Alec Jhangiani has one of the more enviable jobs in the North Texas arts scene. As Artistic Director of the Lone Star Film Festival – which runs through Sunday – he’s charged with watching the films that get submitted and picking the best ones to show. He discusses the process of programming the festival and its role in promoting film culture in his home town as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:
Art&Seek: How many films do you think you watched in deciding on programming for the festival?
Alec Jhangiani: Let’s see. I started watching two or three features a day back in mid-August. And we locked everything by about mid-October. So what would that be … definitely between 100-200 films that I watched from start to finish, and then another big bunch that I laid eyes on. We had a big screening committee that would vet the film before it got to us.
A&S: This will be the third Lone Star International Film Festival. What do you think you’ve learned from the first two?
A.J.: No. 1 is how far out the films need to be in place and just how much marketing needs to be done to get people to see these films. You can program really great films, but if they don’t have certain elements in them – like big name actors, or stuff like that – people aren’t necessarily going to go see them unless you can communicate to everybody why these films are playing. That process can take a while.
A&S: How would you describe your approach to programming the festival?
A.J.: For a smaller, newer festival, some of that is taken care of. We’re definitely limited by the films we have access to. We don’t have the access to every premiere that’s going to be out there like a Sundance does. … For the narrative features, we try and limit it to first and second time directors. In the past couple of years we’ve been able to do that. The thread that really presented itself, which I was very pleased about, for the narrative features is that they all focused in some way on relationships – on modern day relationships between men and women. They all had very different perspectives on that. … One thing we’re looking for across the board are films that are taking a genre or a direction or a certain issue and probing deeper into it, rather than a broad approach. We’re not necessarily looking for films with huge scopes. I think that’s one of the things that differentiates Hollywood from independent film.
A&S: A lot of festivals generate some buzz by offering a sneak peek at buzzy films that will eventually come to town. Lone Star seems to be focused on making sure that we see some smaller features that may not make it to a national release.
A.J.: To us, it’s kind of the natural role of a festival. I certainly understand why festivals [show sneak peeks of big films], but a lot of the times, it’s really sort of playing off the novelty of, “Oh, I got to see that film before everyone else did.” But in the end, it may not necessarily do much for the film. When you go back to look at the history of Sundance, that premise of showing films that people might not get to see is what the whole festival was based on. In developing [Lone Star] and coming up with a reason for doing a festival, that came up. There’s always going to be room there as other festivals grow and focus on higher-level stuff and stuff that’s going to get more attention anyway, like a Sundance – those festivals still remain very important, but they are showcasing a different part of the industry. There’s always going to be room for festivals like ours that are a little smaller that showcase films that people aren’t going to get to see otherwise.
A&S: Last year you showed a selection of Russian films. This year you are showing a trio of German films. Do you think you will continue to pick a country to spotlight like that going forward?
A.J.: Yes, that’s definitely the plan for now. … Last year we had some relationships through a board member with Russian film organizations, and at that point it kind of crystallized, and we thought we should have an international focus every year. Germany was one that I had been hearing about a lot and seemed like a natural choice. We discussed it with a couple of organizations around town that just kind of confirmed that inclination. So yeah, we hope to continue that. I think it’s something important that the festival can do.
A&S: Do you have a film that you are particularly excited about that you want to make sure people know about?
A.J.: Modern Love is Automatic is a really great performance. Easier with Practice is a very interesting, but in a way unrealistic, take on the modern day relationship, where Modern Love is Automatic will resonate with people a little more and does a really good job of investigating the apathy that a lot of people have toward relationships today. That’s one that people may not be inclined to see just by looking at stuff and reading the papers.
A&S: What’s the Lone Star Film Society’s role, and by extension, the festival’s role, in nurturing film culture in Fort Worth?
A.J.: I think if the film society continues to be the clearing house if possible to get people’s attention and to get people excited and then redirect their attention to wherever important films are playing in Fort Worth, what we’ve seen is that people respond. Once they get there and see the films, whether or not they were film people before, it really does open their eyes to this whole universe of films and film culture that is out there. At this point, we’ve proven a hypothesis in a way: Fort Worth audiences are sophisticated enough. They are curious and interested in new things and new art. The content hasn’t been here, but also all the work into getting them to show up hasn’t been here either, and that’s really where I think the film society can help out a lot.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.