15 Minutes With...The Annapolis Film Festival
Mar 17, 2016 04:00PM ● Published by Melissa Lauren
Photo courtesy of The Annapolis Film Festival
What’s Up? Congratulation on the fourth year of the Annapolis Film Festival!
Patti White Thanks! We’re growing up pretty fast.
What’s Up? Last year, there were people that were happy to wait in line. I spoke with a patron who said, “I’ve been here every year and this is the biggest turn out yet.” I really commend you for this festival because we have a great arts scene here and film is an important aspect of art. It is nice going to D.C. for indie films but it is a real treat to have films right here in our backyard. How did you two meet and how did the whole creation of the film festival happen?
Lee Anderson I came here to do a story and Patti and I met in Annapolis. We were introduced by the same hairdresser and hit it off. Our friendship goes back 25 years. And this is the 20th year we’ve been working together.
What’s Up? We’ve been working in our own developmental production company, Filmsters for 20 years and we’re going into 15th year for the Filmsters Academy, a summer camp where we teach kids how to make movies. Five years ago we came up with the idea for the film festival. And before that time, we were on the film festival circuit ourselves promoting one of our documentary films and thought our town is perfect for a film festival. We have all the elements in Annapolis that we were finding in other great small towns. Annapolis has the audience that would appreciate it that with the level of intellectual and artistic curiosity.
Lee Anderson So we talked about a festival and had some early meetings. There was the Real Cinema Festival for two years and the previous Annapolis Film Festival that lasted five years.
Patti White And that went away. We’re not sure why it went away. And it didn’t happen for a few years and we said it’s time. We wanted to do this grassroots community organization. We brought our community together and had meetings at 49 West with ourselves and other founding members.
Lee Anderson We met with some amazingly talented and experienced people who were very invested in helping get this thing off the ground. We obviously couldn’t have done this alone. We have over 200 volunteers every year that make this happen. This core group of people, many of whom are still with us, are really the reason we’ve been successful. We created a philosophy that we thought would be sustainable and that includes working with the city, working with the businesses, working with the arts community, and embracing everybody while reaching out to different audiences. We knew who are community was so we picked films that would be of interest. We have sailing films, veteran films, environmental films, world films, comedies. And this community really loves a good documentary. They love the real stuff.
Patti White But they also love a good foreign narrative film. We are trying to introduce our community to elements that are part of the whole film community around the world. It is elevating our community. Everybody is coming to the festival – all different types of people, all different races, and there is financial diversity [among patrons].
Lee Anderson We are most proud of the diversity. We have now the largest arts event in Annapolis every year. Last year, we had 9,100 people in the seats. We are reaching everyone because we are programming for it. For example, every year we do an African American Experience Showcase. Asbury Methodist Church reached out to us and said they wanted to be a partner as a venue. Friday night we had about a 50/50 Black and White audience. We were putting folding chairs in the aisles to fit people.
Patti White But it is that 50/50 thing that is most interesting. People hadn’t seen that kind of mix of an audience to watch films that were of interest to everybody. They got to see them together and then they had the discussion afterwards. It was a discussion that had to do with race in America and in Annapolis and these discussions hadn’t happened in our community. We’ve been a very much separate community for many years. The film festival is changing things here. Even though we’re only four days, one weekend a year, the effects are lasting and it is trickling into other aspects of our community as we build into the next year for the festival.
What’s Up? I noticed that in the audience seeing the documentary film, Little White Lie about the interracial woman. It was interesting to see the before and after of the crowd. It was a mixed a crowd. Beforehand, people politely acknowledged each other but afterwards they were proactively engaging with each other and having a conversation. For whatever reason, if people were too shy to communicate, after the screening they felt it was appropriate to engage. It’s really a cool thing. The audience could feel a sense of humanity and community after the experience.
Lee Anderson That’s the magic of cinema because by sharing these films it gives everyone the platform to discuss something in a safe way. It’s not you telling a personal story but you are relating to a story in a personal way. Film festivals are becoming relevant now more than ever because we live in a multi-screen world and everyone is watching movies on [multiple devices]. There’s something great about bringing people together in a room in the dark and there is a big screen in front of you and sound blowing out at you and you’re immersed in that cinematic experience that you can’t really replace any other way.
What’s Up? I love film because it expands people’s worldview. You travel to a place and it actually teaches you to look at the world with a sociological point of view.
