Programmer Profile: Claudette Godfrey, South By Southwest

Claudette Godfrey
Claudette Godfrey

Originally posted Dec 1 2009. 

 My name: Claudette Godfrey My current festival: South by Southwest (SXSW)

My title: Film Festival Coordinator / Shorts Co-Programmer. 

Other fests I've worked for: CineVegas

Movies that best represent my personal tastes: In no particular order - Top Gun, E.T., and Tommy Boy. Those films defined my childhood and I seriously list those three when anyone asks. I remember more than a few times in film school where other students would say something like Citizen Kane or Modern Times and I would pipe up with one of those classics.

More professionally I list films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Dear Zachary: A letter to a son about his father, A Town Called Panic and Año Uña. Typing that I realize that none of them are entirely conventional, so maybe that's the way I'd define my personal taste.

When I'm not watching movies I like to: Talk about movies. Eat Mexican food. Swim. Take photos. Go to shows. Dance. Hang out at bars with friends. Edit my project. Hug. Watch HBO/Showtime. Sleep.

A movie I recently programmed that I consider to be a great personal discovery:TRIMPIN: the sound of invention was a World Premiere for SXSW and one of the very first films we accepted last year. A trusted documentary screener and friend got it in his first round of watching really early in our 2009 season. He came in glowing about it so I watched it immediately. Just a month earlier I saw Trimpin's work for the first time while on a trip to Seattle with my mom. His IF VI WAS IX: Roots and Branches sculpture is installed in the Experience Music Project and I remember hanging out watching it "perform" for quite some time. I was mesmerized. When I watched the film and connected the dots I was instantly hooked. Trimpin himself is such an phenomenal inventor and musician that he easily becomes an interesting and absorbing character. Peter Esmonde's handling was superb, allowing you a unique window to this melodious joyful world of Trimpin's. I loved it and lobbied for it. It was an easy yes because it is such a beautifully well crafted film about a true innovator. It struck notes with every arm of our festival and that's what SXSW is all about.

Later, I introduced the film's screenings at the festival and was blown away by the audience reaction. There was this connection with the music and with Trimpin (who came with Esmonde to the festival) that was awe-inspiring. That's really what festivals are all about, connecting a truly great film to an audience. Sharing the experience. I actually have a Trimpin poster on the wall next to my desk to remind me of that.

When filmmakers ask me "What's different about your film festival?" I say: We're unique because we're a part of this massive cross-platform multifaceted cultural event. We're Austin in March. It's the people, the city, the weather, the food, the venues, and the programming sensibility that make us really stand apart.

Our festival audience has come to expect: I think people come to SXSW for good films, good access, and a good time. We have been able to strike an amazing balance between those factors and Texas hospitality. The audience attends our screenings expecting to see variety, originality, innovation, and great storytelling. To discover new voices, and to see a little of that trademark weirdness. In short they come to SXSW for an experience. An awesome one.

We program the following categories of films: We program films from these categories both made in the United States and Internationally: Narrative Features, Documentary Features, Narrative Shorts, Documentary Shorts, Animated Shorts, Experimental Shorts, Music Videos, and Texas High School Shorts.

A recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I disapprove:  Multiple replacement copies. Meaning, there are a lot of filmmakers who submit an unfinished rough cut in August and proceed to send me a new copy every month until our final deadline. If you submit early, submit a finished film. If you're still working on your film and there are 2 months left until our deadline do yourself a favor and hold off to submit the most complete and finished version you can. This is your film, and you shouldn't undercut it in an effort to save $20 on the submission fee. That said, if you have a new/better/different cut that changes the world you can send in a replacement, just don't make it a habit!

Oh, and if you're going to make a short film, make it short.

If I could impart one thing to filmmakers about submitting to my festival, it would be: Don't take it personally.

I think it's easy for filmmakers to become jaded when they don't get into the festivals they want to. It's easy to focus on the rejection letters and channel negative feelings into hating the establishment. Instead, do your research. Submit to festivals that have an audience for your film. Reexamine your edit. There are factors that you can control.

When a festival doesn't play your film it doesn't necessarily mean that your film is bad or that you're a bad filmmaker. Programming a film festival is like a giant puzzle and there's no way to fit in every good film. There are a lot of factors at work and we really accept a very small percentage of the films that submit. Hone your craft. Keep working.

The submissions period for our next festival is:Submissions are open now through December 3 for our late deadline and our last minute deadline is December 11.

Filmmakers can contact me here:claudette @ sxsw . com or film @ sxsw . com

Blog URL:

Twitter account:@claudasaur

Last words:  We love you. No matter what you've made or how you've made it, we love you. We love that you're out there putting yourself on the line for what you're passionate about and believe in.