REEL Ladies Jill Burkhart (founder of the Nantucket Film Festival) and Mystelle Brabbee (Artistic Director of the Nantucket Film Festival) give some insights on what it takes to run a great festival, the do’s and dont’s for filmmakers and being a women in film!
When did you ladies know that you wanted to be in the film industry?
JB: WHEN I SAW LA DOLCE VITA FOR THE FIRST TIME! I WAS BABYSITTING AND STUMBLED UPON THE FILM AT 2am IN THE MORNING, I WAS MESMERIZED.
MB: Early on— maybe age 14 although I had never heard of a film festival at that point.
Jill, when in your career did the idea of starting your own film festival come to you?
JB: ACTUALLY, THE IDEA CAME FROM MY BROTHER, I WAS A STAY AT HOME MOM AT THE TIME, THE IDEA OF A FILM FESTIVAL ON NANTUCKET JUST MADE SENSE, WE HAD GROWN UP ON NANTUCKET AND WORKED IN THE FILM INDUSTRY IN NYC, SO IT WAS A MATTER OF COMBINING THE TWO. AND NANTUCKET IS SUCH A PERFECT SPOT TO DO A FILM FESTIVAL!
The very first year, what was that experience like for you? Were you nervous at all or confident in what you were doing?
JB: THAT FIRST YEAR WAS A WILD RIDE, WE HAD NEVER DONE ANYTHING LIKE IT , WE FLEW BY THE SEAT OF OUR PANTS AND WE WERE INCREDIBLY NERVOUS- WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT WOULD HAPPEN, BUT IT WAS A BLAST!
With an acting background, why did you focus on the script and storytelling for your festival?
JB: WE DECIDED TO CENTER THE FESTIVAL ON SCREENWRITING BECAUSE WE BOTH FELT THAT SCREENWRITERS WERE THE UNDERDOGS OF THE FILM INDUSTRY, YET WRITING A GOOD SCRIPT IS SO IMPORTANT- WE WANTED TO HIGHLIGHT SCREENWRITERS AND SCREENWRITING AND GIVE THEM MORE OF A PLATFORM.
Mystelle, you are now in charge of programming, can you explain to the ladies what that process is like?
MB: I’ve been in charge of the film program since 1997 and the entire program since 2002- it’s colorful job with a lot of room to grow. We start out building the program slowing in January and it kicks into a frenzy by April when we need to have every detail figured out so it can be printed in the catalog.
Naturally, there is much to consider- actors for the readings, honorees for the big tributes, storytellers, hosts and of course the films.
Were there ever any moments that you didnt pick a film and wished you had?
MB: Of course, every year.
What is the biggest challenge when it comes to programming?
These days, it’s finding really strong narrative features that will be out and available for festivals during the summer months (there is a flood of incredibly strong docs out there). Also, we’re always desperate for great shorts – under 10 minutes! Everyone wants to make a long-short but they are difficult to fit into a shorts program.
You’ve had quite a few big names attached to your festival! When did you know that your festival was successful?
JB: WE KNEW FROM THE MOMENT THE FESTIVAL STARTED WE WERE ON TO SOMETHING. MORNING COFFEE WITH…WAS PACKED THE FIRST DAY, THERE WERE LINES FOR THE FILMS AND WE HAD WINONA RYDER, BEN STILLER, ROBERT SEAN LEOANRD, BILLY BALDWIN, ANNE HECHE AND MARY STUART MASTERSON IN SCREENPLAY READINGS.
There are festivals that pop up everywhere nowadays, what advice can you give to the ladies that are thinking of starting one themselves?
JB: BE PREPARED FOR A LOT OF WORK! THERE’S SO MUCH THAT GOES INTO PLANNING FILM FESTIVALS.
You have a program for High School Students as well, can you tell us more about it?
We wanted to give the kids living on Nantucket year-round the opportunity to experience of diving into their own storytelling/filmmaking. Several student have gone on to major in film at College.
Looking at the pictures and seeing that you guys have “beach screenings” and “morning coffee with…”, it seems to be a fun and cozy atmosphere that you provide! Has that always been part of the festival or are these newer concepts?
Absolutely- it’s why we do it. We relish in the spirit of the festival and live for filmmakers and attendees telling us that our festival stands out for that reason.
Mystelle, you have produced your own film that has hit the festival markets. Can you tell us about your film?
MB: It’s a documentary about a girl in India who is from a community where the eldest daughter of every family is a prostitute. I followed over nine years as she bucks up against the tradition.
Do you think that has helped you when it comes to picking films?
MB: Sure. On the contrary, watching so many films each year can make one timid when making their own. Example, I will never want to do a scene with a guy and a girl in a bar- seen too many of them.
What are some of the do’s and dont’s that you can share with filmmakers when it comes to festivals?
MB: Don’t bother to send fancy materials/presents when submitting a film- the folks actually screening it will never see it.
How do you juggle your personal life and family and your career?
Like any working mom, it’s a challenge but we get through it and have a very full life.
Do you notice a difference in screenwriters who are women vs. men? Or is there no difference at all?
JB: THE BIGGEST THING IS THERE AREN’T ENOUGH OF THEM, IT’S STILL A MAN’S WORLD!!
What would you like to see from women in film?
More of them.
Tell us what’s on the agenda for this year’s festival?
Comedy. And brining back filmmakers we’ve nurtured over the years.
When do you open the doors again for submissions and what is the criteria?
January 09. Same as always- good storytelling.
What’s next for you ladies?
It’s a surprise.