Chandler International Film Festival

I hope it's not painfully obvious to everyone in the know that I'm not exactly an old hat at attending film festivals. The Chandler International Film Festival, held 12-15 January in the Phoenix metro area, was only the second festival in the U.S. to screen my documentary film short, Sick in Africa Ep. 1.

It's never clear what to expect at these events, I'm learning. Certainly I was impressed with the communication I had had with the organizers: always fast, always friendly. Being selected in a market where I have a lot of friends and family also gives the impression that I could be a potential draw for ticket sales.


The festival was due to begin Friday night with the premiere of The Competition, a romantic comedy that I had no interest in seeing. But it looked like a good bet for drawing a crowd; it looked fun and several stars from the film would be in attendance. I headed to the comfortable venue of Crowne Plaza Resort early in the afternoon to pick up my filmmakers badge and enjoy the downtown area I had visited last two years ago. Google Maps set my mind at ease knowing that Peixoto Coffee was an easy 5 minute walk south.

My film wouldn't be shown at the festival venue until Monday afternoon in the student film slot. With film festivals there are various genres that you submit your film into. Horror, student, comedy, documentary (short or full-length), and because this was Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend there was a good civil rights genre that was sure to draw a good crowd.

I learned that the big party that evening would include red carpet and fancy clothes and would cost more than I was willing to spend to play Mr. Hollywood for a night. So off I went to hike South Mountain for a few hours. I would return Saturday afternoon to catch a block of short films and hang around until my film played in the outdoor venue as part of the Chandler Cultural Festival.

My film was due to play with four other selections, two of which also had filmmakers present for the event to say a few words and connect with the audience. I had heard that the place was large enough to accommodate up to 2,000 viewers but after the food carts and various vendors closed up shop at dark and cultural dancers performed and left, the numbers dwindled into the 30s.

No matter. This was the committed few and I had struck up a few new friendships from Austin, Texas (the director of The New Machine and a cast member) so it was a good night! My old friends, Bruce & Dixie, even showed up to show some support. Bruce had visited our family in Mozambique so I know it had a special place in his heart to reconnect with some of those folks and places.

Sunday morning I headed to church with my brother and his family then got busy with a meeting in Scottsdale that was due to begin that evening, but Monday I ducked out of meetings for the afternoon so I could catch my film showing at 3PM.

My film played to an empty theater on Monday afternoon.

My film played to an empty theater on Monday afternoon.

Fortunately I came out of my showing just in time to meet another filmmaker whose film had just played. He was Nigerian and I was stoked to hang out with a fellow African (I seriously do feel more African than American sometimes).

The awards ceremony was slated for that evening and, like opening ceremonies, would be fancy dress and red carpet. I did not plan to attend figuring there was no chance I'd be awarded anything since nobody was at my showing.

Imagine my surprise when I get a Messenger text at 10PM from the awards ceremony telling me I had won Best Student Short Film! I was half an hour away and assumed it was too late to go pick up my award but learned that the after party was going strong and would keep doing so until midnight. I'm an in-bed by 10 kinda guy usually, but just this once maybe I could go have some fun with some friends from my meeting if anyone was game. I got two takers, so we went to have some fun and meet some independent filmmakers!

Lessons learned:

  • Definitely helpful to get to know other filmmakers. They've got your back (and that's how I heard about my win).
  • I should have asked more questions about the awards ceremony. As a filmmaker am I free? That kind of stuff.
  • Having friends and family in the area may mean absolutely nothing in terms of any benefit for the film festival with ticket sales.