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Fast Forward Film Festival by Susan Henninger
Project Director Rebecca Delaney is a passionate spokesperson for Rochester’s first annual Fast Forward Film Festival (FFFF). “There’s nothing like us so far,” she says enthusiastically. “We’re not duplicating anyone else’s program.” Rebecca’s job description is to develop FFFF from the ground up and, with her strong background in communications and media technology, as well as an interest in photography, she’s clearly up to the challenge.
FFFF (www.fastforwardroc.org/) is the brainchild of The Lost Bird Project, a nationally recognized non-profit with a mission of connecting people more deeply to the earth through art. The idea of a “green” film festival was conceived in a local coffee shop by a group that included Lost Bird’s co-founder and Executive Director Andrew Stern, a retired practicing neurologist and Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Rochester, who now devotes his time to raising environmental awareness. Since the environment is at the root of what all the FFFF organizers do and why they love their jobs so much, they see the film festival as both a “digital way to care about a cause” and as an opportunity to do something about it. “We asked ourselves ‘Is there something we can do to start a conversation in Rochester about the environmental issues that are impacting us right here?’” Rebecca recalls. “We wanted to partner our passion for a cause with a call-to-action.” Their hope is that the festival’s films will be eye-opening and give the general public a chance to see what’s happening environmentally, both in the greater Rochester area and beyond. Rebecca emphasizes that the festival is intended to be collaborative, rather than competitive. “Anyone can be inspired to participate,” she says. “You don’t need to be Steven Spielberg to be part of this. Just an everyday community member is fine!”
This past winter, entries were collected from Rochester-area filmmakers. Submissions were open to all ages and the only guidelines were that the entrants must be residents of the Rochester area (though the topic of their documentary could come from anywhere), and the films had to be short in length (five minutes or less in duration). Rebecca says they purposely chose short over long documentaries for several reasons. For one, they hope that this leveled the playing field, so all ages, from children to seniors, could submit. Additionally, the group spoke with sponsors like the Rochester Institute of Technology who advised them that using digital format as their artistic medium is “where it’s at” these days. Lastly, Rebecca hopes that shorts will hold viewers’ attention better than longer documentaries might by creatively leveraging visual storytelling to address environmental topics.
Another plus is that there was no fee to submit a film to FFFF, which organizers say made the festival entry available to anyone who wanted to participate. Substantial cash prizes will be awarded to the winners, who will be selected based for producing the most inspiring, compelling, and engaging film; illustrating the most unique perspective; and providing the strongest call to action.
There are a few things that are essential when creating a successful film festival from the ground up. The first is documentary-makers, which they anticipate having plenty of. FFFF also has a plethora of local sponsors. “They’ve been very receptive to our mission,” Rebecca says. “They all care about this topic on some level and are all like-minded community members. We are partnering to effect change and make a difference.” She’s excited about the jury as well. Members were selected by Lost Bird and include nationally acclaimed film critics and authors. “We wanted a credible team of judges who would be willing to be held accountable for their decisions,” she explains. “They’ve been part of the entire process. Documentaries will be screened by four distinguished judges: Jack Garner, nationally renowned film critic and author of From My Seat on the Aisle: Movies and Memories; Deborah Dickson, Academy Award nominee; Todd McGrain, independent filmmaker, co-founder of The Lost Bird Project, and winner of the 2014 Audubon Award for Art Inspiring Conservation; and Enid Cardinal, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Senior Sustainability Advisor to the President.
Another fantastic source of support has been Friends of the Festival, a network of organizations that is interested in environmental education. According to Rebecca, the “Friends” group has been invaluable in reinforcing the festival’s mission and assisting festival entrants by sharing their knowledge and resources throughout the submission period.
From the beginning, the decision to make FFFF a pilot program was a purposeful one, to allow the project’s director, the committee, and the judges to get ongoing feedback from the Rochester community. In the short run, Rebecca hopes that FFFF will provide a space for both emerging and established filmmakers to use documentary films as a medium to talk about environmental issues they care about. “We want to give a voice to local artists and filmmakers,” she says. Once the festival is over, the hope is that participants will be able to use their short films all year long to connect with other environmentally-conscious people, perhaps by posting them on YouTube or other social media sites. Ultimately, they’d like to create a project that can be replicated in other cities and towns. “This is doable,” Rebecca asserts. “We did it on a small budget. We have been able to bring our community together with existing resources and a good team of organizers.”
The April film screenings are family-friendly, however Rebecca notes that it may be hard for children under eight to understand some of the documentaries. As with any movie or television show, she recommends that parents use their discretion by checking out the titles beforehand. However, she believes that the festival is perfect for teens and tweens. “This age is old enough to know what they care about. If it’s the environment, we’re a perfect fit,” she says. The affordability of the Festival and the quality of submissions, as well as the opportunity to see their fellow students making “cool” films, will appeal to many middle and high school students. Additionally FFFF provides a phenomenal starting point for adult/student conversations about all types of environmental issues. She anticipates that the documentaries will give older kids, who are able to understand the meaning behind the project and why it’s so significant, and the adults who are important to them, “real world” issues to talk about. “We want this age to see these films,” she asserts. “Maybe someone in the audience will do something to make a difference in 2015!”
Talking with your kids about the films.
The films of the FFFF are a great starting point for parents to engage kids in a conversation about the environment and world around us. Here are some tips and ideas for talking with your kids before and after you watch:
• Why is the environment important to you?
• What do you think we should do to conserve our planet?
• How did this film make you feel?
• What was the message you think the filmmaker was communicating?
• What was your favorite part of the documentary? Why?
• Did seeing this film change the way you think and will act?
• What was the most important thing you learned?
• What was your favorite thing about the films?
• If you were going to make a film about the environment, what would it be?
Film Screenings at The Little Theatre
April 17, 2015, 7PM – 9PM
Adults $5, Students/Seniors/Little Theatre Members $4
Selected entries will screen at The Little Theatre in Downtown Rochester on East Avenue. This showing is a sneak-peek of the short films in the running for a Fast Forward Category Award. Awards will be announced the following evening at the Fast Forward Gala. Proceeds from the event will go to The Little Theatre.
Festival Gala at George Eastman House / Dryden Theatre
April 18, 2015, 5:30PM – 9:30PM
Adults $25, Students/Seniors $20
The Fast Forward Gala will be hosted at the George Eastman House. The events for the evening include a reception (refreshments and light fare), film screenings and Award Ceremony. The reception will take place at the Potter Peristyle Lobby, followed by film finalist screenings and Award Ceremony in the Dryden Theatre. Event proceeds will go to film preservation at the George Eastman House.
Sue Henninger is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about the unique people, places, and events that can be found in the Finger Lakes Region. Contact her at www.fingerlakeswriter.com
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