Article Title:Choosing the films we want to see
Author or Credit:Jay Bennie
Published on:25th May 2006 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:1256
Text:As a packed house of invited guests and paying punters settled in for last night's Auckland grand opening ot the OutTakes Film Festival it's a safe bet that no one was giving any consideration to how the opening night movie and the 70 others that make up the festival were chosen. Chief programmer for OutTakes, which also opens in Wellington and Christchurch in the next few days, is Simon Fulton, who heads up a team of three gay men and three lesbians who choose which movies will, and which won't, make the grade. Fulton says an overriding philosophy of the Festival is "inclusivity", signaled in their slight change of branding this year. “In previous years we have called ourselves the OutTakes Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. This year we've decided to call it the OutTakes - the Reel Queer Film Festival. It's still OutTakes , but the subtitle is so we can have that inclusiveness for the whole community of bisexual, transgender and even interested straight people in the programming and the entertainment of the festival. That's our main philosophy” An additional aim of the festival is “to bring diverse images of queer life from all over the world to New Zealand audiences, as well of course as New Zealand films. In that way queer people here can feel part of the global community of queer people.” Where do the films come from, how do the programmes know what's out there? “We put a call for entries out pretty soon after each festival finishes we let people know that we're doing a call for the next festival,” says Fulton. We get a lot of unsolicited entries, people find our website, various filmmakers track us down, and we'll also contact various filmmakers we know through our contacts over the years, people we know who have got new films out, letting them know that auditions are open and that we'd be happy to see their work. He says the programming team watches about 400 to 450 films a year. “We're governed by what's been made in any particular year and what sort of issues filmmakers are addressing and what sort of themes are coming up.” MAKING THE CUT In a grueling round of staring at flickering screens the programmes then set to auditioning the films, some as short as a couple of minutes, others full length features. “We all look at them, if there's a time constraint it ends up with the boys looking at the boys' films and the girls looking at the girls' films. We do try to watch them all. We have regular meetings and discuss the films.” Fulton says some films “immediately stand out that we like and some stand out that we don't like... and then there's a middle ground of a lot of films that we hum and ha over and see if we've got a place for.” Trying to provide something for everyone is sometimes tricky but Fulton says decision-making can actually be made easier because of the different preferences of the group members. “We all have different tastes, different ages, we represent different people in the community. It's quite a collaborative effort to put together a programme that we think will appeal to a broad audience. “ OutTakes is always keen to consider New Zealand films. “We always offer ourselves as a showcase for screening New Zealand films, they have to fit our basic criteria of having a basic gay and lesbian story, or some sort of queer story. We've got two or three short films screening this year. We've also got another longer documentary that was partly filmed in New Zealand, it's not actually a New Zealand filmmaker but she filmed part of it here. It's called Reflections and she's looking at lesbian life in different countries, she goes to some quite obscure countries like Costa Rica, then she goes to Hawaii and then part of it's in Wellington.” Fulton says OutTakes is always keen for NZ filmmakers to submit their work but reiterates that the films need to be “relevant to the OutTakes audience.” THE PLOT'S THE THING What things highlight things are touchstones of relevancy for the OutTakes audience? “Given that we are, by world standards, a relatively small festival, smaller than the Melbourne Queer Festival for instance, we tend not to end up screening films where the gay and lesbian content is very minor or is very slight in the plot. If the plot is mainly about another story.” Fulton notes that some excellent films that the programming team viewed this year “were very entertaining and would have looked great on the big screen, but then we had to ask ourselves ‘why would this be screening in the OutTakes Film festival? Why wouldn't this be in general release or in another film festival?' There was a great Argentinean film, another great Dutch film, they were great looking films, very well made, very entertaining, the Argentinean one in particular was very funny. But there was only this slight lesbian subplot that only came in the last reel of the film. If we were a bigger festival, if we maybe were screening ten or twelve more films than we do, we might have found a place for something like that. But given that NZ is a fairly small country with a small population and we only screen about 40 sessions over ten days the queer content has to be more the main plot of the film, a bit more to the fore for our audience.” Appealing to the audience is the bane of any film or arts festival programmer, ensuring enough bums on seats to at least cover the costs of mounting the festival. “We aim to break even every year. Its a nonprofit incorporated society so, no, we don't make a huge profit, and any money we make goes straight into the next festival.” OutTakes income is