Louisville’s International Festival of Film returns for its eighth year October 13-15 with a promise of bringing a little class to downtown Louisville. A celebration of film, the festival is held yearly in downtown Louisville and features a variety of genres ranging from short films to documentaries to horror and beyond. For filmmakers, the festival is an opportunity to network with industry professionals; prizes awarded build an impressive CV, and various distribution companies will be present to watch along with the audience.
A part of the Louisville Film Arts Institute, LIFF operates as a 501(c)(3), a nonprofit organization here with the stated mission of supporting the arts in Jefferson County. As such, the long goal for LIFF is not only in creating a sustainable and repeatable draw to the community annually but also in helping to breed the creative professionals that would make Louisville, and by extension Kentucky, a viable area for filmmakers. With a comparably low overhead, Louisville lacks sufficient infrastructure to draw the film industry and their big budget economic infusion along with it, but LIFF and the LFAI are here to help change that.
You may not immediately recognize the name Conrad Bachmann, but you’ve quite possibly seen his face. A character actor since the 1960s, Bachmann has appeared in more than 300 commercials, along with a lengthy resume in film and television that includes “Tremors,” “Baywatch,” “The Astronaut’s Wife” and “West Wing.” A Louisville native, Bachmann has worked to maintain ties to the city, serving on the Kentucky Film Commission. Working in Hollywood, Bachmann developed relationships with contemporaries like Foster Brooks and Ned Beatty, both of whom organized homegrown film festivals.
“I’ve been very fortunate to make a living at something that I’ve loved. Louisville has been really good to me and I wanted to give back,” says Bachmann, adding of his ambition that, “My goal is to make Louisville the Cannes on the Ohio.”
He continues, “I want to make Louisville’s name anywhere in the world, that people won’t just think of us as the Kentucky Derby. That’s why it’s called the Louisville International Festival. We have around 40 countries every year that contribute, and a lot of those people come here.”
LIFF has returned annually in October, which is part of the appeal to visiting filmmakers and festival-goers alike as it offers an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Kentucky in the fall. Bachmann admits it’s been difficult to find a weekend that isn’t overbooked. Having toured around the country to several film fests himself, he found that the majority of film festivals were held in hotels, the ideal setting, he believes, in offering lodging, food and accommodations all under one roof. Fortunately, finding a home in Louisville was not an especially difficult task for Bachmann, who found an ally in The Galt House.
With previous viewings hosted at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and the surrounding area, The Galt House has proven opportune for his motives. Bachmann admits, “The reason for that is so that we can get our international friends in to the downtown area. They really enjoy it. We get a lot of mail from people who have been to the festival and want to return. It’s slowly building.”
LIFF offers an opportunity for aspiring filmmakers to find an audience, not only in terms of literal eyes on their work but with the very real possibility of getting picked up by distribution. Every year, representatives from a variety of film distributors are on hand to review submissions. Likewise, award-winners at the festival can use those accolades to improve their visibility, providing opportunities beyond just LIFF, in turn bringing the festival into the greater film community.
For many in the region though, it’s a start. According to Bachmann, “Unless you’re at Sundance or Tribeca, you don’t really get that [national/international distribution] out of your local festivals. There are hundreds of festivals all over the world. Here’s the goal for the filmmakers: They try to get into as many festivals as possible where they might win. The better that they do, the more likely they are to be picked up. The filmmakers do try to get as many opportunities to gather awards so that they can get distro. They build their base by these wins.”
He adds, “There are a lot of films that are world premieres. And then we have the Kentucky premieres. We’ve had several films for the festival – we have a distribution called Barnholtz, which is part of Lionsgate, and they pick five or six films a year. We have had other filmmakers that have gotten distribution on their own.”
The people behind the scenes at LIFF put in every opportunity to make their filmmakers feel welcomed, while also serving to pick the best available submissions for the attendees. It’s here where Bachmann employs his experience by soliciting a panel of celebrity judges to view each selection while personally viewing every submitted film himself.
“I know that we try to give everyone an opportunity,” says Bachmann. “We have hundreds of filmmakers that submit to the festival. We have panels of directors, actors and professionals that screen films. We narrow it down in three or four stages. Our award for the filmmakers is a Louisville Slugger bat. You should see the faces when they get the bat for the award. It also helps … It’s putting Louisville out into the market. It’s sending Louisville out into the world.”
For Robert Trinkle, participation in LIFF is an honor. A producer working for PriceWeber, Trinkle is part of the film “Reinforcements,” a short documentary produced by Early Times Kentucky Whisky in Partnership with K9s for Warriors, an organization dedicated to providing service canines for veterans recovering from PTSD. LIFF has taken their relationship a step further by not only inviting the subjects of the documentary to speak at the event but also in donating some ticket proceeds back to the K9s for Warriors organization.
According to Trinkle, telling their story is the most important aspect of their work. He explains, “Fortunately for this film, no decisions were driven by ticket sales. Starting in May, ‘Reinforcements’ will be available on the Early Times website for the public to view for free. The goal of the Early Times brand team was always about increasing awareness for this important cause.”
Colin Garcia experienced the opposite end of the spectrum. Contributing a film in previous years, Garcia didn’t have any major corporate backing and went to the film festival with hopes of getting eyes on his film. For Garcia though, it’s about the art: “Every short film I’ve directed or been a part of is – and has to be – a labor of love. Most of the time you end up funding the thing in large part by yourself and asking for favors.”
His film, a short piece called “Ulla” was a comparatively tough sale. A darker narrative entirely in Danish, the movie was met with mixed reactions. Still, Garcia found the best in the situation. He admits, “It’s always difficult to tell what perfect strangers truly think of your work, but these particular folks at the screening seemed to be roughly 60 to 80 percent engaged. The story is dark with little to no resolution proper, plus, all the dialogue is in Danish so I seem to recall a uniformly puzzled reception. Push comes to shove, I’ll take puzzled interest over sheer boredom any day.”
He adds positively, “Any opportunity to show your work to even a dozen people is a great opportunity indeed.” VT
You can find tickets, scheduling info and details online at louisvillefilmfestival.org.
Story by Syd Bishop • Photos Courtesy of LIFF
The Father and the Bear: Closing out the festival at the Nunn Theater in The Galt House on Saturday night, “The Father and The Bear” is a feature-length drama about holding onto your love – in this case, an actor with dementia holding out for one more role. The film promises to be something to remember.
After Coal: A provocative film in coal country, this documentary takes a closer look at the shift in energy portfolio from coal to alternative fuel sources and the impact on the workers in the industry. Focusing on both Eastern Kentucky and Southern Wales, the film calls attention to the struggles of the people caught in the crossroads of change.
The Ride: This doc follows Phil Keoghan of “The Amazing Race” on a 3,500-mile 40-day trip from Los Angeles to New York. Keoghan travels with friends and family, and the film documents his relationships both new and old.