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Volume 26, Number 2 — February 2019

PUSH! Film Festival grows in its second year

Theater-goers wait at the Paramount Theatre.
Theater-goers wait at the Paramount Theatre.
Additional photos below »

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | September 26, 2016

Downtown Bristol's PUSH Film Festival is in its second year, which means it has already outlasted more than 60 percent of other film festivals.

"When Christine Blevins was visiting film festivals, one of the things she learned was that only 39 percent make it out of their first year. That was a tough pill to swallow, and it kicked us into a higher gear," Maggie Bishop, Main Street associate director, says. "That made us realize we needed a niche."

The lead team spent many meetings discussing who their audience is and what their niche is. "We spent a lot of time planning and thinking about who our demographic is. Is it Bristol, is it the region, is it students, is it seniors, is it millennials? I don't want to say it's everyone, but it kind of is.

"Film has a way of making people escape from reality and is also a source of reality. Film is important to everyone. It's cultural. A lot of social things revolve around them. There's a reason movies come out on Fridays. We tried to make it a very socially open format. That social aspect is one of the reasons we like having the venues where they are. You walk together, maybe grab some ice cream as you stroll from one venue to another. We love our walkable downtown.

"That was important for us to figure out. It was enlightening." After they decided on their audience, they started discussing what their theme or niche should be. They want to explore pushing boundaries, since Bristol is a border town. They chose "pushing boundaries" as their niche to set them apart from other festivals.

"That comes across in a lot of ways," Bishop says. "Some of the films push physical borders, and some push psychological borders. Some people ask what the theme means, and that starts the conversation. We're all about starting conversations and calls to actions. We want people to think, to leave the theater and go "wow' and take that elsewhere and talk about it. We hope these films take them out of their norm and expand what they think about film in general.

"We've already beaten the odds. Now we're about how big can we go," Bishop says.

In 2015, the inaugural PUSH Film Festival had more than 40 U.S. and international films screened. The 2016 festival has seen a significant increase in interest from the first year, including 190 submissions from more than 25 countries, including India, Turkey, Germany and France.They also received entries from college students and several from Virginia Middle School.

"I love the youth stuff," Bishop says. "It's exciting that they wanted to do that. Their technical proficiency was really impressive."

The city of Bristol, Tennessee, also got into the spirit by holding a Young Filmmakers Competition for high school students. This short-film (30 seconds to two minutes) contest had to feature one of the city's parks. The top three films are shown at the film festival. "This was their idea and they asked if we'd be one of the incentives. We are pleased to be a part of it," says Bishop.

The films submitted for judging are entered through an online portal called FilmFreeway. More than 4,000 film festivals use FilmFreeway, including 36 Academy Award accredited festivals. The website promotes festivals to filmmakers. The films are submitted through the website, and the judging is done online.

"Film Freeway has an awesome rating system. We assigned judges and they watched like crazy and rated the films. We did a simple green (yes), yellow (maybe), red (no) situation. Then depending on how much content we still had available, we went through and evaluated the yellows to see what fit PUSH the best.

"We had a very clear rubric to follow. The criteria were creativity, technical proficiency and was it a good PUSH fit," Bishop says.

Twenty-eight of the filmmakers are attending the festival. "They're coming from all over," Bishop says. Some locations include Canada, California and New York.

"We'll have a party for them and supporters for the festival and members of the public who want to come," Bishop says. " It's an opportunity to mingle with the filmmakers, and it'll be great for some of the novice filmmakers who haven't experienced the festival atmosphere. We've got this awesome entertainment — Small Creatures in The Coward's Choir from Washington, D.C. It's a silent movie with music accompanying it. You don't have to pay close attention to what's happening, so it's really great for the party atmosphere. I'm really excited about it, and I think it fits really well with a film festival," Bishop say.

Believe in Bristol and the PUSH! Film Festival volunteers want this to be a filmmakers' film festival. Bishop says that filmmakers said they felt very taken care of last year, and they want to continue that. As part of that effort, they've added an audience award to this year's festival. This year audience members will get voting ballots as they go through each film. The results will be announced on the final day of the festival. "We think it's important to give audiences that kind of responsibility, and we want their feedback. The filmmakers appreciate that," Bishop says.

Judges give awards in five categories: Best Short, Best Feature, Best Tennessee (shot in Tennessee or created by a Tennessee filmmaker), Best Virginia (shot in Virginia or created by a Virginia filmmaker) and Best Overall.

Audiences will also get to hear from the filmmakers during a panel presentation. There will also be a panel on filming in Bristol with representatives from "Believe," which was filmed in Bristol and "Orthophonic Joy," about the 1927 Bristol Sessions. They also hope to have someone from the movie "Big Stone Gap." "We're trying to make Bristol a place that filmmakers want to be. We want to highlight all the really great spaces we have. We have a lot of historic buildings with lots of character that could fit in a lot of different time periods," Bishop says.

Other workshops include "Hearing and Image" (music videos), "Filmmaking for Kids," "Podcasting Improv Comedy" and "Documentaries." Plans for the future include expanding the number of workshops and educational activities for children. Those plans will be guided by feedback from the audience. Students are also involved as volunteers, and some receive credit hours for working for the tech teams.

>> Rusty Sheridan leads programming team

Topics: Film

People gather at a reception during last year's festival.

Filmmakers gather for a panel at last year's film festival.