The LES Film Festival: Low-Budget and Laid-Back
Emblazoned upon a reddish wall is a sprawling, cursive “LES” insignia. Its warm light bleeds across the room, clashing with the piercing gaze of a projector. The atmosphere is friendly and social, with beer and wine flowing and young film enthusiasts chatting. A small table displays complimentary snacks; individually wrapped brown paper bags stuffed with popcorn read “LES Film Festival.”
Two New York University film graduates partnered with two University of Colorado at Boulder film graduates for their debut year of the LES Film Festival, which took place at GrandOpening, an arts venue on Norfolk Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The intimately-set film festival features 20 consecutive nights of feature films, shorts, animations and experimental films, all made for under $30,000.
The $30,000 budget cap allows the opportunity for young and up-and-coming filmmakers to not only have their films shown, but to be immersed in the audience in a more personal social setting than most other film festivals. The BYOB screenings take place in a room that holds 25 people where, in a relaxed setting, Q&A sessions happen with the filmmakers after each show. This kind of screening format allows the audience to feel like they’re a part of the filmmaking process, and the filmmakers to relate and exchange ideas and reactions with their audience.
“A niche that we have is the intimate atmosphere and the party vibe,” said marketing director and co-founder Roxy Hunt. “It’s not like you’re going to some boring Q&A where some filmmaker is up on a stage and passing the microphone around. It feels more like a party.”
A screening on February 20 featured a collection of shorts, a feature film entitled “Billy Cash,” which chronicles a day in the life of an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas, and an excerpt from “Brave New York,” a free-form documentary made by famous photographer Richard Sandler.The filmmakers who submitted mostly heard of the festival’s debut via the Internet or word of mouth from others in the film making community. Heather Fink, an NYC-based comedian and filmmaker, submitted a comedic short entitled “Saving Mr. Whiskers” through a link from GrandOpening’s mailing list. Her films have also been featured in the Cannes Short Film Corner and the Atlantic City Film Festival.
“LES Film Festival seems very modern, in tune with the community at large, and seems to draw people looking for something interesting and stimulating, not just film buffs,” said Fink. “The laid back vibe is also very inviting.”
“Our audience is people who respect that these films are made on the cheap. It’s more about supporting filmmaking and the filmmakers themselves as creative people,” said founder Damon Cardasis. In regards to the future of the LES film festival, Cardasis continued, “I don’t think it ever needs to grow or become a huge competition with studio films. The price cap almost prevents studio films from being featured in the festival.”
Cardasis emphasized that the LES Film Festival will try to capture a unique voice within the film community in Manhattan, and that its mission has been determined. A budget cap and a casual screening format is what sets it apart from bigger, more well-known festivals such as the New York Film Festival or the TriBeCa Film Festival, which feature larger, higher-production studio films. Despite their low-budget approach, the minds behind the LES Film Festival are still very cognizant of their audience and of the films quality.
The founders are confident that their commitment to quality films and a sociable atmosphere will distinguish the LES Film Festival from others and continue to draw crowds in the future.