Come mid-October, have you ever been sitting in one of our local theaters and wondered to yourself how BendFilm chooses the independent films we get the privilege of watching during the festival? Contrary to what you might think, it's not through Hollywood movie magic, or based on the recommendation of little green fairies with projectors for eyes who simultaneously both project and watch each submitted film. As cool as that may sound for an animated short (don't steal this idea), that's not how it's done. Instead, BendFilm assembled a team of community members to watch and rate hundreds of submissions as part of their selection committee.
How does one become a part of this elite group of cinephiles? A large contingent of the committee has been involved with BendFilm for many of its eight years, but this year BendFilm's Artistic Director Orit Schwartz tried a new approach to recruit potential reviewers.
"Thank God for Facebook," says Schwartz, who this year began utilizing the social networking website to call out for volunteers to review films. Facebook has not only helped mobilize BendFilm's troops, but also helped keep the public informed about screenings, Skype Q&As with filmmakers and kept the organization relevant in Central Oregon year around.
The call out worked, and there's even a waiting list of movie lovers hoping to become members of the selection committee, which is broken up into four groups corresponding to the submission categories - shorts, documentaries, narrative features and student shorts. Each group contains eight to nine members who watch every film submitted in their category. The committee isn't too strict, though. If you're a member of shorts and you want to watch a documentary, it's going to be OK.
After receiving the submissions, the selection committee aims to get as many reviews as possible for each film. Members are given guidelines to follow in their scoring, which include 10 categories, including directing, script, music and editing, each of which receives a rating from one to 10. Each film has the potential to score up to 100 points, with each score being plugged into a master spreadsheet in order to calculate its overall score.
"Some of them are pretty surprising. Someone could give something a 20 and someone else could give it a 90. And it's like, 'Oh wow, that's different.' That's why it's important to have so many people," Schwartz says of the rating process.
Where do these movies come from? Many may wonder if BendFilm receives carry-overs from the big festivals like Sundance and Tribeca, but Schwartz says that isn't really the case.
"The problem with Sundance is that it happens in January and we happen in October," says Schwartz. "Now with video on-demand and the way the studios are battling with distributors and movie theaters, film festivals are going to suffer from that."
Schwartz mentions a film that premiered at Tribeca and was on video on-demand the very next day.
Submissions come from all over the country, and student shorts have come from as far away as - and from as prestigious film schools as - New York University. While some local submissions are entered into the festival, one short documentary takes on a Central Oregon town as its centerpiece. In Small Town Doc a Brooklyn-based filmmaker somehow found La Pine and centered her film on the small Central Oregon town. No word yet as to whether the film will make the cut, now matter how interesting it might appear to those who reside at the south end of the county.
According to Schwartz, BendFilm has received a lot of quality submissions this year. With the festival's regular submission date of May 15 approaching, Schwartz is pleased to see such high-quality films coming in. And those scrambling to finish that final edit can pay a higher fee to submit their films by the "late" deadline of June 12, and those really behind the curve can drop even more cash for the absolute July 15 deadline. But this doesn't mean a late submission means a low-quality film. In fact, most years, the submissions committee sees the best films coming in toward the end, which makes sense considering filmmakers' penchant for perfectionism. Schwartz says it's encouraging to see such great films coming in early, because it brings hopeful anticipation to the films yet to be submitted.
BendFilm's selection committee met for the first time last month at Pisano's Pizza in Northwest Crossing, where they mostly got the lowdown on the selection process. The group plans to meet once a month, and progressively more as the festival draws closer. The meetings provide an interesting forum for exchanging ideas and once reviewers have seen more films, the fun truly begins. No doubt the discussion could become heated when people passionately defend their favorite films.
Submissions are still being accepted. For more information go to bendfilm.org.