This is a peculiar week because program director Emily Long and I are starting to notify filmmakers about whether their films have been accepted into this year’s festival or not. We receive hundreds of submissions and can only play 60 to 70 films, so we make tough decisions. Making it even harder, Emily and I feel that the submissions are particularly strong this year. Certain films that are still on our Maybe list might have been accepted another year. (We keep three lists: In, Out and Maybe.)
After deciding which films and guests will definitely be a part of Mountainfilm 2013, Emily and I create the schedule, which is what we call “The Matrix.” Emily takes a first pass to ensure that everything we’ve accepted can screen twice. Then, together, we revisit the Maybe list to see what still might fit into the festival. At this point, we’re looking for a rare combination of length and subject. By this juncture, the films left on the Maybe list are standouts, but the question becomes more specific: Do we have enough climbing or environmental films? Do we need more animals or adventure? The other relevant factor, particularly with feature-length films, is whether the filmmakers and characters can attend the festival.
Once the Maybe list is whittled down to nothing, we review The Matrix. Repeatedly. And again as we change the schedule many times, making sure that each block of programming offers something for everyone in our diverse audience. We keep tweaking The Matrix until it feels balanced.
Programming decisions are challenging, but the hardest part of our job is disappointing filmmakers who were hoping to screen at Mountainfilm. One filmmaker I notified yesterday wrote back: "How sad, David. I'm more than heartbroken." That's what makes this week peculiar for us: There is one set of folk hearing good news and thrilled that their film was accepted, while another set receives the skinny envelope (a dated phrase, no doubt: My eldest daughter, Bebe, just dealt with the college application process, and admission notifications appeared on her phone).
Once The Matrix is finished, we start collecting information from the filmmakers. Emily's inbox bulges as she juggles incoming emails in order to collect images for the programs or tapes to screen. (The operations for the festival are staggering — dealing with shipping art, audience passes, volunteer sign up, sponsor deals, film traffic, guest logistics and countless other details.) From here on out, the festival picks up steam, and there is even more to do — which reminds me that I should be working on the festival program right now rather than blogging.