only flowing in for three or so weeks of the year in late May and June, “so any money that comes in then is already spent by the time we pay for all the freight, programmes, hire fees. Fulton is coy about how much of the $14 ticket price ends up in Out Takes' bank account. “Throughout the country there are different agreements with different cinemas, the agreements with the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch cinemas are all slightly different. I don't know the actual figures. Some of the gross box office goes to the cinema, but the hire fee to the distributor, the freight and all of that comes out of our bit.” THOSE GRAINY AUCKLAND SCREENINGS For the past couple of years here has been a bit of an issue in Auckland regarding the quality of the screenings, with grumblings about forking out $14 to watch grainy dim screenings from films played off DVD. Fulton acknowledges there have been problems. “More and more films come in digital format every year. If you look at the formats of films we are screening this year compared to previous years a lot more comes on DVD or BetaSP than it used to. So it is an issue to us that it looks good. He says OutTakes in Auckland has negotiated for a brighter projector this year. “The audiovisual equipment in the cinema in previous years was of a lower brightness than we felt was really doing justice to the films. So we are hoping that is a thing of the past for Auckland audiences now. These days anybody with a little camera - maybe even just a cellphone - and an eMac can put together a movie easily and cheaply. Does that reflect on the quality of the films available? “It doesn't reflect much on the quality of the films that are selected, but of course there are a lot of things that are rejected, we do see a lot of really peculiar things.” But Fulton cautions that he quality of a film is to a certain degree a matter of opinion. “It's very subjective what people like in a film . We don't tend to screen a lot of experimental films, most of our films have a reasonably strong narrative to them. I've been to some overseas festivals where there might be, say, a shorts programme of experimental animation or things that people have filmed on their little handicams or whatever, but I don't believe that the films that we choose can be impugned on their quality, beyond people's personal taste.” Over the years, has the ability of gay and lesbian filmmakers to craft a story, to transfer it to film effectively, improved? Is there more of the higher standard material available these days? “I don't know if there's more... we've been running for twelve years and we've found good films to screen every year. You must be aware that some gay-themed films gave gone on to general release in recent years, the most well-known one is Brokeback Mountain, also Transamerica, and some lighter Hollywood comedies have gone straight on to general release. But when you ask if there is more around, I just don't know. I mean it could be that our festival has grown over the twelve years that it has been running, that we have more contacts now and that we tend to be able to see, for example, the Argentinean films and the Philippino films that might have been harder to track down before, but whether or not they were ever there before I don't know. CHANGING TIMES, CHANGING CONTENT If the quality may or may not have changed over the years, the content certainly has, according to Fulton “Particularly when you're looking at mainstream western films. Twelve years ago there was a lot of light romantic comedy and coming out stories, and they are always popular. A good comedy, a good romantic comedy is never going to be unappealing to an audience. But we see more films with transgender themes recently for example.” Fulton observes that when issues come to the fore of the public mind “then filmmakers start to address the issues of the day that are around them. In the last couple of years there have been films looking at gay marriage for example, as it has become more of a talked about issue in the western world. And I imagine that as other things happen in the world they will start to be reflected in artists work. A year ago we screened a film about gay marriage and it was really hard to choose which one to screen because there were quite a few good quality films addressing that one subject. It would have ended up being the OutTakes gay marriage-themed film festival if we had screened them all, although many of them were very good.“ How does HIV, the great ongoing issue that has galvanised New Zealand gays and lesbians for two decades, fit in now? “As an infectious disease I think the whole idea of it has changed over the years. For instance, we're screening an Argentinean film this year, A Year without Love, which is about a guy who has been living for quite a while with an HIV diagnosis. I think if you think back to twenty years ago when AIDS was first being looked at by filmmakers it was a much different kind of story. They were more about someone who has got a terrible disease and is about to die, whereas there are several films in this year's programme with HIV positive characters, and they are more in the mainstream of the characters in the films now, people who are just getting on with life in whatever way.” After viewing over 400 movies this year does Fulton have a personal favourite? “I really like the French film Mariscos Beach,” he says. “It's a light, frothy, very French film, set in summer on the Cote d'Azur, full of the joy of life and eating good food and playing around on the beach and I think it's a great fun film. I'm sure everyone will enjoy that!” Jay Bennie - 25th May 2006    
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