. I felt that Deakins did an exceptional job in portraying a very realistic, emotional scenario without dipping too far into cliché. It was all very believable, very clear, and very close to the reality of what families can experience when a loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The performances contributed greatly to sharp sense of realness of the short. This is particularly surprising for a film supported almost entirely by a monologue from one of the characters. Deakin’s superimpositions of the fantasy images that are going through each of the character’s heads only magnify the already brilliant cinematography of Greece, luring you in further.

Greece is not an excessively dramatic film, though it speaks of quite a terrible tragedy. It doesn’t take you on a crazy emotional journey, but it still tugs, ever so gently, at your heart. It’s a warm cup of tea on a quiet, melancholy, cold day. It might make you tear up a bit, it might make you appreciate your parents or your grandparents more, it might bore you or not affect you at all. Still it’s worth a watch, a thoughtful, reflective watch, when you’re in the mood for some more serious pondering. If nothing else I hope it reminds you to enjoy your life and appreciate it for all it is and for all you can do within it, because one day you might not be able to anymore.

Short Film Movie Review: MOUSSE (Sweden, 40min. Comedy/Crime)

  MOVIE POSTERMOUSSE, 38min, Sweden, Comedy/Crime
Directed by John Hellberg

MOUSSE is a medium length droll and blackly comic tale of an honest criminal and police ineptitude.

MOUSSE was the winner of best film at the 2014 FEEDBACK Film Festival. 

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of MOUSSE:

Movie Review by Amanda Lomonaco:

Absolutely brilliant. I’ve seen this movie 3 times already and I can’t get enough of it. After watching it the first time at WILDSound, I could not stop thinking about how great it was, I even hunted parts of the soundtrack down, until finally I had to hunt down the film itself. This is especially surprising considering this film is one of the longer selections I’ve seen at WILDSound, standing at 41 minutes. Even if you’re not a lover of subtitles, I would give this film a try.

To begin with, the acting in this film is exceptional, particularly for a film with such a wide diversity of cast, and an equal diversity of languages. Every character in Mousse is meticulously developed and well rounded, and every performance throughout the film feels nothing but genuine. The casting of the elderly policemen could equally not have been more perfect as it added a surprising element of hilarity to the film.

It’s hard to call John Hellberg’s picture a “short film” given its ambiguous length, standing somewhere between a feature and a short film, but at no point during the film do you find yourself disengaged or uninterested. Hellberg propels the story forward through a series of juxtapositions that intertwine seamlessly into the main story line, and prevent any semblance of boredom. Moreover, the production quality gives no sense of cutting any corners, giving Mousse an almost feature like quality.

Between the odd translations and awkward pauses in communication, the age and attitude of the policemen, & the jokes the actors tell each other, it’s hard to say what part of Mousse isn’t hilarious. It’s almost as if Hellberg is trying to cover all his bases in the humour category, from visual, to verbal, he even throws a couple of fart jokes in there just in case.

If you haven’t caught on by now, I think this film needs more visibility. Heck, if it were a part of a DVD collection I would buy it right away just to show others. It will take a little more of your time than most short films, but you’ll be laughing so hard the whole time you’ll hardly notice it passing. This is the first of Hellberg’s films that I’ve ever encountered, but I hope to come across many more in the future.


Movie Review: CHICKLAND (Short Film) 2015

CHICKLAND played to rave reviews at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video from the Festival:

  MOVIE POSTERCHICKLAND, 11min, France, Comedy/Sci-Fi
Directed by Stanislav Graziani

Bubu and Toufik think they are the next Steve Jobs and Martin Zuckerberg… They have implanted a chip in their brain, which gives them access to the web… giving them instant access to universal knowledge. For their first experiment, they test it on picking up girls…

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

Chickland left me a little bit on the fence. With the growing dissemination of devices like the Google Glass, and the expansion of Virtual Reality technology Chickland is a bit of a terrifying reminder of a reality that we could all soon be living in. Nevertheless, director Stanislav Graziani did a good job at balancing out the miracles of new technology, with the limitations of our own human psyche, providing  a slightly less dystopic view of the future.

The hardest thing to understand about the film was the age range of the actors involved. The male actors seemed far too young to be approaching the girls they were trying to pick up, although perhaps this was done on purpose, considering the end result of their experiment. The end of the film itself is also a bit reassuring, emphasizing the humanity of even the most technologically oriented minds.

There isn’t much that can be said about Chickland without revealing much of the film’s plot. It’s a peek into the future, into what life might look like if Google Glass ever really catches on. Of course there are certain differences. It’s not likely that the Google Glass “victims” of the future will have no suspicion of the tactics being used on them. Then again perhaps this was what Graziani was indicating in his depiction of the boy’s interaction with the math student.

