Interview With Jon Carroll of Reel Pride

Image The Reel Pride Film Festival has been showcasing cutting edge and ground breaking GLBT films in Fresno for the past 18 years. With another successful festival under their belt, Reel Pride is committed to bringing more films to Fresno, more often. They will be offering film selections on a regular basis during the break between festivals. The premier film, Another Gay Movie, will play on Friday, November 24th at the Tower Theater.  I sat down with Jon Carroll, President of Reel Pride, at Irene’s in the Tower to talk about the  festival past and present.

Chris Jarvis: Is it true Reel Pride is considering doing a monthly film?

Jon Carroll: It was an idea we were pitching around trying to figure out what we wanted to do. Ideally we’d like to do that. It’s not actually going to be every month. We’d like it to be every month but we’re not quite at that point yet. Last year we did three screenings between the closing and opening of the festival. This year we’ll do four.

CJ: And when will they be shown?


JC: It roughly comes out to about every other month. So we’ll have one in November, another in February, then April and June, and then because we’re getting ready for the festival, the next screenings will be at the festival itself.


CJ: Is the demand not there, or are you too busy with the festival?


JC: There’s a variety of things that go along with that. First and foremost, I think the audience is probably there, the question becomes staffing. We’re an all volunteer organization, so for us to move to that kind of year round screening, we’d have to do some significant organizational change or hire someone to specifically take care of that role. Which is not necessarily a bad thing but it means an increase in the amount of money that has to be raised every year. If people were willing to help us move to that position, we’re certainly willing to explore it. A lot of it comes down to an issue of funding and sponsorship, just like any non-profit. The money only goes so far and you’ve got to figure out exactly how you want to do it.


CJ: Where does your funding come from?


JC: Most of the funding that we get comes from ticket sales, individual memberships and then about half of it is sponsors, which is why it’s so important to have that local and national sponsorship that we have.


CJ: So you do get good financial support from sponsors, it’s not just trade for advertising and things like that?


JC: We get both, actually. There are a variety of things they do because our needs are sort of all over the board. Obviously cash sponsorship is a great thing for us. It allows us to direct money to where it’s most needed. For instance in the past we’ve had hotel sponsors, which allows us to bring the filmmakers in.


CJ: Which hotels have helped you out?


JC: Let’s see, we’ve had the Quality Inn & Suites, the Sheraton Four Points, Radisson and the Ramada was very helpful this year. Prior to that we kind of cobbled it together from a bunch of different hotels.


CJ: How is that support a factor? Do the directors and actors coming in expect a certain thing?


JC: Well, as you can imagine, for a lot of these directors that are coming in from Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York or Chicago or wherever they’re coming from, sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge to convince them to come. So if you say, we’d like you to come, we’d like to show your film, we’d like you to come to Fresno. Then if we say you have to pay your own way out here, your hotel room, your expenses, the likelihood that we’re going to get them is almost non-existent.


CJ: If they’re coming from LA or San Francisco, do they drive here and drive back?


JC: They do that sometimes. Sometimes they’d rather drive up for the day and drive back because they have other commitments they can’t quite schedule around. For our part it was something that we made a conscious decision on several years ago to bring the filmmakers out. It adds a lot to the festival and gives people the opportunity to talk to the filmmakers and get a sense of what’s going on. Also, it’s laid the groundwork for the reputation of the film festival because a lot of times when people are invited to come, they come, they have a great time, it becomes one of their favorite film festivals to come to. Then they become ambassadors to the film world, to other directors, other filmmakers and through word of mouth it helps us in the future to bring people here. We’ve had people who’ve never been to Fresno and they’re saying “Yeah, all my friends were telling me about this. I want to come, I want to be there”. That’s really helped us over the past few years to build the reputation of the festival among the filmmaking community.


CJ: Fresno is the 6th oldest film festival?


JC: Yes. This year will be our 18th year.


CJ: Wow, that’s amazing. Because I think I remember the first one.


JC: Well, that’s a good thing.


CJ: How did it work this year with the Starline and the Tower theater both showing films?


JC: It actually worked very well. Last year we had a transitional year because we just opened at the Starline, and there were some programming glitches we needed to work out. This year, actually, we saw the attendance at the Starline climb. It’s shown that if it’s programmed correctly and there’s enough time between places that people are enjoying it. The Starline is a completely different experience. It’s a smaller, more intimate feel.


