These young adults have started their own film festivals… and they are drawing praise.
Big Little Filmmaker’s goal is to support and inspire young filmmakers. I have had countless opportunities to meet young filmmakers over the years including some as young as 12 who have already had their work screened at film festivals.
Pretty amazing, huh?
A few years ago, my animated music video Warm Rush was screened at the Grenada Afterglow Film Festival in Mississippi. What I soon discovered was that the festival founders, Katrina and Isabella Kinder, were sisters aged 17 and 14 (now 19 and 16). I was in shock and awe!
Just a few months ago, my films Tree Hugger, Demons in Disguise, and Warm Rush were selected for screening at the Laguna Film Festival in California. And guess what? The founder was 18 year old, Austin Fickman!
I firmly believe that as young adults we can do whatever we set our minds to, regardless of age, gender, race, etc. You simply need to… just do it! I am thrilled to have interviewed these three young festival founders and to share with you their advice and knowledge. You are never too young or old to make a film or start a film festival.
Enjoy their tips and inspiration.
– Kira Bursky
Name: Katrina Kinder
Age: 19 (17 when we started the festival)
Hometown: Grenada, Mississippi
Random Facts About Me: I can dead lift 185lbs.
Name: Isabella Kinder
Age: 16 (14 when we started the festival)
Hometown: Grenada, Mississippi
Random Facts About Me: I speak French.
Festival Name: Grenada Afterglow Film Festival
Years Running: 3 years
Festival Website: www.GrenadaAfterglow.com
One sentence about why the two of you started a film festival: To spread the magic of independent film and give a cultural injection to our small hometown of Grenada, Mississippi
Name: Austin Fickman
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Random Facts About Me: I once fed a giraffe.
Festival Name: Laguna Film Festival
Years Running: 1 year
Festival Website: www.lagunafilmfestival.com
One sentence about why you started a film festival: I wanted to create a community for filmmakers and film-lovers from all over the world to come together and celebrate the art of cinema.
Kira: Let’s begin with some background on how your respective film festivals came to be. What inspired their births?
Katrina: We LOVE going to film festivals. Our mom always took us to film festivals as we were growing up. One summer, Isabella and I were working as film interns for two filmmakers who had flown into town from California and New Jersey to document the quaint places and interesting personalities of Grenada. This was done under the supervision of a “New York-turned-Grenada” resident, Deborah Bailey. Deborah owns a newly renovated historic event center here in Grenada on the downtown square.
While we were working with them, Isabella and I received the news that one of our films had been accepted into the All American High School Film Festival in New York. After some discussion about the festival, I mentioned that I had always dreamed of running a film festival. Deborah said “Why not?” and here we are into Year 3 of the Grenada Afterglow Film Festival that takes place in her event center and on the downtown square.
Austin: As a filmmaker, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to screen my work at several festivals. Every festival is unique; however, they all revolve around the same focus: creating an environment for filmmakers and film-lovers to connect. Laguna is such a vibrant arts community and I was surprised to discover that we didn’t have a film festival, which is why I decided to start one.
Realize that it won’t be a piece of cake that can be thrown together in a few days. It takes a lot of hard work and resources, which aren’t always easy to come by.Isabella Kindler on putting on a film festival
Kira: What kind of work goes into organizing a festival? Do you do everything or do you have help?
Austin: As the head of the festival, I have a hand in everything, but it’s definitely a team effort. I spent three months with the programming team watching over one thousand short film submissions and then we had to re-watch them and deliberate before narrowing our selection down to the final group of films.
I also had to reach out and put together the group of judges, as well as organize the “Hollywood Today” panel that we had during the festival. We have an amazing PR (public relations) team and they’ve handled most of the marketing and social media. However, before anything goes out, I take a look at everything and give the final seal of approval. The PR team also handles the ballots.
In the weeks that led up to the festival, I spent a lot of time at the theater with the manager testing the films and making sure everything was good to go.
Isabella: A ton of work goes on behind the scenes that you wouldn’t realize. When Katrina initially had the idea to start Afterglow, it was one year from idea to festival. Every year when the festival ends, we begin planning for the next year. Our fest is a little different from other film festivals in that we have expanded the festival to include a range of art forms. We also have live music, art exhibits, workshops, a cosplay component, and food trucks.
Katrina: Last year we had a video game tent. This year we are working with our town’s Smash league to have a Smash Brothers tournament.
Isabella: We’re always looking for new ideas to keep the festival evolving and to gain new interest.
Katrina: The timeline is something like this: design sponsor pamphlets, contact potential sponsors, open call for submissions, write grants to organizations who fund arts-related non-profits, watch submissions, book bands, teach filmmaking workshops at our local schools and youth organizations, contact artists and food trucks, watch more submissions, find workshop instructors, find judges, design our schedule/magazine, promote like crazy on every social media that exists, create ads and buy ad space in magazines, newspapers, and on TV and radio, schedule interviews on TV/radio talk shows, organize volunteers, and try not to stress out. Although we do the last item more than any other on this list.
Isabella: Then on the day of the festival there are a ton of other things that need to be done to make sure it goes off smoothly.
