October 15, 2013
Editors Note: This article was originally published on Oct 7th for themoviebanter.com
First off, if you haven’t heard about Seed&Spark yet, please stop reading and google them now.
Hi. You’re back? Ok, we can get started.
Seed&Spark hosted their first ever film festival, WestFest last week. Now, when we hear film festival we envision the crowded Main Street in Park City during Sundance or the fashion on the red carpet at Cannes. So delete those images and replace them with three evenings of about 30 people or so, watching short and feature films they’d probably never see and some filmmakers and other peers they’d probably never meet if it weren’t for WestFest (and The Hub – who hosted the event downtown LA).
“We believe that films have the ability to catalyze conversations that build communities and expand circles of empathy,” said Emily Best, Founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, in their press release before the festival. “And we believe the inherent intimacy of the festival experience creates a fertile environment for these conversations to start. WestFest is a beta test for an international festival series, with the goal of bringing together filmmakers and audiences around the stories that matter to them.”
Taking the Seed&Spark concept of film collections, called “Conversations,” offline and into real life conversations, WestFest brought select movies already available for streaming in the Seed&Spark Cinema with discussions between expert curators, filmmakers, and the audience. Continuing Seed&Spark’s #FairTradeFilmmaking manifesto, filmmakers took home $570 total (from half of ticket sales, half from merch sales and 100 percent of the tips at the bar and in the Filmmaker Tip jar).
We were thrilled with the results of WestFest,” says Best. “We want to bring audiences and filmmakers together to experience film, talk about it, and for the audiences in the room to be able to have a real impact on the filmmakers’ bottom line: both at the moment (tipping, buying merch) and later.”
Each night a short film and feature screened together with Q&As and audience participatory conversations afterward, that continued as everyone streamed out into a main room with lots of complimentary drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
The first night was The Crumbles, an indie rock slice-of-life tragicomedy about two young women struggling to catapult their talented but directionless garage band to stardom, and Gabi, about a girl with independence and flare who, after her mother’s death, must return to a rural hometown where neither is accepted. The films were picked by Sundance Film Festival Programmer and Director of Ambulante Film Festival, Christine Davila’s, and are part of the multi-culti Conversation, MAS AMERICAN.
The second evening brought Best’s very own Conversation – UNCONVENTIONAL WOMEN – to the screen.
“My group of female friends and I have spent a lot of time discussing how we don’t see ourselves represented on screen,” she said before presenting the films. “Since we were a group of actors, directors, writers and film production people, we didn’t have any excuse to not try to address the problem ourselves.”
The feature film I Send You This Place is part memoir, part travelogue, part philosophical rumination about the exploration of mental illness. The short film, Café Regular, Cairo is about a young couple finding themselves speaking about things they have never spoken about before as they try to find their own place in a changing world.
It’s important to note that I’m not sure if I’d watch these particular films full through had I just sat down on my couch to do so alone. But together, in a room, you’re forced to go a little deeper. That’s the beauty with a festival of this type – a very intimate festival, where the conversation can continue online, since all films are available to stream on Seed&Spark.
Adds Best: “Because all of the films at WestFest are streaming online, the social media from the audiences who attended can immediately translate into sales for the filmmakers online. We’ll see how that goes. This was a very small-scale test.”
The final night brought films from TwitchFilm.com’s East Coast Editor Ben Umstead’s Conversation on the immediacy of distance, SHARED SPACES.
The Sound of Small Things is about Sam, a hobby musician and copywriter, and Cara, a survivor of a mysterious accident resulting in a loss of hearing, who are navigating a fragile young marriage where a series of secrets and interlopers begin to blur the borders of truthful communication between them, upsetting the delicate balance.
The short film – True Colours – follows another young couple and their child on what should be a routine trip to the grocery store, but secrets and miscommunication make it anything but.
WestFest was, as Best repeatedly said, a “TestFest.” And they’re planning to send out a short survey to everyone who attended to gather more specific data on how people felt about the event, the films, tipping, connecting with filmmakers, etc.
“We’ll scale up the next one of these and we want to be sure we’re using what’s working and throwing out what isn’t,” assures Best.