CJ: I saw Bob & Jack's 52 Year Adventure  at the Starline this year. It was well attended, and I was surprised by the quality of the sound the picture. I thought, this is a small place and it’s not going to work well, but it did. 


JC: That’s something that’s really important to us, and that we focus on. We’re not going to open an event or do something that doesn’t have the caliber or quality that we’re used to presenting. That’s one of the reasons we’re really careful about how we choose to expand. We don’t want to expand beyond our means. We don’t want to expand in a way that in any way, shape or form would jeopardize not only the quality of the experience but the reputation of the festival itself. We want it to be a good experience for everyone involved.


CJ: How’s your membership? Is it growing each year?


JC: It is growing. Last year we saw several people jumping up in level from just the regular VIP membership to the Directors Club. I think that as we do more screenings throughout the year, people are going to recognize the value in doing that, because as a Directors Club Member , which is $125 for the year, you get to come to all of the events in the film festival, and there are several individual parties and receptions you get as well, and free tickets to all the screenings throughout the year.


CJ: Is that a calendar year?


JC: That’s a calendar year. Usually it goes to August 1st, to July of the following year. They’re able to get the entire festival and all the screenings with that membership.


CJ: Tell me how a film festival works, because I don’t know. Do you get a list of films and you get to choose from them? How do you find the films, how do you get them?


JC: Very good question. The film festival works in this way. This year we had three programmers. Eddie Galvani is on our Board Of Directors, and is also the secretary for the festival. He’s been on the board for several years now. Stephen Mintz is our festival programmer, and then there’s Kathleen Mullen, who actually lives in Toronto and is a lesbian filmmaker as well as having worked as a program consultant for the Toronto Gay & Lesbian Film & Video Festival , and several other places. We met her actually last year when she had a film in the festival. So we talked with her a little bit about helping us with the women’s programming this year because we felt it was very important to have a woman’s perspective as well.


CJ: It seemed there were more women’s films this year.


JC: Filmmaking is very cyclical. Some years there are no lesbian films to be had, and then this year we were lucky because there were a lot of really good films. This year was also kind of the year for the tranny film. We get submissions throughout the year from filmmakers and then the programmers review the submissions that come in. We usually program around 45-50 films for the festival, but the programmers have probably seen 450-500 films  We also go to the film festival in Los Angeles and the film festival in San Francisco because a lot of the films that are available will play at either one of those two festivals. Sometimes they play both. You can rest assured that if it’s not playing in either Los Angeles or San Francisco that it’s either not finished yet, or not ready to play, or there’s some other reason.


CJ: Do those cities tend to be competing for films? Do they prefer a film playing at one or the other and not both?


JC: They actually don’t tend to compete. They program things very differently. This year was a bit of an oddity because they both had the same opening night film, but as far back as I can remember, their opening and closing night films have been completely different. Each festival has it’s own flavor. So between the submissions and going to Los Angeles and San Francisco, they’ll also talk to other filmmakers and say, what have your heard, what do you know? This year we were fortunate in that Kathleen was going to Sundance so she was looking at Sundance films for us as well. We find the films that we’d like to bring in, based on a variety of subject matters. You want lesbian films, gay films, transsexual films, films featuring people of color, youth oriented films, senior oriented films. It’s a large community here and we try to cover as many different genres as we can.


CJ: Are there length or ratings requirements?


JC: The only ratings requirements we have is with the youth programs. Everything else is pretty much fair game. We want to have a Friday or Saturday, women’s or men’s centerpiece film. Then we look for a broad range for opening night, probably some kind of drama for closing night. Then there’s a variety of things that our particular festival has it’s own flavor with.


CJ: It sounds like you have a lot to choose from. Is that pretty constant year after year?


JC: We have lots of submissions to choose from. Some years it’s really difficult to make the choices because some of the films we see may not be as good as we’d hoped, and then like last year, there were lots of films that we would have loved to have brought in but we just didn’t have room for.


CJ: Do you have to generate these submissions, or since you’re an established festival do they just automatically come to you?


JC: We usually get them, because folks know us, and there’s a festival circuit. Then the programmers make up a list of “we like this film” “we don’t like this film”, and then we contact the filmmakers and try to get the films booked into our festival. Sometimes, though, there’s only one print of a film available, so if it’s being shown in Seattle, or Toronto or Montreal the day before we want to show it, it’s not going to get here. So it becomes really interesting trying to get things scheduled, because you have to schedule it not only within your own festival, but you have to schedule it in the context of what everybody else is showing and when.


CJ: So even if you find a film you love and the filmmaker gives it a go, you’re still up against the scheduling conflicts.


