In 2013, organizers of the Grand Rapids Film Festival regrouped and restructured. In 2014, they’re hoping to grow it.
Jen Shaneberger, the event’s executive director, believes collaboration is the next step. Now, the GRFF not only showcases national and Michigan-made films and hosts a hands-on film-production workshop, but also brings together several educational programs and filmmakers for specialized, focused events.
“We’ve got the film festival roundtable with filmmakers, and the professors’ roundtable,” she said. “There’s five educational film programs (in Grand Rapids), all working towards the same goal, but not necessarily working together. This film festival is the only thing that exists to bring them together in conversation and collaboration.”
Integrating the film programs of Calvin College, Grand Valley State University, Kendall College of Art and Design, Cornerstone University and Compass College of Cinematic Arts is the primary reason why the GRFF moved up from last year’s mid-May dates to April, when schools are still in session. The KCAD building at 17 Pearl St. NW will serve as the festival’s de-facto hub, where many film screenings and workshops will take place. Other events will take place at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the WMCAT building and a handful of nightclubs in the core downtown area.
Shaneberger also hopes external competition between film festivals will be part and parcel with the GRFF’s emphasis on collaboration. She said it’s the key to encouraging and increasing attendance at such events, which can be a struggle.
“As long as there’s a lot of little tiny West Michigan film festivals, the pie is divided among us, and the slices are tiny,” she said. “I want to give people a chance to talk about their programs, how they’re overlapping, how they’re unique. Every year there’s a new film festival, and I’m just like, ‘Wow, why are we all working in separate ways towards this same goal?’
“Everybody is struggling with, to use a technical term, getting butts in seats,” she added with a laugh. “There are so many film festivals in Grand Rapids, and nobody is coming to them. I just feel like, if can make one big festival, or get together to make a festival season, or a thoughtful way to string festivals together, we’ll have greater success.”
The festival will feature 46 short, documentary and feature films, three of them made in the greater Grand Rapids area. That’s a decrease from 63 in 2013, which Shaneberger attests to a more rigorous judging rubric and a shortened submission window due to the event’s earlier start this year.
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