Patti White Well, you’re there. You’re in it. If a film is made well, you become immersed in that for a while and you don’t even realize it. You’re watching it and you’re taking in the story. It’s what happens afterwards that you think about when you talk about with your friends. It changes how people think about things, which is really interesting. [Film] changes what you want to read and what you want to do and how you want to relate to people.
What’s Up? I love your slogan, “Talk Movie to Me” and you’re cueing those relationships. The films talk about the human experience and it was fun to talk to patrons last year about the films they liked and why. Do you recall the very first movie you saw or the moment when you fell in love with film? Was there one film in particular that launched you on that path of your film industry careers?
Patti White I remember growing up and coming into that old era of the intrigue and romantic films and that turned me onto it. Then, I lived in New York and Woody Allen had an affect on me. It took you someplace else. It made you laugh but also made you see the world in different ways and you realized things. And as far as documentary – the Maysle Brothers – they were fantastic at doing true life documentaries and getting into the human predicament. That always intrigued me – finding out about the reasons for this and that and how people actually live and what is the motivation and all of those things that you don’t really think about on the surface while you’re watching the movie but it’s all there.
Lee Anderson I’ve always been intrigued by the access that a filmmaker gets in a true story or documentary and you think about some of the ethical dilemmas the filmmaker must have faced – because you have to be an observer. You can’t influence the story, you’re just capturing the story. I was always fascinated by that and early documentaries like I remember when I saw The Killing Fields. I became more interested in world events, politics and all kinds of things that broadened my horizon at a young age. I’ve always liked the real stuff.
What’s Up? It is very interesting to see how film has progressed. To both of you, what is your formal background in the industry?
Patti White My background was in politics and I was always intrigued with anything that had to do with how government works and collapses and grows and changes and the people, the characters that actually make it. I started at CBS News in New York as a producer. I started right out of college there for 15 years. I worked on many different aspects of news from children’s shows to CBS Reports to 60 Minutes. I came in with a broadcast journalism background. I studied political science and journalism in college. But it switched over for me when I started making documentaries there at CBS. I started to get the feel of what cinema means to tell the story as opposed to just journalistically telling the story. I thought combining that sense of great storytelling with journalistic integrity with the cinematic art is what moviemaking was all about. That’s where I wanted to go and that’s why I went independent after that. You’re seeing human dealing with how life goes on. You are glued to the screen because the filmmaker and the actor have commanded it. They’ve demanded it and commanded it. It’s the way it is set up. They tell you, you are going to take this journey whether you want to or not, and you’re there. That’s what great storytelling is all about.
Lee Anderson What she didn’t tell you is that she has three Emmys, a Christopher Columbus Award, and a George Foster Award. And she has an Ohio State Award for Broadcast Journalism.
What’s Up? Wow! What about you, Lee? What is your background?
Lee Anderson I knew from an early age that I wanted to do news and real stories about people so I started out at the ABC Affiliate in Salisbury right out of college. The only job that I could get was commercial production but that was a foot in the door so I did that for a couple years. I moved over to the CBS Affiliate and I started to do things called Special Programs. I did Specials, which were more documentary type things, which is what I realized I really enjoyed. I didn’t like doing short packages where you had a minute and a half to tell someone’s story. Now in my 20 years here, we have done a lot of documentary filmmaking and a lot of reality television.
Patti White We’ve had a company for 20 years. I had a company with our other partners before that. And then Lee joined us 20 years ago and we held up the East Coast Office and two guys held up the West Coast office. We went on to do work with ABC called Extreme Makeover for three seasons and a wedding series for Lifetime.
Lee Anderson We did a wildlife series for Turner. We did a lot of television.
Patti White We traveled a lot and then we also did documentary. We did an independent documentary for Turner. I had made a documentary for America Risk story for Turner and then we did another film for Turner on the buffalo.
Lee Anderson We did The Wolf. The Wolf won a couple of Ace Nominations. We’ve done a lot of different things. We’re freelancers so we’ve worked for Discovery, Lifetime, ABC, NBC, CBS, Turner, PBS. We are constantly pitching ideas and developing ideas for new films all the time. I think it positions us uniquely to be festival directors.
What’s Up? What I’m most impressed with about the festival is the diversification of the programming. It feels like you’ve left no stone unturned and I kind of felt like it was a mixed blessing. Last year, I wish I could have cloned myself so I could have been in every place at once.
Lee Anderson Thank you for saying that.
