by Anna Mroczkowski
Tomorrow marks the opening night of the 2013 Seattle True Independent Film Festival. This little fest started out as a knee-jerk (or middle finger) reaction to not getting accepted into SIFF. When the filmmakers asked for feedback, SIFF suggested they could always start their own festival if they didn’t agree with the choice, and just like that, STIFF was born. They may have had a little attitude back then, but they’ve grown up a lot in the last 9 years. STIFF isn’t rail thin from a steady diet of beer, cigarettes and couch surfing anymore. Nope, it has its own apartment, a steady relationship and can spring for sushi once in a while.
I sat down with STIFF’s program director Will Chase, (one of the few people I know who can pull off a delicately witty combination of self-deprecating impudence) to find out more about this really fun and accessible festival.
Anna: You once described STIFF to me as “punk rock”. In what ways does STIFF set itself apart?
Will: In this day and age of literally thousands of film festivals in the US alone, we actually view each and every film by different screeners at least 3 times. We accept films both short and feature that have non traditional run times that may be difficult to program. We are still relatively homegrown in that we don’t seek out celebrity to grace our festival, though that is changing a bit. And, 90% of the volunteers that help turn the cogs at STIFF are filmmakers themselves. We are a film makers festival by definition.
Anna: You guys have a fun side. Some of the names of your events for example…
Will: I have a philosophy in life. If I’m working hard at something but not having fun, I start to question whether its worth doing. Between Tim (Vernor) and I, we have adopted that philosophy for STIFF and thus the programs like Cartoons and Bloody Mary’s, Indepenetration, and our somewhat non traditional Animation Block.
Anna: STIFF is growing. For the first time, you’re operating at a surplus. How is that affecting the festival? In what ways has it grown?
Will: We have generated a 50% increase in overall submissions in the last two years (the two years both Tim and I have been solely involved as the arbiters of the Festival). We are currently running at a surplus going into the festival which is the first time this has occurred in STIFF’s 9 year history, and we are on track to triple our ticket sales this year, vs. last year. Which of course is completely due to the epic selections that were made by the screening team this, and last year.
In terms of how having a bit of extra jingle jangle in the pocket is affecting the festival, we are able to grow the festival in terms of our advertising budget, our community outreach. A big reason why we run this festival is to have a place for local, national and international filmmakers to create something our global community can truly “wow” at and we can afford more beer at the screening meetings.
Anna: How many volunteer screeners help select the films?
Will: We had about 15 screeners for about 650 total submissions this year.
Anna: What’s the selection process like?
Will: We begin our screening process after submissions have opened for the festival usually in August, but we are thinking of pushing it up a couple of months so we can include more films in next year’s festival. We have bimonthly meetings with our screening team where each screener takes a pile of films. After all the films that are submitted have been viewed at least 3 times each, all of the “yes” category and the maybe categories are sent to our programmers, who are Patricia Boiko for our Documentary program, Ty Huffer and Clinton Moore for Indepenetration, our new Animated Programmer Molly, and Tim and I take on the majority of the rest of the genres. After all the films are filtered through the programmers, they are sent to me and I then start the arduous task of watching about 150 amazing films that I whittle down to our current program of 115.
Anna: of the films submitted, what was the percentage of acceptance?
Will: The percentage of accepted films was about 16%. However, we also added another program this year called the Lucid Lounge where we screen late night films that we couldn’t find a place for in our regular program, but we just felt had to be seen.
Anna: STIFF opens the week before SIFF, you cheeky devils you. What’s the relationship like with SIFF now? Do you have a siff voodoo doll under your pillow?
Will: We have a great relationship with SIFF. In fact we decided to change our schedule to a week before SIFF so no one that wanted to do both festivals would have to choose one over the other. I had my first SIFF premier last year however with the short film Bobby Ellis Is Gonna Kick Your Ass. We have the utmost respect for what SIFF has done for film in Seattle and worldwide and only want to support those efforts. Same team dude. Same team.
Its funny, because I was that film maker that got snubbed from SIFF years ago too and it pushed me to submit at STIFF where I was accepted. I don’t think it was about quality, but rather finding a festival where you can feel accepted and at home, and vice versa for the festivals. We need your film to be in line with what we are trying to achieve as a festival.
Anna: Isn’t that sweet? I love the Grand Illusion. Has the festival always been held at the same theatres?
Will: STIFF has been all over the map in terms of locations. We have screened at NWFF, Varsity Theatre, Central Cinema, and most recently Wing-It Theatre and the GI, whom we also love!
Anna: As someone who isn’t a die-hard indie film guru it can be a little overwhelming looking at a film festival’s lineup like this and picking which ones I would like. Do you have any helpful suggestions for someone like me or a first time STIFFer to get the most out of their experience?
Will: I feel like our descriptions are pretty spot-on on the website. I would check there first. We feature certain films on our homepage with a trailer each week leading up to the festival that can shed a little light on what type of experience you are in for.
Anna: You have a student film category, what’s the age range of that one? Do you guys work with any other student festivals or schools?
Will: Anyone up to college age can enter as a student. However with festivals like NFFTY preceding us by a few weeks our student submissions have dropped off pretty steadily in the last two years.
Anna: That’s too bad. NFFTY is a good one.
Will: NFFTY is doing amazing work. My hat off to Jesse and his team.
Anna: Which films are you looking forward to in particular?
Will: Celebration, Motivational Growth, A Certain Kind of Monster, The Fluffer, Ofir, Carousel, Beyond Naked, 100 Hour Project, Chubby Bunny, City Baby, High Plains Doctor. Pretty much all of them. 🙂
The opening night short film showcase is sold out but you can still buy a $10 ticket to the party which covers food beer and entertainment (including my personal favorite, aerialist Andi Norris). Also, purchasing a festival pass is a great value at $50, and will get you into any sold-out screening, special event and all the parties such as:
Good for all Parties, Over 30 Film Screenings shorts and all Special Events.
Opening Night Party May 3rd
9 Days of Films screening at 2 venues in the University District
28 Features and over 100 Short Films
Nightly Happy Hours
Indepenetration May 10th
Cartoons & Bloody Marys May 11th
Award Ceremony May 11th
Closing Night Party May 11th