Starting a film festival (by accident)

Like the theme song of the worst Star Trek series ever put to the airwaves used to say, "It's been a long way getting from there to here."

Tonight's the night for the Third Annual One Minute Film & Video Festival. Believe it or not, the question I get asked the most (by a sizeable margin) is "a whole film festival in one minute?"

Not quite the point, but that question certainly describes the speed at which we went from being a bunch of friends sitting around in a basement musing about movies we'd like to make, to running one of the Toronto festival circuit's hottest tickets. With 64 entries spread across 12 countries this year alone, our accidental film festival never ceases to surprise us all.

It started in 2003, when Meredith Dault (now the festival director) arrived at a party. She and I were in film school together back in the '90s, and had been bemoaning the fact that in the years since our graduation, we (and many others from our class) had sunk into routine day jobs and were no longer producing films.

Meredith had been nursing an idea for a short movie about a neighbour of hers ("Hurricane" Carter!) and suddenly hit on the idea of challenging all of the lapsed filmmakers in the room to make a one-minute movie about their neighbour.

The idea was threefold:

1. That the length restriction (one minute only) would make the movies easy to realize.

2. That the theme restriction (all had to be about neighbours) would eliminate the "doomed to freedom" quandary of having to figure out what to make a movie about.

3. That having a bunch of people all doing the same thing would make it harder to wuss out. Yay for peer pressure!

We signed contracts (yes, contracts) and went about our work, only to discover a few weeks later that the word had gotten out: through one internet posting, we were suddenly receiving queries from all around the world (South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, etc., etc.). Suddenly, we weren't just making movies to show our friends any more; we had enough material to mount an actual public screening of the "Neighbours"-themed one-minute movies.

In our first year, we received approximately 65 submissions for the One Minute Film & Video Festival, and went on to show 48 of them at the Bloor Cinema. Thanks to a bit of friendly media coverage of this unique course of events, the evening was a huge success, guaranteeing a second year for the festival ("firsts" was the audience-suggested theme), which went on to be an even larger success than the year before.

So here we are. It's year three, "Intersections" is the theme this time around, but the game remains the same: one minute to tell a story in whatever manner you please (in fact, the filmmakers are encouraged to interpret the theme as broadly as they wish). We received nearly 200 submissions this year, making the crop of 64 finalists some of our best programming to date.

Which brings me to the second-most-popular question that people ask me: "Can I submit a film next year?"

The One Minute Film & Video Festival screens tonight at the Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor Street West) starting at 7:00. Tickets are $10 at the door. All are welcome!

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