Students of art might also find this film a little insulting in how easily the one boy was able to fake being a literary connoisseur, while his counterpart struggled to prove his math prowess. Nevertheless both the boys’ reactions to “completing the task” at the end of the film showed a lot of emotional sensitivity, one that most young boys of that age would normally not be so ready to admit or expose.

Chickland is an interesting experimental look into what our future might look like, how our grandchildren might date, find partners, or explore their sexuality. It sparks a lot of thinking about where our technological pursuits are heading, what it might truly bring us in the future. This wasn’t by any means one of my favourite short films to watch, but it certainly carried some interesting ideas that will inspire you to consider how natural human emotion is able to coexist with the calculated patterns of digital technology.

Movie Review: THE LAST POST (Award Winning Short Film) 2015

THE LAST POST played to rave reviews at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video from the Festival:

  MOVIE POSTERTHE LAST POST, 15min, UK, Comedy/Social Media
Directed by Adam Preston

A halfwit is invited to speak at the funeral of a girl he only knew through the internet.

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

Hilariously cringe-worthy. There’s no other way to describe this one. We all now a girl like her; updating her social media constantly, her life seems near perfect, everything she does is amazing, and fun, everything she eats is delicious, and if you wanted you could find out everything about her. Well, almost everything. As we all know social media and online profiles only give us little peeks into a person’s life. No matter how often you update it, how much content you add to it, it’s hard to know the real truth of who a person really is purely through their social media profiles.

Adam Preston has somehow managed to perfectly balance the tragedy and comedy of our excessively interconnected lives. Using the knowledge you can typically gather from a person’s social media accounts Preston writes a hysterical eulogy for one such social media star. This is certainly one film where credit needs to be highly awarded for performance. The Last Post’s main character had me tearing up with laughter non-stop.

Admittedly Preston could have added to the comedic value of his short by having the funeral attendants accept the eulogy as a sincere tribute to the deceased. Nevertheless his actual choice of direction didn’t  detract from the hilarity in any way. I also feel obliged to question Preston’s choice of the social class of the deceased and her family. It seems a little reductionist to have her and her family be from a region with a certain reputation for ignorance, simplicity, and poverty. It might have been a little more interesting if they had been from a posh family. However, part of the reason for this could have been to increase the threatening demeanor of the two bully brothers.

The Last Post is more than just a hilarious short film; it’s a commentary on today’s modern, digitally centered society. I had a very odd feeling as soon as the film was over because after having laughed the entire way through the film, I found myself pondreing deeper issues as soon as it was over. Comedy is for everyone, and comedy that is pertinent to current issues is all the more worth it. It kind of suits all flavour preferences; if you’re up for something more serious, this movie will work for you, if you’re up for a good laugh, add this to your list, heck it even has a little violence if that’s your cup of tea! I think you can see where I’m going with this one. Definitely give The Last Post a watch, whatever your inclination. It will be worth it.


Movie Review: SHOOT GRANNY (Short Film) 2015

SHOOT GRANNY played to rave reviews at the November 2015 FEEDBACK Film Festival

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video from the Festival:

  MOVIE POSTERSHOOT GRANNY, 5min, Spain, Comedy/Musical
Directed by Olivier Kowalczyk

Shoot Granny or when an ordinary tea time between three friends turns into an improvised Gymkhana. On a music of Todd Terje.

Review of the Short Film by Amanda Lomonaco:

Shoot Granny garnered a really good laugh from the audience, with great reason. It’s common to hear complaints about loud, partying teenagers, but what happens when those loud partiers are actually your grandparents?

The director Olivier Kowalczyck says he was inspired by his work as a doctor; disappointed by how they seemed to perscribe anti-depressants to help seniors sleep rather than provide them with any real psychological support. He claims to have felt like more of a drug dealer than a doctor, and this thought led him to create the storyline for Shoot Granny.

Thankfully Kowalczyck has managed to turn this upsetting subject matter into quite a hilarious repartie. With the background knowledge of this film in mind it might be easy to reprimand Kowalczyck for his comedic approach, but in actual fact what he has done by injecting comedy into this topic is open it up to a much wider public that might otherwise want to ignore the issue. Kowalczyck also manages to add a stronger element of agency to the elderly, allowing us to relate to them as people who like to enjoy themselves, just as we all do, rather than as victims with no control over their ailments.

Some members of the audience seemed a little put off by the loud music, or by the fact that the film didn’t carry subtitles, but Shoot Granny could very well be played on mute and still get its message across. Someone once told me that a film is only truly good if it is able to be played in black and white, and silently while still achieving the same level of emotional impact. Despite the fact that its bright, psychodelic patterns and blaring music adds greatly to the story, I still believe this film would achieve the same purpose without these elements. I think anyone would benefit from watching Shoot Granny, who knows, it might help you approach and understand again, or your elderly loved ones, with just a little more affection and care.