Patti White Curating a festival is not easy. We have a screening committee that views a lot of what we get by submission. And then we have a Director of Programming, Juliet Burch and we have our Programming Associate, Monica Schorn and they bring so much energy and enthusiasm to the collection of the films. We’re going to festivals all over the place. We’re calling back and saying we want this film, check this film out. And we’ve got somebody here who is going after those films for us, exploring those films for us, finding new ones on their own and bringing them to us. And then the four of us share a screening with discussions. We hone it down to ultimately what we think will be the best fest.
What’s Up? Do you present established well-known filmmakers as well as new first time filmmakers?
Lee Anderson That’s an interesting and complicated question.
Patti White This is a very difficult thing because of course we would have people on top scales. We had Albert Maysle here who just died recently. He is the godfather of the documentary. We had David Ward who won the Academy Award and who was a prolific writer who wrote Sleepless in Seattle and The Sting.
Lee Anderson David Ward is writing a Tupac Shakur movie now. We had Esposa Merkerson here from Law and Order. It was just after she finished shooting Lincoln.
Patti White We had Rory Culkin here last year who was the star of Gabriel. Do we want to be able to bring some very big people? Yes, of course we do. But you know we are a small and growing festival.
Lee Anderson We need support.
Patti White Yes, but beyond that these actors and directors have hugely busy schedules. To be honest with you, they’re going to go to Sundance and Tribecca and South by Southwest, and Toronto. Getting them somewhere else, you have to have a good reason for it. And we are building those reasons and hopefully we will be getting different people for different reasons. Either we have a film of theirs or we have a topic that they believe in. We’re finding our way to find those niches.
What’s Up? Appropriate Behavior was one of my favorite films last year from a brand new filmmaker whose film came out of Sundance.
Lee Anderson We actually want to embrace emerging filmmakers and we’re continually looking for young talent. That’s part of the reason we have a student showcase—to honor young filmmakers. We’re particularly interested in women filmmakers because its such a minority. Only fourteen percent of commercial directors are women today. Your question brings up a more complicated issue. I don’t know if people realize this but we do a film festival in a town that has no theatres, nothing suitable. There is no place in Annapolis where we can walk in and play a film that a filmmaker is going to be happy with. Even Maryland Hall and St. John’s need enhancements. So between renting our five venues and paying for the projection, sound, and screening, we’re spending well over $50,000 more for that for four days to celebrate filmmaking. Whereas, other festivals have homes.
What’s Up? I’ve heard that just because of the production time, I heard a podcast interview where filmmaker Robert Rodriquez said his movie was completely digital but he put effects on it to make it look like film and it was actually more cost efficient and time efficient.
Lee Anderson Most independent films are being shot on a digital cameras called an Arri Alexa. They look cinematic but no one has mastered protecting digital copies very well.
What’s Up? Yeah, there’s the rub. I heard Charlie Kaufmann’s Anomalisa just got pirated. And it is all stop-motion animation so each frame takes a great deal of time to produce.
Patti White Right.
Lee Anderson We’re going to bring between 55 and 65 visiting filmmakers this year to the festival. Every person has worked on their film for anywhere from 18 months to several years.
Patti White And chances are they’re in debt because of it.
Lee Anderson They’ve done everything to make the best product they can make, to entertain people because they care about an issue. For whatever reason, it is a passionate reason. And that’s why we’re here to honor the struggle and the triumph of everybody who makes a really good film and anybody who completes a film that is a really good film should be applauded.
Patti White We decided we were going to be a filmmaker friendly festival because we knew what it was like to travel around. We wanted to support the filmmaker. They brought you in because they liked the film and they wanted people to see it and because of that they were going to make your life a little easier and let you focus on what you had to do and to communicate and to bring the community together with you. Annapolis is the perfect community for that. I think one of the reasons that we’ve had filmmakers who want to come back is because we treat them great and they spread the word. The re-submit every year. And a film festival without having the filmmakers is not really the same.
Lee Anderson The engagement when you watch a film followed by audience questions is what the filmmaker wants. They want feedback. They’ve just worked on this thing for probably a year and a half or longer and this is the payoff for them is to have this experience and be shown in the best light, and the best quality, and be appreciated and engaged with an audience. By bringing all of these artists in we’re opening up everybody’s worlds in the town. We have artists from 25 countries this year.
