Lessons Learned: FLEFF 2021

By Grace Collins '22, April 13, 2021
Reflections from my first film festival

Blog posting written by Grace Collins ‘22, Integrated Marketing Communications major with minors in Communication Management and Design and Honors, FLEFF Intern, Clinton, NY. 

Over the past three weeks, Dr. Patricia Zimmermann, co-director of FLEFF, has closed out each event, afterparty, and talkback the exact same way. 

“Presenters and FLEFF staff, can you stay on a minute for a quick ‘lessons learned'?”

I was only privy to a few of these discussions, but each time I took part, the reflections and insights I heard from the featured guests and professional staff were nothing short of inspiring. They discussed what they thought went well and what could’ve been improved, and followed up on topics mentioned throughout the night. Ideas flew back and forth, and I enjoyed taking it all in.

In the spirit of this ritual, I wanted to share a few of my own lessons learned from my very first film festival. 

I could fill pages with the interdisciplinary knowledge that was imparted to me at FLEFF. From public health to the history of the tuba, experts from every field in the book convened in our corner of the “Zoomiverse” to share their wisdom. Every day presented a new lesson to learn, and I’ve been challenged and grown in so many ways. 

Rather than list every fun fact or interesting anecdote from the past 21 days, I want to focus on two recurring themes that seemed to weave their way into the discussions I attended: trust and resilience.


The FLEFF experience I curated for myself was filled with documentaries. I grew up reading memoirs and biographies, enthralled by the true stories of people living experiences wildly different than my own. From Idrissou Mora Kpai’s AMERICA STREET to the three incredible programs from the WE TELL series, there was no shortage of real-life stories to be found at FLEFF.

After attending talkbacks with several of these documentary filmmakers, I found that despite documenting vastly different topics, time periods, and locations, they shared similar sentiments – it was most important to them that they gained the trust of their documentary subjects.

Hearing Mora Kpai talk about walking the streets of Charleston, SC with no film crew, just a camera, and We Tell filmmakers discuss immersing themselves in communities to connect with leaders of hospital strikes and victims of the Buffalo Creek Flood added a deeply human element to these already incredibly impactful films. It was so special to get to hear these stories, and they provided a whole new layer of meaning to the documentaries.  


In the time of COVID-19, we don’t have much choice but to be resilient. Another theme that continued to come up through events and discussions was that of the resilience of the human spirit. From community theater organizations pivoting to survive through a year of shuttered theaters to artists taking their exhibitions completely online, FLEFF guests in all fields spoke to how to they’re continuing to create and thrive as they navigate our new online environment.

After 13 months of virtual school, work, and socialization, these displays of resilience and creativity to make the most of the hand we’re dealt was deeply inspiring.

I’m immensely grateful for the life-changing lessons learned at 24th Annual Edition of FLEFF, and I eagerly await FLEFF 2022 to learn even more.