Hot Docs: The Pitch

The reason I got to go to Hot Docs in the first place was to pitch in the Hot Docs Forum.

Basil Tsiokos summed up the event better than I could for IndieWire (including a very flattering pre-review of LET THE FIRE BURN – Thank You Basil, glad I got a chance to meet you on our way out of town).

A few thoughts on the pitching at the Forum:

1. It is a pretty intense environment. This is really the big stage. I had to follow a pitch of a filmmaker who covered a subject for 12 years, and the producer of BEING ELMO, pitching a project that has already won best pitch awards. Intimated much?

2. It is SO important to have an experienced team. I could not have navigated this event nearly so well without backing from my EP Andrew Herwitz and Sundance representative Rahdi Taylor.  Having Sundance on your side does not suck at all, especially if you are pitching a non-traditional approach.

3. I decided to go a little outside the box with my pitch, by standing up (no one else did this) and by addressing the audience directly and asking for a response. I felt that if these things were effective, I would stand out, but that they could also fall flat, or (worse) I could come off as arrogant. In the end, I was very pleased with how it worked out. More than a dozen people came up to me and commented just that I stood up. Really? Such a small thing makes such a big difference? Yes!

4. All this stuff adds up. Regardless of the details, there is something about just being in the room consistently with this small community. Regardless of who you talk to or what the results are, it is important to get your name and work out there and do it consistently.

It was a pretty big thrill to step onto the big stage and I’m pleased that the project is being so well-received.

Me with Executive Prodcuer Andrew Herwitz of The FIlm Sales Company, right after the pitch.

The three Sundance Institute teams pitching at the Forum. The other films are THESE BIRDS WALK, a beautifully shot film "about Pakistani males, but with no guns" and LEONE STARS, a story about an amputee soccer team that is not what you expect. Centered with the big smile is Rahdi Taylor, our SDF rep on the scene. She is a dedicated community-builder and a great partner to have.

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Filed under Documentary, Let the Fire Burn

Hot Docs: The Films

I’m just back from Toronto for Hot Docs, the largest documentary film festival in North America. This was my first time to this festival and in fact my first time visiting Toronto, and I must say, I am smitten with both.

Some of my favorite films and filmmakers of the festival also took home prizes:

THE BOXING GIRLS OF KABUL is highly recommended. It won the “Inspirit Foundation Pluralism Prize.” I don’t know what that is, but the prize was $10K. I may be biased on this one, as the filmmaker is a friend of a friend. However, I hung out with a group after that included civilians (IE. not doc geeks) who had been dragged along. It was interesting to hear these folks talk about how emotional the viewing experience was for them. In my filmmaker head, I thought “wow, that was well done,” but hearing these folks who rarely watch docs at all talk, it really validated it.

THE WORLD BEFORE HER won best doc at Tibeca and best Canadian doc at Hot Docs, and this praise is well-earned. The film explores the role of women in modern India through the parallel stories of two groups of women: one training for the Miss India beauty pageant, the other training as Hindi militants. The result is an excruciating emotional complexity that I found genius.

Then there is the winner of best international feature, CALL ME KUCHU. Again, I am biased, as this film has previously received a Garrett Scott award, and so I was tracking it and had an easy in to connect with the filmmakers and they were generous enough to share a portion of their Hot Docs experience with me.

With that said, CALL ME KUCHU is one of those unique, magical, devastating moments in documentary. This film is something very, very special, and talking to people here, there is the feeling that despite it’s serious subject matter and African locale, it could really be seen widely in the U.S. This would be so good on so many levels. I don’t want to say too much, except see the film if you can, and maybe don’t even watch the trailer, gives away too much of the story IMO.

I don’t think I have ever been to a festival where I agreed so thoroughly with the award winners.

I wanted to mention one other film that made me happy:

BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING was a great way to end the festival. It is the story of Wayne White, the set designer and puppeteer who broke out with Pee Wee’s Playhouse, has been a creative force behind all kinds of funky TV, and now has re-invented himself as a fine artist.

I was hoping to finally really love a film at Hot Docs that was not cut-to-the-bone serious, and this was that film. Funny thing is, I rode the airport shuttle at Full Frame with this guy. He mentioned he was the subject of a film, but he didn’t really go into it. We were about to get coffee at the airport, and then got separated. I feel like a boob for not knowing who he was at the time – he’s a genius.

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Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant and HotDocs Forum Announcement for LET THE FIRE BURN

Building on last year’s good news for LET THE FIRE BURN, this month, two big announcements have me pretty excited. We’ve been awarded one of two 2012 Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grants,  and will be pitching at HotDocs Forum.

I should probably be preparing my pitch or studying buyer profiles or something, but instead I just keep watching this video over and over. I just can’t enough of it.

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LET THE FIRE BURN Has Breakthrough Year Capped by Grant from Sundance

Most of you who know me know that LET THE FIRE BURN is the independent documentary about the 1985 MOVE conflict and fire that I have been working on pretty much forever.

MOVE members flee their "headquaters" in 1978.

MOVE members flee their "headquarters" in 1978. (photo: Sam Psoras, Philadelphia Inquire)

During the past year or so, I have finally progressed beyond a nascent project just hinting at the potential for a film to an advanced work-in-progress that is starting to gain momentum and recognition.

Recent progress includes:

  • Participation in Independent Film Week 2010, the oldest forum for emerging independent films and filmmakers.
  • Andrew Herwitz, president of The Film Sales Company, joining the project as sales agent and executive producer.  Andrew has been instrumental in some of the most successful independent documentary releases of all time.
  • In collaboration with Dorothy Gilliam, director of SMPA’s Prime Media Movers program, hosting a  pre-screening with National Association of Black Journalists members who covered the tragedy at the time, including former Philadelphia Inquirer journalists Vanessa Williams and Elmer Smith, NABJ founder Paul Delaney, former Washington Post journalists Richard Prince and Bill Raspberry, and George Curry, who covered it for the Chicago Tribune.
  • The award of a $30,000 grant from the Sundance Documentary Fund. This means not only much-needed funds to continue work but also entry into an exclusive collaborative peer group and that includes numerous opportunities for workshopping, mentoring, and fellowship.

Wow. It’s enough to make one’s head spin.

Here is SMPA’s write-up and our new IMDb page (not much there yet, it but makes me happy to see it). i’ll be getting a dedicated website up soon, but if you want to get updates, you can sign up here on the film page of this site.


Filed under Let the Fire Burn

Hitchcock Theme

It was high time to redo this site, but why steal the image from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest for the header?

Well, mostly because I thought it looked cool and Hitchcock inspires me. (Though, I’m am hardly alone in that of course).

I’ve always liked the film and especially that scene. Cary Grant still has no clue what is going on and then suddenly, he is being mowed down by machine gun fire from a bi-plane!

I see it as symbolic: we all go through life without the slightest knowledge of the forces that can strike us down at any moment.

There are some cool optical effects used in the scene also. The plane is actually shot by itself, then projected on a screen. Cary Grant runs in front of the screen and then they shot the two together for the final composite. Looks realer than Lord of the Rings AFAIC.

The opening sequence of the film is also groundbreaking in terms of technology and design.

As I was researching this a bit, I ran across another Hitchcock frame that worked well in a banner. However, there is SO much written about Rear Window, voyeurism and the etc. that I went with my first idea.

Still this one makes a pretty cool banner too.

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