Behind the Scenes at VIWIFF 2014: Choosing the Festival Films

This year’s festival had over 500 submissions this year from around the world, yet the festival is only showing a total of 33 films. How did we come to choose these films? What made them stand out? Here’s a behind the scenes look at what a film goes through to get into the festival.

Submitting Films

For a film to be qualified for the festival, women must hold at least three key creative positions including: director, producer, cinematographer, lead actor, composer, editor, etc. It was fine of course for one woman to hold all three roles, but if the film even had two women involved in key creative positions, no matter how good it sounded, it did not qualify.

Evangeline by Karen Lam

Evangeline by Karen Lam

In addition to submitted films, several dozen films were invited. Invited films have to follow the same qualification guidelines, but are personally invited by our Programming Assistant to submit to the festival (usually because they’ve done well at other festivals, were made by a well-known director, or just sound like really interesting films made by women). Invited films were judged by the same criteria as films which were submitted regularly, however.

We started receiving films for our March 2014 festival as early as July 2013, and the submission deadline was in October 2013.

Judging Films

Films went through several rounds of evaluation. When a film is regularly submitted, it is assigned to three random members of our evaluation committee.

Am I Not Your Girl? by Xavery Robin

Am I Not Your Girl? by Xavery Robin

Assigning a film to a judge is not based on genre, length, or whether it was a documentary or not–films were assigned by time only; we wanted to make sure that judges were assigned an equal amount of minutes of film to watch. None of the judges chose the films they got to watch, they were assigned to them by our Submissions Coordinator.

Our Evaluation Team was composed of 16 judges (of all genders, ages and backgrounds) who volunteered their time with us, and judged films based on a criteria developed by WIFTV. Their job was to evaluate films to decide if they would make it to the second round. Each incoming submission was assigned to three random judges to ensure a fair evaluation. Each judge rated a film out of five stars, and provided comments about why they did or did not like the film.

 Round Two

Two Penny Roadkill by Lisa Rose Snow

Two Penny Roadkill by Lisa Rose Snow

Our Submissions Coordinator (also a volunteer) regularly combed through the comments and ratings of the Evaluation Team to determine which films were rising up from the first round and should be passed on to the Festival Committee. Festival Committee judges had to watch all the films that came up from the Evaluation Team in addition to watching the invited films, which added up to a lot of viewing time–Festival Committee members had to watch over double the amount of minutes that the Evaluation Team did!

The Festival Committee was comprised of 8 women of all backgrounds including the Festival Committee Chair and WIFTV’s Executive Director. The Festival Committee members all watched films in addition to meeting every couple weeks to determine the actual festival programming. All of the Festival Committee members were volunteering their time, and had the tough task of discussing and actually picking the films to be shown. Some films were obvious choices, but others were subject of heated debate.

But Will It Work for The Festival?

Choosing the films that made the cut was not as simple as you might think. Being a solid film wasn’t the only thing that was considered. The Festival Committee threw around a variety of ideas when choosing the films, in addition to carefully considering the thoughts and criticisms of the Evaluation Committee: should there be a theme for the festival? Should screening blocks have themes? Do we really want this many documentaries? How many Canadian films should we show? Would we have an interested-enough audience if we were to show x number of genre films? Would we have an interested-enough audience if a film has already shown at three other festivals in North America?

5 Ways 2 Die by Daina Papadaki

5 Ways 2 Die by Daina Papadaki

Other factors came into play when choosing the program. Balancing the selection of films was important. For example, the Committee was concerned that they didn’t have enough films that were particularly uplifting, and pondered whether that would be a problem for viewers and the branding of the festival. Another factor was on and off-screen diversity. Since women involved in making films both in front of and behind the camera are of all backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and geographic locations, they wanted to make sure that this diversity was reflected in the programming.

The Hard Facts

Besides balancing, there were the hard facts and practical considerations. Some films might not accept the relatively modest screening fee the festival could offer, some films were already committed to other festivals before WIFTV could invite them, and the festival itself is relatively short, being only four days long! Compare this to other film festivals in this city: the Vancouver International Film Festival is three weeks long, and the Vancouver Queer Film Festival is ten days long. Our festival is also only one of three such festivals in Canada focusing on the work of women.

A Program to be Proud Of

The Weather Girl by Carleen Kyle

The Weather Girl by Carleen Kyle

In the end, our Festival Committee has come up with the program you see advertised on WIFTV’s website, and after a few minor roadblocks and challenges, are feeling pretty triumphant about the 2014 program. The variety of films chosen proves once again that women are excellent filmmakers, and show stories very much worth being told.


Interesting facts about #VIWIFF 2014

  • The festival line-up has a movie from every continent this year except Australia and Antarctica.
  • For the first time ever, the festival is opening with a thriller/horror movie–Karen Lam’s Evangeline.
  • Our block of Venezuelan films showing the afternoon of Saturday, March 8th, are not only excellent films, but the result of a partnership with the Venezuelan consulate to bring the best of Venezuelan female filmmakers to Vancouver!
  • The beautiful documentary Chi by Anne Wheeler focuses on Babz Chula, a larger-than-life Vancouver performer who was also a lifetime member of Women In Film & Television Vancouver.
  • Germany and Venezuela tie for having the third most films showing at the festival after Canada and the States. From Germany we’re showing Finsterworld, Zu Dir?, and  Am I Not Your Girl?
  • Evangeline was submitted at the very last  minute before the submission deadline–at it was a good thing as it is our opening night film!
  • Our Evaluation Team watched an average of 945 minutes of film each; Festival Committee members had to watch an average of 2350 minutes of film each.
  • Our judges were asked to keep their participation as judges confidential in order to protect their privacy as judges so people couldn’t pester them about favoring this or that film, and to protect the viewing rights of the films watched.
  • You name it, we had it: we had submissions of all genres and lengths–films as short as 90 seconds, and as long as 2 hours. We had rom-coms, horror movies, animated films, student films, even erotic films!

2 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes at VIWIFF 2014: Choosing the Festival Films

  1. Pingback: The odd realm of Frauke Finsterwalder’s Finsterworld | Women in Film and Television Vancouver Blog

  2. Pingback: The odd realm of Frauke Finsterwalder’s Finsterworld – German-Canadian program on OMNI TV

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