Programmer Profile: Sarah Harris at Dallas IFF

Sarah HarrisMy name: Sarah Harris My current festival: DALLAS International Film Festival (DALLAS Film Society)

My title: Senior Programmer

Other fests I've worked for: I program year-round events for the DALLAS Film Society (which puts on the DALLAS festival . . . what was formerly called the AFI DALLAS festival). Before that, the Deep Ellum Film Festival.

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: It changes, so a few for today: Raising Arizona, Fargo, Ghostbusters, The Graduate, Clueless (don’t judge!), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Shining, Kill Bill v1, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Riding Giants, It Might Get Loud.

When I'm not watching movies I like to: Hmm...when is that? Go to other film festivals, watch LSU football, read books (yay books!), drink with friends and family, and sit by the lake/ocean/large body of water that is not in North Texas. :)

I watch other movies I don’t have to “think” about (ie. Transformers) and shows I’m behind on (Mad Men, The Wire, 30 Rock, the Daily Show). Watching movies is kind of like breathing.

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery: More Than a Game. We didn’t program this film for the festival, but when it was having its promotional tour we hosted a screening of it here in Dallas. It had been the 5th film I had seen one day at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival and I fell in love with it. Once it was picked up, the scheduled release date didn’t allow us to bring it in for the festival, but I wouldn’t let Michael [Cain, festival director] or James [Faust, programming director] forget about it. It was great to finally host the screening with the director, Kristopher Belman, and go out for drinks with him almost a year after originally seeing the doc.

I also love when you find that a great short film in a stack. You never know what the next dvd you put in will bring and when it’s really good it makes up for the last 20 that weren’t.

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: The Texas hospitality is true. (The cowboy boots are definitely optional.) People in Dallas LOVE movies – love seeing them, talking about them.... It sounds a little bizarre, but people go to the movies here all the time and it's something they take seriously. The passion can be very refreshing.

Our festival audience has come to expect: Quality, in every sense of the word. A chance to discover something totally different and then be able to catch that film that may have gotten buzz somewhere else on the circuit. Maybe hang out with the filmmaker in the theater lobby or lounge. The Dallas audience loves the experience films and the festival.

We program the following categories of films: Narrative Features, Documentary Features, Short films, Student Short films, Animated Short films, Environmental Documentary Features, Texas based Features and Music Documentaries...

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I disapprove: During 2008-2009 I was seeing a lot of shorts where people were getting hit by cars. It was disturbing at first and then just got really old.

Also (and my programming friends know how I feel about this one): the Los Angeles downtown skyline. At night, at dawn, for the opening shot, or to close out the film.... I’m in Texas and can tell by your other locations that you’re in L.A. Got it. Next.

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: When it comes to making decisions based on all the reviews we’ve collected James, our Director, and I put our eyes on EVERYTHING. We give up our weekends (and any social life that’s left) for 2 months to sit in a room, watch your films and discuss them. We do care about films and filmmakers, so when it comes to tough choices please don’t take it personally and send hate mail. (Though that is a guarantee that I’ll remember you and your film.)

And we try to treat filmmakers like they are rock stars. Because they are.

The submissions period for our next festival is: For the 2010 Festival, submissions opened in August and will run through December 2009. Regular deadline: Nov. 20. Late Deadline: Dec. 11

Filmmakers can contact me here: or

Last words: Do your research on festivals, pay attention to the details, plan your budget accordingly and don’t give up. The film festival world is a crazy one, but worth every moment of the madness.