THE JOURNEY from a filmmaker’s imagination to being presented at the Mill Valley Film Festival is not an easy one. According to Zoë Elton, the festival’s director of programming, there is a general call for entries beginning in the early spring, which usually runs up until June. (This year’s entry period was extended until July to accommodate the largest number of entries for the festival to date.)
“A lot of filmmakers these days use a website called withoutabox.com,” Elton says about the submission process. “Other people will come to us by going to our website and finding the information there, filling out forms and sending their movie in.”
Aside from the general entry films, there are a number of applicants, particularly those coming through studios, distributors and filmmakers, who have a relationship with the festival due to past presentations and are invited to participate without going through the festival’s screening process. That screening process is quite rigorous and is something that every general-entry film must face.
The MVFF’s screening committees are composed of film professionals. “The films are looked at by people working in the film industry — filmmakers, or writers or critics,” Elton says. “They make recommendations to the programming team. The programming team then reviews the films that have been most highly recommended.”
After looking at all the films deemed worthy of consideration, the programming team evaluates them in terms of several other criteria:
• Are there films in the running that could be seen as important films?
• Will the film connect or speak to the MVFF audience?
• Do the final films selected create a balanced program — in terms of demographics, countries represented and different sensibilities?
All in all, almost 2,000 films were considered and are in the MVFF database this year, roughly half of those being from the call for entries. From that figure, the festival will feature between 150 to 170 movies, including shorts, documentaries and feature films, which will be divided into about 100 programs.