IF YOU GO
When Shannon Franklin, casual but poised, talks about films she gets goose bumps.
As the conversation turns to the filmmakers, she beams brighter than a strobe light on a set.
But nothing conveys Franklin’s impassioned appreciation for the art of filmmaking more than when she can proudly say:
“This film will be shown in the Naples International Film Festival and the filmmaker will be coming, too.”
Little else thrills her as much. That is, unless she’s able to share the moment with her friend and fellow NIFF director, Ellen Goldberg.
The two, Franklin, the executive director and Goldberg, the program director, work tirelessly to create the festival, which opens for its third year on Nov. 3.
Power-viewing through hours of submissions to narrow the hundreds of feature-length films, documentaries, shorts and foreign films begging to be considered would test the endurance of a gladiator.
Between the two of them and an all-volunteer screening committee, watching, ranking, voting and putting in the calls to the filmmakers or production houses takes six months. Ultimately, about 40 films, of varying genres, are selected to fill four categories: full-length features, documentaries, shorts and Florida films.
But, as Goldberg is quick to point out, watching and selecting the films is only the beginning.
Now, Goldberg said, it’s about developing a personal relationship with the filmmaker, director or production house.
“If there’s 40 films in the festival, that’s 40 filmmakers, you watch them, decide you want it. Then it’s a personal relationship with each and every filmmaker, “ Goldberg said. “That’s 40 people I have to follow up with. That’s 40 people that I have to get all the deliverables from — the screening, film photographs, summary.”
That’s still not all. At this point, with the festival less than two months away, it’s a waiting game. Which filmmaker, or director, will be able to attend?
Goldberg says the cause of the planning stress, the personal touch, is what sets this festival apart from the nearly 3,000 festivals, some more known that the others, around the world.
“I take a lot of pride in what I call the hospitality program,” Goldberg said. “These are all the things that we do for the filmmaker, making them feel special.”
These include coordinating the airfare, hotel accommodations for however many nights the filmmaker is able to spend at the four-day long festival and meals.
“You have to remember these are independent films,” Goldberg said. “Unlike mainstream blockbusters, filmmakers finance the films with their credit cards. They have day jobs they don’t like, they don’t make a ton of money. To come here and really be celebrated for their artistry, really makes the deal.”
But even with all the “low-key luxury,” as Franklin deems the festival, there are no guarantees from the filmmaker, director, or the production houses. No amount of love is enough for the films to come — there must be contracts.
“It’s hard for the community to understand that this story is a last-minute business,” Franklin said. “Nothing but stress, but that’s the game.”
The women take a deep sigh and explain that some films require screening fees, some as much as $1,000. Though the festival is a certified non-profit, the funds they do have are used to treat the filmmakers as VIPs, rather than pay to show the film, like other larger festivals are able to do.
“One of the things that really inspires us, is seeing the filmmakers’ reaction and them knowing that we care,” Franklin said. “We love the movies and that’s why they’re here. We appreciate everything they’re doing, and I think that’s what’s going to take us to that next level, it’s that personal touch.”
Unfortunately, in some cases this reality turns a committed film into an impossibility.
Also, if a film is being shown at another festival and ultimately is acquired by a distribution house, it can no longer be shown without the explicit permission - rarely given - in a film festival.
Then its juggling the genres and choosing different films to fill the few spots allocated for each category.
This year, there will be roughly 10 or 12 feature films and between eight and 10 documentaries. The film shorts category, anything less than 40 minutes, will have between 10 to 15 films bundled into two packages of about 70 minutes in length. With few submissions to the Florida film category, the number of films that will be screened are yet to be determined. Goldberg said possibly two or three films will be included.
“It’s really a blessing and a curse to have a limited number of slots,” Goldberg said. “The curse is that there are so many great movies we can’t have. The blessing is that if one falls out, we probably have four or five more to try.”
After the festival’s films are selected comes the daunting task to choose the film featured on its opening night, which is on Nov. 3.
“That’s the film that sets the tone for the festival, the whole weekend,” Franklin said.
The first year, the festival chose “The Cove” for its opening night at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts. The documentary, about the illegal slaughtering of dolphins off the coast of Taiji in Japan, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Maintaining that momentum is something both Franklin and Goldberg take very seriously.
“There’s a lot of expectation on the opening night movie,” Franklin said. “But we will have a great one.”