Monday, November 17, 2014

AIFF 2014: Deciphering Film Festival Jargon: Feature, In Competition, Official Selection, And More

This is an updated version of a 2008 post, modified for 2014 Anchorage International Film Festival
[UPDATED November 25:  I've got some clarifications from Jim Parker, AIFF  2014 Director of Film Programming about the film classifications and film selection process.  The changes are marked with strikethrough and [brackets]]

If you look at the program guide for the Anchorage International Film Festival coming out soon in the Anchorage Press, the films are divided into different categories.  I figure out:
Features - 'fiction' films over about 55 [to 140] minutes [Except Animation Features are 55-120 minutes]
Documentaries" "non-fiction" films over about 55 [to 120] minutes
Shorts - 'fiction' films under [10 to] 55 minutes
Short Documentaries - 'nonfiction' films under  [10 to] 55 minutes
Animation - Animated films - these can be feature length or short, and while most are 'fiction' I guess you could have an animated documentary - a biography of Mickey Mouse maybe? No, this would be a interesting challenge.
[Super Shorts (Animated or Fiction) 1 minute to 10 minutes.]

But there are other distinctions I didn't quite understand, so back in 2008 I emailed and talked to several of the people running the Festival (Rand and Tony and a one of the documentary coordinators from last year) to find out what these terms mean exactly and how it all works. All the highlighted terms will be explained, though some show up before the explanation. Patience.

Pre-screening Committees [Programmers]- Committees [Programmers] are selected early on to view all the movies submitted to the Festival in the specific film categories. So, there is a committee for documentaries, for features, for shorts, and for animations. These committees select the films that will become official selections. There are five to ten people on a pre-screening committee. They've completed their work some time ago.

[Clarification from Jim Parker, Director of Film Programming: These are people who volunteer to screen the films that are submitted, and at times they solicit films that they think would be a good fit for our festival.  They will make the ultimate decision about which submitted films are films  selected. This year there are five different sets of programmers:  

A. Documentaries, includes short and super short documentaries  
B. Features- They screen and make decisions about which feature narrative (55 to 140 minutes in length) will be included. 
C. Animation- They screen and make decisions about super-short, short, and feature animated films.  However, this year we have a film (Rocks In My Pockets) that is animated but was entered as a feature and was considered by the feature programmers. 
D. Shorts and Super-Shorts programmers. 
E.  Made In Alaska.  This used to be called Snowdance, it encompasses a film of any genre or length that is made in Alaska.] 

Official Selections - An official selection is any film that was submitted to the festival, was accepted by the appropriate pre-screening committee, and paid the entry fee.
Special Selections - Special selections are films that the festival invites or solicits after the submission process has ended to round out the program, usually they have to pay a screening fee for these films and often times these films are already in theatrical release and this category applies to classic films as well, such as Wildlike that will be shown opening night this year. 

[Clarification from Jim Parker:  Official Selection- We've made it easier this year.  An official selection is any film that the programmers screened and chose as part of their program.  This year a special selection is a film that I or the AIFF board chose early in the process before the Programming teams started receiving and screening films.  This year the special selections are the Opening night film Wildlike, The Lookalike, and No More Road Trips?   This year we abolished the requirement that a film that received a fee waiver be considered a "special selection" and thus ineligible for jury prizes.  So almost all films are official selections and eligible for jury recognition.]

Films in Competition - The pre-screening committees are given a rough guide about how many films they can accept as official selections. Of those, they pick what they consider the best. These are then the films in competition and get sent to the jury panels. These films are the contenders for the Golden Oosik Awards. Now, there is some negotiation between the coordinators of the pre-screening committees and director of the film festival to insure that ultimately there is a good balance of genres (they'd rather not have every feature be a comedy for example) and national representation, etc. They have to narrow it down so that the jury panels have time to watch the films and make their choices.
Jury Panels - Once the Films in Competition are selected the pre-screening committees are done and the films are given to jury panels. The jury panels get together as a group in a theater and watch them all together. I think these also tend to be five to ten people who haven't been involved the selection process before this. They choose the best films for each category. I think they're supposed to have this done by the middle of the next week. These best films win the Golden Oosik awards at the Saturday night awards ceremony. 

[Clarification from Jim Parker: Jury selections.   When each of the Programming teams select their programs they also select their top 5 to 7 films.  These films are "in competition" and will be shown to a jury of volunteers who will determine the top three award winning films. There are juries for shorts, super-shorts, documentaries, features narrative films, Animation, and Made in Alaska. The juries watch all the films, but not usually together.  DVDs are passed around between them.  They almost always have one meeting together where they "deliberate" and choose the best films. ]

Audience Awards - [None this year - see below]  All feature length films (over 55 minutes) are eligible for the audience award which is voted on by . . . well, you know who. This was new in 2008. The best audience award feature film and documentary will be screened on the last day of the festival, they will be announced at the awards party on Sun, Dec 14, 6:00 PM at the Organic Oasis.  For all feature length films, audience members are little forms with which to rate film.  

[Clarification from Jim Parker:  This year the AIFF dispensed with the Audience Choice Award to lessen the demands placed on volunteers, but it may be brought back in future years. 

Best of the Fest - The jury award winners will not be screened on the last day of the festival, but rather at the Alaska Experience Theater on the Tuesday and Wednesday folllowing the festival.]

When I first blogged the festival  I didn't understand any of this. When I was picking my own favorites, I didn't take into consideration the category of films in competition. I'm pointing this all out here so others can understand it. Now, before the Festival begins I first focus on making it easier for people to know what the Films in Competition are for each category and what the schedules are so you have a chance to see as many as possible. [For 2014 I've already posted about the Feature Films in Competition and the Documentaries in Competition.]

But other people will be more interested in films of specific genres - comedy, drama, etc. Other people will just want to see shorts or animation. And some will be interested in films from certain countries or about specific topics. They won't care if the films are in competition or not. And there are the special presentations which have been invited and may prove to be better than the films in competition. But I tend to start with the films in competition, then, if I have time left over, I'll go onto some other focus. Once the festival starts, I'll report on what I go to.

Check the tab on top - Alaska International Film Festival 2014 - for an overview of how make the most out of the festival and for an index of posts I do on the festival this year.  The 2013 tab is also still up if you want to check on last year's festival.

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