Dallas Film Festival Loses AFI Affiliation, Gains Independence

The 2010 DALLAS International Film Festival (DIFF) was a tightly run, well-organized and managed event this year; contrary to concerns about the success of the festival sans its American Film Institute (AFI) affiliation. The Dallas Film Society clearly took its role very seriously in maintaining a well-ordered machine, in order to provide festival quality films, along with balancing out celebrity appearances. Now that the red carpet’s been rolled up and the dust has settled―and yet people are still talking about the festival―we can see it from a much clearer perspective.

Chairman of the Board and face of the festival, Michael Cain, has taken what began as a small, independent film festival (Deep Ellum Film Festival) and turned it into what it is today. Not only should a film festival screen amazing, cutting edge films; but at the helm should be all the filmmakers who make these films. Taking care of the individuals behind the films is of utmost importance with regards to festival experience. Dallas knows how to take care of its filmmakers.

This year marked my third anniversary of attending the festival as a filmmaker and I can safely say it’s been my favorite experience thus far. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that I’ve met so many people in the last three years involved with the festival, the press who covers the festival and Dallas film culture in general. But ultimately, I found myself at a festival where a filmmaker can screen his or her film and not get lost in the shuffle of A-list celebrities and big-budgeted films. Not that there weren’t a ton of A-list celebrities and big-budgeted films! There were. But this has to do with the organization of the festival as a whole. In Dallas, it doesn’t matter how successful you are; as long as you’re a filmmaker, you get the rock star treatment. Personally, my week was filled with red carpet appearances, interviews and publicity spots―and I didn’t even star in, write or direct the films I’m associated with!

This year I had two films I produced at the festival, LOVERS OF HATE and EARTHLING. While both films did really well, EARTHLING stole the show―probably having something to do with all the pre-festival press it received as well as being one of Dallas Observer’s most anticipated films of the fest. Not only did it sell out its two scheduled screenings; but received a third screening at the Dallas Museum of Art to accommodate those folks turned away. Several other films received the same treatment due to the foresight and flexibility of DIFF staff.

Aside from packed houses and successful screenings, DIFF cleverly balanced its festival-quality content with all sorts of celebrities, award-winning filmmakers and loads of events and parties. Texas native and Fort Worth regular, Bill Paxton, who I’ve met on several other occasions, was seen at all the events over opening weekend. I also had a great deal of time to spend with my friend, Jeff Scheftel (writer/director/producer “Biography” & “Modern Marvels”) who was there with a Darfur doc, THE LAST SURVIVOR. Bummed about missing WINTER’S BONE for the third festival in a row (it premiered at Sundance), I was relieved when I had a chance to catch up with lead actor and Texas lover, John Hawkes. Additionally, meeting Frank Darabont (writer/director THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION & THE GREEN MILE), Tim McCanlies (writer THE IRON GIANT), and actress Karen Black (EASY RIDER) were high points. The low point was meeting Clint Howard in an elevator and not recognizing him until long after I’d put my foot in my mouth―oh well, he silently forgave me by accepting my Facebook request!

Most of the official parties took place at the Palomar Hotel (across from the Angelika Theatre in Uptown Dallas, the venue for most of the screenings); and DIFF, who’s been known for its festival lounge in the past, certainly didn’t let us down this year. The lounge boasted three arcade machines (with tons of games on each), Billiards, a Foosball table, Wii, full service open bar all ten days, DJ, and “DallasFest After Dark” presented by Red Carpet Crash and Bigfanboy.com nightly coverage. Suffice it to say, the lounge was certainly a convenient destination point for filmmakers, press and festival guests.

Dallas has certainly come a long way with its festival; and as long as strong programming and a welcoming attitude continue to prevail, I’m certain the festival will thrive for years to come. Kudos to the DIFF staff. You can bet I’ll attend next year!

More coverage of film related stuff, with links to all the pics, on my blog at www.adamdonaghey.com and please follow me on Twitter @adamdonaghey and Facebook!

Look out for LOVERS OF HATE, still available On Demand from the Independent Film Channel, and EARTHLING at these film festivals in May: LOVERS at 360 | 365 (ST. NICK is also screening), both LOVERS & EARTHLING, along with MY MOM SMOKES WEED at Maryland, EARTHLING at Santa Cruz and a special screening at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

***Originally published in The SCENE Magazine – May 2010***

Check out all my photos from 2010 DALLASIFF (and there are lots of them) on Facebook!


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