Patti White And the fact is that it is very hard for us to bring international filmmakers because of the cost. Just to get that many foreign films from that many foreign countries is electric around here. You can feel it in the lines when people are talking about the films. And the filmmakers come and they’re going to other people’s films and then they’re going out into the community and they’re going to restaurants and they’re shopping so it is effecting the community.
What’s Up? Annapolis is a cultural arts center. This festival has increased economic growth, correct?
Lee Anderson It has. We did an economic study in year two. A wonderful professor at Anne Arundel Community College got it made. We’ll need to get another one made next year, pretty much once every three years. One of the things it showed – and that was in the early days when we had maybe 4,000 people at the festival – one of the things it showed was the diversity. It showed the trends of people, how many films they saw that day, what they spent money on. I think the average was like $40. When you have 4,000 people spending $40 that’s a lot of money into downtown. So in order for us to compete we knew some fundamental things. We had a core philosophy. This is going to be a festival for everyone. It is going to be downtown. It is going to be walkable. It is going to be affordable and accessible to everybody. And then we’re going to bring filmmakers and it is going to be a networking festival and we’re going to treat these artists extraordinarily well so they tell all their friends this is the best festival they’ve ever been to. And that has been translated through the fabric of the community through our core group of committee chairs and the people they bring over to their committees. They translate that message that we are here to appreciate the work, to honor filmmakers, and to celebrate.
Patti White Susan Wheatley runs our volunteer community for us. She handpicks people that she gets to meet and gets to know for certain aspects of what we need and matches their skills with the festival needs. We have a fantastic staff.
Lee Anderson We have grown, Juliet Burch Programming Director, Monica Schorn, Programming Associate, Festival Producer, Jeff Currier. We are two festival directors. Fred Gundry, is Coordinating Producer and Michael Reft Technology and Operations Coordinator.
Patti White This is a massive undertaking.
What’s Up? That brings me to my next question. It is never too late to volunteer, right? Tickets go on sale the 31st of March.
Lee Anderson Right. Opening night is going to be at Mitscher Hall at the Naval Academy.
Patti White You can go online you can sign up on the website to volunteer.
Lee Anderson It outlines the festival’s needs and duties and people can sign up for their preference and sign up for a shift. For each shift you do you earn free tickets to movies. So the goal would be not to pick a shift that takes place during films you want to see.
Patti White We wouldn’t exist without our amazing Board of Directors. They are so supportive of our team. Lucy Spiegel is our Board President. We have a group that is so diverse.
Lee Anderson We have a lot of experts. We are really blessed with the level of expertise. We have legal expertise, accounting expertise, industry expertise, development expertise, nonprofit expertise. We have really developed our board here in year four and we’re ready to rock and roll. We have so many wonderful community partners who work with us. We get a lot of in kind support. We obviously need their partnership. We have almost 20 community partners between the venues. We also have a lot of different events with the venues in town. What used to be Crush Winehouse is [now] Chesapeake Brewing Company. We’re going to be doing Coffee Talks there in the morning, which is a super cool thing. It has surprise guests, like Insider Baseball you can ask any questions. It is for VIP Gold Pass holders and up. We work with Café Normandie — we work with Iron Rooster.
Patti White We do a lot of panels at O’Callaghan’s and the Conversation Room at St. John’s. But on Friday the whole day is panels at O’Callaghan’s and it’s great. The festival goers have figured out how to navigate that now to go to some of these industry panels because they’re really interesting.
What’s Up? The maps are really clear.
Lee Anderson Without in kind support we wouldn’t have a festival. Some people they give us breaks because I think people are really starting to realize what is happening in the community. There’s an arts movement that is happening in the community that can only bring good things.
What’s Up? You’re basically creating a cross-promotional opportunity for all of these people, which is really awesome because it can only help them.
Lee Anderson Right. There is a huge amount of exposure with the festival. You can be on the large screen, you can be on the web, the print program, social media. We have a very active, very vibrant social media team that Tweets, Facebooks, and Instagrams throughout the entire festival. And without those community partnerships, we wouldn’t be anywhere so we want to thank those community partners for believing in us from the beginning and continuing to support us as it grows. It is still young and we still need help.
What’s Up? If somebody wants to be a donor they go to the website, right? It’s never too late to volunteer and never too late to donate, right?
Lee Anderson Right. Donor benefits are really cool. At different levels you get access to different things.
Patti White We have an unspoken commitment to the community partners now. They realize that if they all pull out then there is no way for us to continue to keep it going. This is a community festival. It is not like a business that Lee and I run or that the Board of Directors runs. This is a nonprofit.
