BY RICHARD HERSKOWITZ — With our fall festival, Varsity World Film Week, behind us, AIFF’s screeners and programmers are now fully focused on the 19th annual festival coming April 16-20.
A record number of 23 screeners and 9 programmers will help me dive into the 500+ shorts and features that have landed in our submissions portal. Hopefully, these critical gatekeepers will survive through Nov. 29, our final deadline for regular submissions, and Dec. 6, our deadline for local filmmakers. By that time, we anticipate receiving more than 1,000 entries, and each one will be looked at minimally by two screeners in order to get more than one opinion.
Roughly half the submissions earn high enough ratings and reviews to make it through the screener gauntlet to our nine programmers. Many of the programmers are former screeners, such as Jayson Wynkoop, Nina Winans and Amara Waterman, whose taste and insights I respect and rely on. Some are programming professionals, including Laura Thielen and George Eldred, former heads of the Aspen Shortsfest. Two are newcomers and film professionals: story analyst Susan Goldberg and film editor Aubry Hollingshead. Finally, our two senior programmers, Aura Johnson (manager of the Fly Shop and an experienced sound editor) and John Stadelman (landscape designer and actor extraordinaire), who, after many years with AIFF, now make the final recommendations on our shorts programming.
The submissions come through FilmFreeway, the dominant service for filmmakers who upload their films online for festival consideration. The filmmakers pay an entry fee that ranges from $45 to $90, although local and alumni filmmakers can enter free. Screeners preview these films online, sometimes slinging them onto a bigger screen or, at the very least, imagining those films on a big screen. I tell our team of reviewers that the most important quality we seek is a film’s cinematic strength. It will be watched in a theater, people will pay to see it, and so the visual and storytelling strengths must seem to our viewers as deserving projection onto a movie theater screen.
Ultimately, I will look at more than 200 of the submissions, and they are generally strong ones that have earned many endorsements through our gauntlet. These will be narrowed down to 75-100 that make it into our April program, supplemented by 25 to 50 more films we specially invite. I have seen many of these at other festivals, and some will be accompanied by special guests. I’ll be updating readers on our progress.