Behind the Scenes: The Columbus Film Council gives advice on what does and doesn’t affect jurors

By Columbus Alive
From the April 25, 2013 edition

Picture this: You’re a jury member of an international film festival. You and your fellow jurors have easily chiseled down the list of nearly 500 submissions to the top two films and are deciding which will win the prize of best film in its division and which will be the runner-up.

The first (“David Hostetler: The Last Dance,” by Casey Hayward) was by a first-time filmmaker about a resident sculptor at Ohio University. That filmmaker was the only person who worked on the submitted footage — the sound, filming and writing, all done by this fledgling filmmaker.

The second (“One Bad Cat,” by Thomas G. Miller) was a complicated, technically superior film by an established filmmaker in his directorial debut about an outsider artist from Cleveland who only achieved recognition in old age. The subject of the film died during the filming of the documentary.

Who wins?

“As a filmmaker, it wasn’t just what happens in front of the camera,” said J.R. McMillan, president of the Columbus Film Council, which faced this exact predicament at a previous Columbus International Film + Video Festival competition. The team ended up choosing the latter film.

“It was about having to deal with the emotional sensitivities of the survivors and filming around that but still making it compelling. It was a daunting challenge,” McMillan said. “A lesser filmmaker would have stopped.”

Members of the Columbus Film Council will discuss stories like this and more at a workshop this Tuesday about film festivals’ jury processes and how this affects which movies make it to the big screen. The council has plenty of experience to pull from; the festival, held in the fall, is in its 61st year and is the longest running film festival in the U.S.

In recent years the festival has seen an increase in submissions thanks to less expensive technology. There have been more political and Holocaust documentaries (McMillan mused that’s because as Holocaust survivors pass away, a new generation is looking to sustain their stories), experimental films (like one where a filmmaker used coffee in the development process to give the film a hazy glow), and films from female directors.

A few of McMillan’s basic tips for submitting:

- Don’t waste your time on packaging. Most jurors don’t see it.

- Don’t submit electronically. Submit a disc because then jurors can watch it on more than just a small laptop screen.

- Do submit early. The more chances for jurors to study your film, the better.