What’s Up? This festival is as important if not more important than the Boat Shows since it attracts a wide variety of people.
Lee Anderson We are a nonprofit 501C3. This event doesn’t really benefit us. It is exhausting and tiring and we tap into all of our industry friends to make it happen. It is for the community.
Patti White If you grow tired of supporting us then this thing could go away. We can’t exist in a vacuum. We have to have the support. We’re hoping that this is becoming embedded in the DNA of our community and that people aren’t going to want it to go away. And I think people are beginning to feel that way.
What’s Up? Remember First Night Annapolis? That’s gone and that was so much fun!
Patti White It was fun.
Lee Anderson It is really hard to run a nonprofit arts organization. At the end of the day it is hard work. We still need to reach our fundraising goals. We don’t want to end up in the hole doing this.
Patti White Without a theatre dedicated to the Annapolis Film Festival, we are at the mercy of the community and we’re not afraid to say it to people, help us. If you want us, help us.
Lee Anderson It costs money to bring the filmmakers, it costs money to rent the venues, it costs money to get the films, it costs money to rent the projectors, lights, and sound, it costs money for staff that can actually execute it and make it an enjoyable experience, it costs money to get people from the airport, it costs money to give volunteers three bottles of water over the weekend. It all adds up. This is a half million venture over four days.
Patti White So show us the love. Bring your friends, show up, don’t just think it is cool to have it in your community. Show up and participate. Get involved.
What’s Up? It is really affordable and there’s something for everyone.
Lee Anderson That pass is unbeatable because what you get for $115 it includes: Opening Night Film, Opening Night Afterparty, unlimited films and six panels, 70 films, and four parties. Silver Level ticketholders get to go to the Saturday bash. You can buy a $20 ticket for Coffee Talks or you can be a Gold Pass VIP Member or Industry Person for the Coffee Talks.
Patti White We are grateful for every dime that people give us.
Lee Anderson We have a tremendous amount of media sponsors and five hotel partners and they promote special packages.
Patti White We have more and more people from out of town coming to the festival.
Lee Anderson It is a destination experience. People can make a weekend of it and stay in town.
Patti White We are staged to going into year five and we have big plans for that.
Lee Anderson We have something new this year, which is juried shorts.
Patti White We have Best of the Fest, which is audience awards we’ve had from day one and includes Best Documentary Feature, Best Feature Narrative, and Best Documentary Short, and Best Narrative Short. We’ve had those every year and we’ve had those at our Best of the Fest every Sunday night consecutively. We give a little prize of something. But this year there will have juried shorts from five narrative shorts that we are our group is picking and then five documentary shorts. And we will be bringing as many of those filmmakers in as we can. We usually don’t bring in the short filmmakers and that supported by the Maryland Arts Council.
Lee Anderson The Arts Council has been a supporter every year and they have given an additional strategic grant. This will allow us to bring the 10 Shorts Filmmakers.
Patti White Their films will be judged by a select group of industry judges and they will winner will get a monetary award. This is huge. This is the first step into the juried world. And we’ll start to attract more filmmakers.
What’s Up? That’s really cool! So for those who are unfamiliar, the juried film festivals build credibility. That moves you into the direction of the bigger festivals. Congratulations!
Lee Anderson We’re being written about in Film Festival.com and Script Magazine as the networking festival in the Mid-Atlantic. You can walk up to the actor and director and interact with them. It’s personal.
Patti White The actors don’t feel the need to separate themselves from the community.
Lee Anderson That goes back to our philosophy about honoring the artist and being welcoming.
Patti White We look forward to thrilling the community this year with the films we are going to have and the people that we have coming, and watching this arts engine explode.
Lee Anderson To festivalgoers please be open to whatever you see, whatever you experience, whoever you meet, and you will be changed over the weekend. You will learn something and gain a new perspective.
What’s Up? Do you ever feature local filmmakers?
Lee Anderson We have a high bar but of course, we would feature local filmmakers. This year we have a lot of Maryland and D.C. filmmakers. We look at every submission at least twice. We want to recognize films made regionally and locally and those films that have a connection to Maryland.
A four-day Festival pass giving unlimited access to all the film presentations and panels throughout the Festival in addition to the Opening Night party, After-Party and Best of Fest Marathon is $115. Tickets to individual screenings and student tickets are also available. To volunteer, donate, or more information call 410-263-3444 or visit Annapolisfilmfestival.com.