JC: That happened with a couple of films this year. The film we showed on Thursday night we originally wanted to show on Saturday night but we couldn’t because it was due to be shown in Denver on Saturday. So as soon as the film finished on Thursday night we packed it up so that first thing Friday morning it could go out on a plane to Colorado that day.


CJ: Sounds scary from the filmmaker’s perspective, if there’s one print of the film and what if something happens to it. But I guess that’s the risk you take to get noticed.


JC: That’s the risk you take sometimes, but you know sometimes it’s all they can do to scrape together the money to have just one print. So we contact the filmmakers and there’s the negotiation of when can you show it, how much do they want as an exhibition fee.


CJ: Do you have an idea of that up front?


JC: We have an idea, budgeting wise, of what we want to pay and what we’re willing to pay on things, based on market rates and what other festivals are paying.


CJ: Is that negotiable with the filmmaker?


JC: Everything’s negotiable, but you never know. Some films end up costing you much less and some much more. And then you try to get the filmmakers to come to the festival as well.


CJ: Do you run up against resistance based on the fact that it’s Fresno?


JC: Sometimes, but not so much anymore. A lot of people have heard more about our festival from the community. You know, “Oh it’s a great place to go, you’ll have a good time”.

CJ: So the quality and reputation of the festival has taken over some preconceived notion of Fresno. 

JC: Right. There’s another monkey wrench in the works, though, in that you find a film that you love and you’ve talked to the filmmaker and then they get picked up by a distributor, so they basically sell the distributor all the rights to the film. So then they can clamp down on everything and render all the previous agreements null and void and you have to start all over. And sometimes it’s tricky convincing the distributor to let the film play here. What usually happens is that there’s a popular film that a distributor has picked up and has high hopes of it getting a wide release.


CJ: How does the availability of DVD effect festivals? We’re such a TV culture, what has that done to the film audience?


JC: Well, it’s not only about seeing the film on a big screen as opposed to TV, it’s also about the social gathering, of not watching it at home alone. You go out with your friends, you have a good time, it gives people the opportunity to congregate and enjoy it as a communal experience. We get a great mix of people. They come out, say hello to their friends, make new friends, it’s a great social experience.


CJ: Do have an idea of the mix of gay and straight people who come to the festival?


JC: We’ve been tracking it for about five years now. It’s roughly 20-25 percent straight. A lot of them are coming for a couple of reasons. They know they’ll probably not see this film anywhere else, at least in Fresno, and also they know that we don’t bring films that are not well made, that are not entertaining. It’s pretty rare that you’re going to see a film that you just absolutely hate.


CJ: The festival is extremely well covered in the media these days, it’s kind of become mainstream, where as I don’t remember it being like that in the beginning. Is that something you generated or did it happen on it’s own?


JC: No. When I started with the festival I was specifically in charge of the marketing and the public relations and we worked really hard to generate all that coverage. And it’s a worthy story. It’s a successful festival that’s been around for 18 years. We show films that you don’t see anywhere else in Fresno.


CJ: Are there other film festivals in Fresno?


JC: There’s Fresno Filmworks , which does a three day festival. We have a good relationship with them. If we can build a bigger independent film audience together, it works well for them and it works well for us. It’s the same audience and we’re not competing in any way.


CJ: Was there discussion about who would take what time of year?


JC: They did talk to us because they wanted to do it separate from ours, they didn’t want to try to compete and this year it worked out really well for them, they had an increase in attendance. So I think it’s going to continue to be a good opportunity, and certainly very much needed. They brought in some great films. They’re a great group of people and they’ve very supportive of Reel Pride. They go out of their way to let their audience know about us and we do the same.


CJ:  So “Another Gay Movie” will be shown on Friday, November 24th. I read about the film and the director chose to make a movie in a world he would like to see, where gay is perfectly normal and the situations arise from that premise just as they would from a heterosexual premise. And it’s wild comedy, with a lot of sight gags. Great cast too, with people like Graham Norton, Lypsinka and Scott Thompson.

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JC: Yeah, there are great cameos in it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a great film for the Friday after Thanksgiving when you want to get out of the house and have a good time.  

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CJ: And you don’t get to see films like this in Fresno.


JC: We like to think that we’re the ones to do that. We’re happy to bring them in.


Visit the Reel Pride website for details on memberships and  to purchase tickets for  Another Gay Movie, showing on Friday, November 24th, 8PM at the Tower Theater.

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