Katrina: For the most part, Isabella, our Mom, and I organize the programming for the majority of the year leading up to the festival. My boyfriend, Mason, helps out a ton also. Our Dad helps with site preparation, hanging the banners, and heavy lifting.
On the day of the festival we’re very lucky to have a lot of help from many of our local clubs and service organizations. Jan W. always helps to organize the Grenada 4-H Leadership volunteers and Pam at Americorps coordinates a large number of our volunteers. We have some individuals that we know we can count on every year and we would be at a total loss without them.
We laugh every year because we keep our projectionist, Roger, and our emcee, Taylor, locked in the screening room (or the Dungeon, as they refer to it) for ten hours. They go along with it because we feed them pizza. One of our other best volunteers is Jack who is up for doing absolutely anything. He always comes wearing a kilt.
And we’d all go hungry if it weren’t for Sharon, Jan, Patty, and our Grandma keeping us all fed in the VIP lounge!
The folks at our local newspaper help us out immensely with articles, etc., as do several of the TV news stations across the state. We could not do the festival without our town tourism office, the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Grenada Community Foundation, our state tourism office Visit Mississippi, and other private sponsors.
(from left to right) First Annual Laguna Film Festival Winners: Audience Choice and Best of the Film Fest Film School Student Short producer Eric Marshall and director Sahand Nikoukar of Magic Shoes, Laguna Film Festival Director Austin Fickman and Shanola Hampton, Audience Choice and Jury Award for Youth-Produced Shorts Kira Bursky director of Tree Hugger and Best Horror Short actor Scott Javore and producer/actor Adam Lesar of Night of the Slasher. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for Laguna Film Festival)
Kira: Do you look for anything in particular when you are screening the film submissions?
Isabella: We are a shorts festival, so we’re looking for films that are thirty minutes and under. We only screen films that are family friendly and appropriate for all audiences. We have a couple of spotlight categories that include films that inspire positive change and feel good films (hence, the name Afterglow!).
When we screen the films, we’re looking for a well thought-out concept/story and high quality production value including cinematography, sound, editing, or animation. We play films from Mississippi and other parts of the world, which allows our audience to view foreign films that they would not otherwise have a chance to see.
Austin: In terms of the films submitted to our festival, the most important aspect is the story and the pacing. When we watched the films for the first time last year, we narrowed them down from 1,007 films to 295 films. From there, we then went back and watched the 295 films again to determine which films stood out as the best overall, in terms of quality, cinematography, editing, effects, etc.
Kira: Do you have any advice for young people who are interested in starting a film festival in their own town?
Katrina: This is so clichéd but just do it. The more time you give yourself to plan, the easier it will be for you. Find people that are willing to help, whether they donate the space to host your event or volunteer for the day of the festival, you need to find good, reliable people that will stick by you.
It will be a roller coaster but you’ll be glad you took the journey. We’ve met many interesting people through running Afterglow that we wouldn’t have met otherwise. We’ve had the honor of hosting some very special guests: Phillip Alford, who played “Jem” in To Kill a Mockingbird, former Mississippi governor, William Winter (to accompany a film on his life The Toughest Job: William Winter’s Mississippi, and Johnny and Susan McPhail, Mississippians who have acted alongside Ryan Reynolds and Nick Nolte, and have been seen on True Detective.
And it’s crazy who just shows up at the festival. Last year, Marvin King (son of blues legend, B.B. King) appeared out of nowhere! Plus, it’s fun because you get to do interviews on Big Little Filmmaker.
Isabella: It is a lot more work than it seems to be at first glance. Things will go wrong. You will be disappointed and discouraged, by lack of support, by plans falling through, and by last minute changes. You name it. Realize that it won’t be a piece of cake that can be thrown together in a few days.
It takes a lot of hard work and resources, which aren’t always easy to come by. You will want to give up, but the important thing to remember is don’t. Because in the end, it is all worth it to see what a great, smooth-running festival you can organize and to feel the joy it brings to people who attend.
AustIn: Do it. It is a lot of work, but it pays off in the end. You meet incredible people along the way and it’s a great way to bring the community together.
We have an amazing PR team, and they’ve handled most of the marketing and social media, but I take a look at everything and give the final seal of approval before anything goes out
Austin Fickman on making final decisions
Kira: How can filmmakers get involved with your festival? Are submissions open? Give us the details.
Katrina: Yes! Submissions are open now through July 15th. We are looking for family friendly, short films that are thirty minutes and under, in any category including animation, narrative, documentary, music video, experimental… anything at all.
Submission is free for high hchool students or $10 if you’re too old to be in high school (based upon American standards).
You can submit your films to: https://filmfreeway.com/festival/GrenadaAfterglowFilmFestival
You can stay up to date with Afterglow through the following online locations:
Thank you, Kira! Congratulations on your successes! You’re an inspiration to young filmmakers everywhere!
Austin: Submissions for next year’s festival are not open yet, but once they are, we will post the information on our website, as well as on our Facebook and Twitter (@lagunafilmfest) pages.
NOTE: BLF will update this article with new information once film submissions are open for Laguna.