In late September Craig Downing will unveil the inaugural Couch Fest Films, a "cozy shorts film fest" hosted by local homeowners in Seattle. Lucky attendees will be able to stroll from one house to the next, taking in a 30-minute program of shorts at each venue. If you visit every venue, by the end of the day you'll have seen about 200 films at 15 different houses.
I put a battery of questions to Mr. Downing, hoping to learn more about his inspiration and goals for Couch Fest, and I wasn't disappointed.
What's your background in film festivals?
I guess it all started when I pulled the trigger on a super 8 camera only to realize that I had accidently and instantly become a filmmaker. It was such a simple, powerful act and I was hooked. From here, I started working as a volunteer for a couple of super 8 film fests around Austin, Texas. One year, SXSW requested the public to make super 8 trailers for their film fest. Seeing my $15 super 8 SXSW trailer play on a 70 foot screen before films was quite a pivotal moment for me. The following year, I was a screener for SXSW. So, for a while there, I had Jenga stacks of VHS tapes in my living room to review. After I moved to Seattle, I resumed making films and connecting to the film community by teaching at the Northwest Film Forum and volunteering at the Seattle International Film Fest. I still go manic during the Seattle film fest trying to see too many Icelandic films all while surviving on Butterfinger candy bars and Capri-suns.
What was the inspiration for Couchfest?
Honestly, I don’t remember a specific epiphany that produced the idea for Couch Fest Films. Though, I am pretty sure I could have come up with the idea during a crappy job. I have discovered that the crappier the job is for me the harder I daydream. I suspect that the idea of Couch Fest Films came from some deep crappy-job daydreaming. I do know that I have been toying with the idea of actually following through with this film fest for a while. On a personal level, I’ve been thinking about going to graduate school again but, I kind of decided to just save the money and just produce what I wanted to be doing later--but now. I mean, I don’t think currently there is an available internship where a candidate can run a film fest. So, well, I kind of decided to just create that internship myself and then conveniently select me to fill that position. In the end, though, I really just like movies. I like sitting my rump on a good couch. I also like riding my bike to my friends’ houses. So, I figured this Couch Fest Films idea would be a good way to combine all of these elements.
How did you settle on the format? 200 films spread into themes across 15 houses seems awfully specific.
This is a good point. The reality is that the number of themes and number of houses will really be determined by the diversity of the films that smart-thinking filmmakers submit to Couch Fest Films. The goal is to have each house have its own theme for the program that is played at the house. But, if we receive, for example, an overwhelming amount of really great erotic sci-fi films, well, then we may decide to have two houses with this classic film theme.
Do you have your house venues locked down yet?
No, we don’t have all 15 houses yet. Do you have a couch, a TV and a DVD player, Chris? If so, I can sign you up. As of now, we have five houses that are signed up to host. We won’t be able to determine the overall map until we see what houses we have available. I really wanted to have houses spread over the city in all of the different neighborhoods. But, I also want the houses close enough that forward thinking film fest attendees wouldn’t feel rushed to make it to the next house on time.
I am asking residents to open their houses to other lovers of film who happen to also be strangers. This is kind of one of the goals of the fest. I want to see what happens in the community if people start opening up their living rooms in different parts of the city in order to come together to share the excitement of film. I’m aware that this idea is a little cheesy . . . but it would be too easy to just have my friends that live on my street open their houses for this film fest. The goal of Couch Fest Films is to have houses in neighborhoods that we wouldn’t normally think about going to visit. Let alone, walk into a stranger’s house and sit on their couch and watch a film. And, on the flip side, let’s not forget that houses in all different neighborhoods are opening their doors to their living room to complete strangers too. This will hopefully create new relationships, friendships and experiences. I don’t know…maybe I was getting a little a head of myself there. But, that’s the community goal and I am excited to put the pieces next to each other.
I will visit each location before signing them up to host. I will do this mainly to say hello to interested residents but to also confirm that they can accommodate 15 – 20 people in their house.
Why should a filmmaker submit to Couch Fest?
Who wouldn’t want to win the Golden Couch award? Actually, I have been thinking about this. I have obviously looked online and discovered there are so many film fests out there. This wasn’t really a surprise but, I was excited to read about all the different and unique themes. I am hoping that my idea is maybe clever, silly or different enough to draw filmmakers to be a part of this community film fest. Of course, having no submission fees for the chance at $1750 in prize money can’t hurt either.
Filmmakers with short films that are under 5 minutes can submit to Couch Fest Films by August 15th, 2008. There is no submission fee.