First Time Fest Diary

A juror's look from the inside out

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Director Seth Fisher and the cast of Blumenthal in the hot-seat with the jurors
Director Seth Fisher and the cast of Blumenthal in the hot-seat with the jurors Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

First Time Fest is more than an awards show. Filmmakers and attendees had a chance to learn how to get on and off the "hot-seat", be exposed by a critical eye, and hear experienced professionals discuss their work in an open and forthcoming way. All of this and more, over four days and nights, made the first week in March in New York an exciting time of the year for film enthusiasts.

The list of distinguished filmmakers who showed up for the First Exposure series to present their first films and do Q&As was impressive. Sofia Coppola, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barbara Kopple, Todd Solondz, were among them. John Huston's first film, The Maltese Falcon, was introduced by William Luhr, author of The Maltese Falcon: John Huston, Director. Darren Aronofsky not only presented his first film Pi, Martin Scorsese presented him with the John Huston Award for Achievement in Cinema.

Martin Scorsese entertains the paparazzi with his praise for Darren Aronofsky <em>Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze</em>
Martin Scorsese entertains the paparazzi with his praise for Darren Aronofsky Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Critical Eye panel held at the Players Club kicked off First Time Fest on the right foot with Village Voice Chief Film Critic Scott Foundas, Senior Editor for Indiewire Eric Kohn, Slate Film Critic Dana Stevens, moderated by Senior Film Writer for Time Out New York Josh Rothkopf.

There was an energetic discussion on the critic's role in reviewing first films and how to bring attention to a new filmmaker. They agreed that there were many more great first films, than second or third films. On the other side of the coin, there are the filmmakers wanting to disown their first films. Indiewire's Eric Kohn said there was a lot of "smuggling involved" to push the promising unknowns, who are still, as Scott Foundas put it, "singing in their pure voice."

The "hot-seat", a new concept we experimented with at the festival was a challenge and very rewarding. My fellow jurors (Christine Vachon, Fred Schneider, Gay Talese) and I watched every competition movie with the audience for the first time and responded with our comments and questions to the filmmakers immediately after the screening.

Sofia Coppola arrives to present her first film Virgin Suicides <em>Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze</em>
Sofia Coppola arrives to present her first film Virgin Suicides Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

A counter to what has become standard in film critic circles - tweeting remarks after a movie - we were able to have a dialogue. The filmmakers seemed to appreciate the possibility to respond right back to us. The tone of voice and face in front of you make it a civilized exchange - one that allowed me to congratulate the director of Junction Tony Glazer, for example, on his audacity to successfully combine slapstick with child abuse and zombie make-up. In a tweet, that would have sounded disastrous and had I had more time to think about what I just saw, I would probably have made a different comment. In the end, the jury and the filmmakers were on the "hot-seat" together.

All of the debut filmmakers attended for the jury's "hot-seat", except the filmmakers for Horizon Sky, from Belarus, who were not permitted to leave their country. They did the "hot-seat" via Skype.

There was a feeling of camaraderie throughout the four days of First Time Fest, as everyone was working hard together to create an atmosphere where those involved could thrive and put their best foot forward.

Congratulations to all.

l - r Critical Eye panelists Scott Foundas, Eric Kohn, Dana Stevens, Josh Rothkopf at the Players Club <em>Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze</em>
l - r Critical Eye panelists Scott Foundas, Eric Kohn, Dana Stevens, Josh Rothkopf at the Players Club Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

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