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Claus Mueller


Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to filmfestivals.com

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene.


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New York: Winter Film Awards 2019

The 8th annual Winter Film Awards International Film Festival was held this year from February 19th to the 23rd.  The fest offered an expanded and diversified program with an official selection of 92 short and feature length films from 34 countries.  685 productions had been submitted from 60 countries, exceeding the submissions for the preceding two festivals. The proportion of selected productions 60 minutes and longer increased. The festival uniquely appeals to emerging filmmakers who are underrepresented, prompting a focus on female and minority filmmakers, which made up 46% and 53% of the program respectively. This year many of the selected fims were produced by students and 34 by first-time directors. Half of the films were made by women and 53% were made by or about people of color. Thematic genres covered a mixture of animated films, horror films, music videos, web series and shorts.  There were 13 documentaries featured and 18 narratives. Screening blocks of up to 3 hours combined short and feature length films, incorporating each a Q&A section with film makers.  Free panels and workshops in the festival program covered the perennial problem issues of grant writing, crowdfunding, and distribution, and explored services for filming provided by New York State and City agencies. Customary parties, industry networking, ceremonial events, and award celebrations, remained essential parts of the festival.  As in 2018, the festival reached an audience of about 4500.

Founded in 2011, the Winter Film Awards festival is an all-volunteer tax-exempt non-profit organization owned and operated by members of minority groups and women. FilmFreeway ranks the festival among the top 100 best reviewed film festivals among the 2600 festivals it serves.  The festival is funded with a grant from the NYC & Company Foundation, support from New York State agencies, and lists 54 collaborating organizations and companies.  The 683 submission were narrowed down by 68 judges, with a jury of 35, including myself, making the final award decisions.  As far as I can, tell members of the final jury had professional media backgrounds.

Like other festivals, the Winter Film Awards Fest provides a growing number of awards. The awards included, best Acting and Directing, Animation, Features, Documentaries, Shorts, Best Student Film, Outstanding Woman Director, and more.

Continuing diversity of the festival’s selections is one of its strongest assets.  Equally important are the pragmatic information services given to interested and selected independent filmmakers and the excellent organization of the festival, a great credit to its director Steffanie Finn and her collaborators.  A detailed advisory for filmmakers enumerates the factors they need to review before submitting their productions to any film festival.  Those who succeed in being selected for the Winter Film Awards fest with productions of 20 minutes or more are offered enhanced web pages with links to their productions, reviews, materials that can be used for promotions, social media, and other pragmatic information.  Detail oriented pragmatic festival management applies technologies to enhance pogramming and festival events, a feat rarely encountered at similar medium or small size festivals. The Winter Film Awards fest has been receiving the annual New York Small Business Excellence Award for several years now for the marketing it has developed for the independent film making  community and other clients.

In New York City’s competitive festival market, where new film festivals are created constantly and frequently fade away, the Winter Film Awards festival has been able to grow without making compromises. It certainly faces financing and publicity challenges. However, its superb organization, respect for diverse independent filmmaking, and awards worth $100.00, distribution and other forms of support give the Winter Film Award fest a unique enviable appeal.

Among the productions which were most impressive were

NEW YORK SCHERZO by Shaan Couture, USA

This documentary is a superbly executed film portraying the background and work of three classical musicians. The film shares the struggle they must endure to train in New York and pursue a career in the most demanding classical music market, New York City. The French-American director provides us with a solid understanding of the social and familial contexts of these musicians from Seoul, Paris and Nashville.  NEW YORK SCHERZO shows the challenges of classical musicians, but also offers a platform for appreciation of their music.  NEW YORK SCHERZO received the Best Documentary Award..

Catherine Lurie was selected as the Outstanding Woman Director for her production and direction of the UK documentary BACK TO BERLIN.  What is most impressive about her production is the concept driving the documentary. Eleven Israeli bikers, including a holocaust survivor, reenact the Maccabiah motorbike rallies of the thirties by riding from Tel Aviv to Berlin to open the 2015 European Maccabiah Games in the 1936 Nazi Olympic Stadium.  They cross Greece, Romania, Hungary, Poland and other countries on their way to Germany, and stop at the sites of atrocities and destruction, visiting the ruins of former synagogues torched by the Germans and their collaborators.  The journey has a profound impact on the bikers because they all have personal connections to the places where their families and friends perished. Despite the countries they cross having experienced a modern day rise of anti-Semitism, the documentary  touches on that impotant problem only briefly, making for an unevenness of the production. Given the large number of Jewish film festivals, currently more than 60 in the United States and an unfading concern with the past, BACK TO BERLIN will have get  distribution here.

 One short production which also stood out is a documentary from Burkina Faso, produced and directed by Iara Lee, a Brazilian film maker of Korean descent who is part of the Culture of Resistance Network. BURKINABE BOUNTY: AGROECOLOGY IN BURKINA FASO is an extraordinary skillful visual presentation of how farmers and activists of this landlocked country recuperate their soil in the local slow food movement and defend themselves against the global corporate interests, like Monsanto, pushing the use of destructive chemicals. The documentary incorporates the students and musicians fighting to restore control over seeds and the  agricultural future.  The spirit of the murdered former president Thomas Sankara has returned in his legacy of the superb film making industry he established and the restauration of the people’s power after they kicked out the autocrats which followed Sankara. Today Burkinabe filmmaking has a quality that few other sub-Saharan countries can match.

 Claus Mueller   filmexchange@gmail.com

 

 

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