Cinematheque seminar paves path to fests


Whether an industry veteran or a first-time filmmaker, the nightmare of maneuvering through the submission process is a necessary evil, like standing in line at the DMV.

But after years on the circuit, film festival insider Thomas Ethan Harris is offering a remedy to festival anxiety -- a fast pass to the front of the line -- with his "Navigating Film Festival Seminar Series" at the American Cinematheque.

Harris, who served as program director at the Los Angeles Film Festival and Palm Springs International Short Film Festival, began holding seminars at local universities -- including USC and Loyola Marymount -- to help guide aspiring filmmakers through what has become a vast labyrinth of film competitions and festivals. What started as a way to launch emerging independent filmmakers into the spotlight became the America Cinematheque series, geared toward all levels of filmmakers and designed to help them save dollars and hours in their quest to find an audience and distribution.

"In Los Angeles, filmmakers are spending a fortune to get information," Harris said. "The average filmmaker is spending $3,500 on festival-submission fees. People should not have to go broke to educate themselves on the film festival world."

Harris' candid $20 seminars outline the best (and worst) festivals, focusing on those with the most industry and press attendance and largest public audiences. Harris said he hopes to help filmmakers choose the best competitions for their film and to lead them away from festivals that might "betray" them by poorly representing their product.

"One slip can set a pretty poor perception of what you have," Harris said. "(A film is) like a baby. You've got to take care of it."

After inviting Harris to speak to his third-year graduate students at Cal Arts, filmmaker Jon Reiss, whose graffiti documentary "Bomb It!" premiered this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, hired him as a personal film festival consultant.

"The (film festival) landscape has changed," Reiss said. "It's much more political. That's why it's good not to be caught unawares."

In addition to the Cinematheque series, Harris also hosts "Creating a More Visually Comprehensive Cinema," a series of film aesthetics seminars at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.