Interview: Kirk Gostkowski (Artistic Director – Chain NYC Film Festival)

Picked from hundreds of submissions from all over the world, The Chain NYC Film Festival will be presenting over seventy films this August 6-18, 2013. From short documentaries to full length narratives, encompassing work from filmmakers in Europe and Australia as well as our own Long Island City, an innovative and diverse set of topics is being curated by VTG in this groundbreaking festival. Films feature Academy Award Winner Jeremy Irons (Sahaya… Going Beyond), Academy Award nominees Cathy Moriarity (Tammy) and Sally Kirkland (Posey) and TONY nominated actor and star of Smash, Will Chase stars with Marin Hinkle of Two and a Half Men in Butterflies of Bill Baker.  

Personal stories. Original ideas. New work. The mission of the Chain NYC Film Festival is to encourage the development of quality independent cinema in our burgeoning digital age.  The Chain NYC Film Festival serves as a showcase to the NYC film community.  We spoke with Variations Theatre Group and Chain NYC Film Festival Artistic Director Kirk Gostkowski about the festival’s place in the landscape of NYC film festivals, The Chain Theatre as a venue for theatrical productions and film screenings, the future of the festival and more.

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The Chain Theatre

As 2013 marks the 1st edition of the Chain NYC Film Festival.  Describe how it establishes its own place in the landscape of the NYC film festival circuit?
The biggest comment I’ve received so far about our festival is that the program blocks have been really well curated and the pieces in each block have been complimentary to one another.  Each block can contain a doc or a narrative, a feature or a short but the tone and/or theme tie them together.

As we all know by now we are at a critical time for film. People are mostly only offered big budget films or reboots except for Oscar season in the theater. It’s hard and shocking to look back at the 90’s and see the variety of films playing a proper theatrical run. Now the options to see these kinds of films is starting to lean toward streaming and we are losing the communal experience of what it means to be in a movie theater with others. As we become more and more reliant on emails, text messaging and social media which I personally feel is more isolating than productive; I think its important to keep these traditions alive. People are still going to the movies but they are only being offered a small selection of what they truly want. I say the more properly run film festivals the better!

August is fairly wide open right now for film. In theater the Fringe Festival takes over the city and often times tent pole films round out the summer box office.  Its a good time to find a place to cool off and enjoy the end of summer with some great art in an amazing neighborhood.

For filmmakers, the biggest thing I want to encourage with our festival is transparency. Every film we receive is viewed and given proper consideration. There will be no handshake back room deals. There were some films submitted from people I know and consider dear friends that weren’t included in the festival.

As Artistic Director for the festival, what are some of the primary characteristics you look for in a film that would make a good addition to the program?
I have a really wide variety of tastes when it comes to film. A well acted film will always catch my attention quicker than anything else. But it always comes down to the fundamentals that anyone would look for: effective storytelling. There are certain questions I ask. Some of them are: Does the piece work in its genre? Does it have a special moment that grabs you emotionally? Did I learn something that I never knew? In docs, how well did you make your case and did you just give a one sided opinion?

Im always interested in challenging material. We don’t shy away from it. I’ve already spoken to several filmmakers who said they have had a hard time on the festival circuit getting their films shown because of difficult subject matter. Sponsors at other festivals got them taken out the festival because of a controversial topic. I promise you that will never happen here. Quality is what is most important and we aren’t going to have outsiders contradict that.

How does The Chain Theatre play as the venue for the film festival?  As it is primarily used as a live performance space, were there any major alterations that had to happen for the film festival to run smoothly?
Actually that is something that really concerned me because I like to think we set a pretty high standard for quality at our venue. And I really wanted to put myself in the shoes if I was attending what I would expect and I am really happy with the results. I have to thank Tim Layer, Greg Russ,  R. Allen Babcock and Grant Neale for working with me to make this happen. I ultimately was worried over nothing because I have great collaborators. Our venue is designed to be flexible and   I think we’ve proven that once again here in a totally different way.  I’m going to miss when we set up the venue in another configuration and I can’t sneak in a watch my favorite movies on the big screen late at night.

Describe how producing a theatrical performance is similar to a film festival?  How is it different?
We produce two one act play festivals a year. The writers and directors are responsible for their own work; they rehearse it, cast it and then come to the venue and perform it. We help with the tech aspects a bit but mostly we are responsible for organizing and pairing the plays together and having things run smoothly.  So in a way those festivals are very similar to this.

However, this is an international event. With a play everyone is in the room together. They come and perform the show live and then go home. Everyone speaks the same language. They aren’t operating on different ends of the clock and if you want to talk you can find a time to sit down. Also we would never attempt to put up 76 one acts in this amount of time but we are showing 76 films. It’s been a massive undertaking.

As a first time film festival programmer, what did you find to be the most difficult aspect?  What was the most satisfying?
The most difficult aspect has been sending the rejection letters. Because I know what it feels like to be on the other end of that.  I don’t take it lightly. It really hurts me to think I might be crushing someone’s feelings and I know the amount of work it just takes to get up and put a film together. I don’t want to ever discourage people from creating new work when that’s exactly what we are trying to celebrate.

The most satisfying aspect is seeing a great undiscovered film and thinking that we are going to get a chance to promote it to the NYC community.  I love films, as far back as I have memory. It has been very exciting to get the chance to see films that I know are going to be huge just in their beginning stages.

What would you like the filmmakers who present their films at the Chain Film Festival to take away from their experience there?
I want filmmakers to walk away with the memories of great conversations with their audience. I want them to feel like they are proud to be part of the overall festival and they can see how it all fits together. I want them to feel special because making a movie is a nerve wracking courageous experience.

Where do you see the film festival going in the future?
There are so many ideas and opportunities that I want to focus on in the years to come. I want to focus on getting the local community more involved. I also want to have many more different but complimentary events to the screenings. During the meet and greet we had the theater company Das Group perform for the filmmakers and I think things like that are really the way to go.  Whether they are more theater performances or music events I have a lot of ideas of how to expand this festival in the years to come.   If this is the quality of the submissions in our first year, I can’t even imagine what next year will be like.

Chain Film Festival

About Chain Theatre
The Chain Theatre is a new multi-purpose theatrical complex in Long Island City, NY. This 4,000 square foot, two-story venue is repurposed U.S. Chain Co. The facility contains a black box performance space and dressing rooms as well as rehearsal spaces. This project brings to fruition Variations Theatre Group’s long held desire to return to their roots in Long Island City to focus their energy and talent in and for the community that they call home.

www.chainfilmfestival.com
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