Programmer Profile: Andrew Rodgers, RiverRun International Film Festival

Andrew RodgersMy name: Andrew Rodgers My current festival: RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

My title: Executive Director

Other fests I've worked for: Sundance Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: If I were stranded in a North Korean prison with only three movies, I’d want to have All the President’s Men, The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon with me. Films I seem to find myself watching about once a year include Good Night and Good Luck, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Fog of War and The Red Violin. Other films I love intensely include Citizen Kane, The Third Man, Spirited Away, The Jerk, The Seventh Seal, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Muppet Movie (which was the very first film I ever saw in a theater as a kid). Great films I’ve seen in the last 12 months include Choke, Moon, Dogtooth, The Informant, La Danse, In the Loop and Push.

When I'm not watching movies I like to: Well, I like spending time with my wife, swimming, playing racquetball, cooking healthy food and reading novels from the 1800’s and biographies. But I usually end up neglecting my wife, getting fat on chocolate and fast food and ignoring my stack of books to spend all my spare time trying to raise money for RiverRun.

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery: One of the best things about being a programmer is when you stumble across a movie you didn’t know much about and, as it plays, your grin gets wider and wider because you know you’ve found something you want to show. And then, at the end of the credits, you jump out of your chair and do a little dance because you found a gem. It happens so rarely . . . but when it does, it’s what keeps you motivated to watch that fifth horrible film in a row on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. This past year, Brett Ingram’s documentary Rocaterrania was just that sort of film for me. It was a beautifully structured portrait of a quirky and compelling outsider artist.

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: Because we provide airfare and hotel accommodations for lots of our feature-length filmmakers each year… and hotel accommodations for as many of our short filmmakers as possible, we end up with a pretty fun mix of film folks from around the world, who take the time to get to know one another, see each other’s films… and just have fun talking with audiences about their work. It’s a relaxed atmosphere where you can see some of the year’s best new films from around the world. Plus, since Winston-Salem is the corporate headquarters of Reynolds American, Hanesbrands and Krispy Kreme, we’re the spot for you if you’re particularly into cigarettes, underwear or doughnuts.

Our festival audience has come to expect: Our audiences come to RiverRun willing to see new films that offer powerful ideas and diverse viewpoints . . . to meet and interact with filmmakers . . . and to walk away having seen films they can’t see anywhere else. We’re a general audience festival . . . but our audience is passionate!

We program the following categories of films: It’s probably easier to describe what we don't show, because we’re open to just about anything. We typically don’t show music videos, porn or medium-length films (for us, between 30-65 minutes)… that is, unless it’s a really good music video, porn or medium-length film. Our bread and butter, though, is short and feature-length narratives, docs and animation . . . and we’re open to films from all corners of the globe.

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I disapprove: I know that making a small-budget independent film is a hard slog… and the people who help you out deserve all the credit in the world. But it just drives me nuts when filmmakers include unnecessarily lengthy credits at the front of a film to make it feel more substantial. I recently sat through a short film where the entire cast of completely unknown actors got big, up-front billing and the filmmaker credited the caterer and the music editor before the actual film even started. Keep your absolutely key people up top (even if it’s only you) and thank all the rest of your minions at the end. Don’t resort to puffery just to make your film seem bigger. Oh, I’m also getting tired of on-screen quotes at the start of “meaningful” documentaries. One more quote from Gandhi, Aristotle or Eleanor Roosevelt and I’m going to gag.

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: I’m going to have to echo some of my fellow programmers here. First off, don’t call us to submit new cuts of your film… unless you really truly made a crap-load of changes. (And even then, it’s got to be really major . . . like turning a 65-minute feature documentary into a 20-minute short. Color corrections, cutting a scene, adding a new song or re-dubbing your voiceovers don’t count.) When we hear a lot from a particular filmmaker during the submission process, we start to think he or she might be too high maintenance for us. Just send us the best film you can by the end of our submission period. Also . . . don’t take rejection personally. We’ve had to turn down friends, filmmakers whose films we’ve shown before, people who have done big favors for us, well-known filmmakers and really-really talented emerging talents . . . all because their film doesn’t fit the complex matrix of films for us in that particular year. Also . . . if you feel compelled to write a really nasty, expletive-laced letter to tell us how stupid we were to pass on your film, expect that we will post it on our bulletin board and laugh at you mercilessly. That said . . . because you’ve taken the time to submit to our Festival, please know that we take the time to seriously consider your film. We make sure that every single submission is seen by at least two people so that one person’s opinion doesn’t sink a film’s chances . . . and many films are reviewed by many others in order to collect a range of viewpoints.

The submissions period for our next festival is: Our next Festival is April 15-25, 2010… and, officially, we’ve only got a few days left. Our formal submission process closes on December 11th. However, this one-time only (and don’t tell anybody else), if you mention “Film Festival Secrets” on your Withoutabox entry, we’ll give you an extra week . . . until December 18th to postmark your submission.

Filmmakers can contact me here: Andrew at

Twitter account: @RiverRun

Last words: My wife’s a filmmaker herself, so I know how expensive it can be to submit to festivals and how frustrating it is to be kept in limbo, waiting to hear if your film got accepted. If you’re passionate and have patience, though, I really believe that it’ll all pay off in the end. That said, for first-time filmmakers with a finished low-budget short, I’d advise holding off on spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to send it around with fingers crossed. Instead, try a different approach: Spend that money actually going to some of the festivals you’d like to get into… and attend as many screenings, panels and parties you can with the goal of meeting your filmmaking peers. Hopefully you’ll also bump into some festival programmers or folks in the industry who can help you out in some way. Take lots of DVD screeners along and hand them out liberally. Ask for opinions, advice and assistance wherever appropriate . . . and don’t be pushy. If you’re nice about it… and you take a couple of these trips . . . I’m convinced that you’ll end up meeting lots of great people and advancing your career way more than you would just by making repeated trips to the post office and rolling the dice.