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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Blog posting written by Gena Mangiaratti, Journalism '13, FLEFF Intern, Feeding Hills, Massachusetts.
Shannon Kelley is a member of the FLEFF International Advisory Board and currently the Head of Public Programs at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. His former positions include Associate Director of the Sundance Documentary Fund and Director of Programming for the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico.
He graduated from Ithaca College in 1986 with a B.S. in Film Production.
In a phone interview, he took the time to explain his role as an adviser for FLEFF, to recall being a film student at Ithaca College, and to share advice for current student filmmakers.
GM: What is the most interesting part about serving an adviser for FLEFF? What kind of advice do you provide?
SK: A festival is a very dynamic system.
You can plan and plan and plan, but then as soon as things start happening, they happen in an unexpected way.
The largest reason for that is that film festivals are not only made of film and moving images, but are also made up of the efforts of people. Everybody you’re dealing with is an individual with his own perspective, and also he or she probably wants something out of the festival.
So it's a little bit of negotiating the needs of people, and sincerely wanting everybody to get most out of the festival that it can offer. That might be concerns that a filmmaker would have, or concerns that audience members would have, even concerns about what the organizers should take away from the festival.
In this case, for all sense of purpose, this is a student-run festival, it ought to be an educational experience, even though it has to function and has functioned as a world-class festival… Because it is taking place in an educational institution, you might be more conscious then. You want this group to take something away from the festival that's rewarding and helpful to their future careers.
So [the FLEFF organizers and I] have a lot of ad hoc conversations, something will just come up, and I’ll usually get a call and we'll talk through it.
But it also typically is something that has a general principle to it that when we discuss it, hopefully it's helpful to the festival in the future in a general way: Ways of treating filmmakers, ways of dealing with the business, ways of finding new films, ways to make the experience rewarding to everybody.
GM: How did your time at Ithaca College spark your interest in film festivals and other alternative venues?
SK: At that time there was a film series, Women Direct. This was an opportunity to see films that were not going to be coming to Ithaca otherwise, and were directed by women at a time when not many women were getting their films shown anywhere except in educational institutions and other alternative venues.
So if I hadn't been at Ithaca College, in this kind of community that had been aware of a film series that had been organized basically for students like me, these are films I never would have seen in my life — even still, probably. They were really important to me. Every one of them had been curated because it had some special quality. It just became an opportunity to see a movie for free with the filmmaker present discussing how the film was made, their reasons for making the film, and topics like that, which is an opportunity I had never had before and it was a very important one.
Like a lot of students, I came to Ithaca College with the thought in mind to learn about filmmaking and film culture in a way that would kind of match up with my preconceived idea of what film was, which was basically films made by major corporations for mass distribution.
Here was an opportunity to recognize that film culture is much more than that. I think that most of us don't learn [that] unless we learn it in an alternative venue, like a film festival.
GM: What is the most significant thing you took away from your film education?
SK: Most of us go into film because we enjoy film and we want to keep enjoying it. It's kind of a very appealing, self-indulgent topic — your education, your career will be all about you enjoying something. There’s a fantasy that work doesn't come into it.
No, in fact showing films and making a career around film exhibition and film education is very very hard work just like anybody else's job…
A thing I think happens to a lot of people in their film education is they go over a threshold when they realize: This is actually a responsibility to talk about the pictures and symbols that get exchanged in our culture as if talking about them matters and makes a difference.
And yet work doesn’t need to be a drag; work is one of the great joys of life, and this kind of work can be very enriching and very relevant to your everyday life…
So there’s a way of indulging oneself, but at the same time one of the things you end up indulging is the pleasure of working hard on all this and participating in large conversations about what the movies are doing.
GM: Do you have any advice for student filmmakers?
SK: I would say take advantage of every opportunity that the college gives: to participate in community, participate in filmmaking.
It’s a busy time, and there's a reality of finishing papers and so forth, but at the same time, this is maybe one of the last times in life [with] all these things being offered to you that later you have to chase down in your career.
Some of these experiences don’t come to you so readily. Especially given an opportunity like a film festival, where it’s possible to go see film, then have a whole community of other people going through what you’re going through all around you, maybe have filmmaker at hand, and say, ‘what was he thinking?’ — and then be able to turn around and ask him to his face. These things take a little more effort to get together in your later life.
In a nutshell, here you have a big environment of experience laid out for you — and if you play your cards right, you will experience a lot of things and you’ll develop yourself to your full potential, or develop yourself in powerful way and in a way that’s very tricky to put together later on, because after that, it’s all up to you.