Heading into March 2021, SLO International Film Festival Director (SLOIFF) Skye McLennan didn't know what to expect. It was her first year at the helm of the big event and California was still subject to COVID-19 restrictions.
The local film festival did what every other event had done for the previous year: It went virtual—and McLennan said people loved it.
"It really allowed for the rest of the county, outside of SLO, to enjoy the festival," she said.
So in 2022, the plan is to put together a hybrid of both virtual and in-person events.
For instance, Associate Director Grace Tucker and McLennan worked together to conduct and edit 67 Q&As with filmmakers over Zoom for the 2021 festival. They prerecorded them, edited the sessions down, and uploaded them so that everyone could feel as close to being in the theater as possible.
"It was a much bigger feat than we were expecting," McLennan said.
But audiences enjoyed it.
- Photos Courtesy Of SLOIFF
- NETWORK In 2022, the SLO International Film Festival (SLOIFF) plans to introduce more networking opportunities for Central Coast filmmakers, such as Grace Tucker and Becca Tiemeir, who socialized at a film fest event in 2019.
"A lot of everything that came out of COVID was very serendipitous in the way that we're going to move forward," Tucker said. "In a normal year, a lot of the filmmakers aren't able to come to town, so it would be cool to try to sneak in a couple of those virtually."
For 17 "normal" years, Wendy Eidson spearheaded the festival. McLennan, who's from Templeton, came on to SLOIFF a couple of years ago as the associate festival director under Eidson, to learn and eventually take over for Eidson.
"It kind of fell into her lap in some ways," McLennan said.
McLennan studied film at San Francisco State and worked for various film festivals such as SunDance, Tribeca, and the Sydney Film Festival in Australia. She was back in SLO County working in the wine industry between festivals when she and Eidson met. Eidson asked McLennan if she wanted to join the SLOIFF staff, and McLennan, who attended her first SLOIFF when she was 18 years old, said yes.
"I love the idea of sort of escaping into another world, another universe for a few hours, and learning about somebody else or somebody else's culture," she said. "Film is just an incredible medium for telling stories."
Film festivals, McLennan said, are about so much more than just watching films. They bring in directors and have Q&As, provide networking opportunities, and more.
"It's a whole atmosphere," she said. "Sometimes the directors are seeing their film with an audience for the first time."
Together, Eidson and McLennan worked to ensure that eventually Eidson could step back. Eidson, who's Canadian, built a house in Nova Scotia and moved back up there with the plan to work remotely. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed Eidson to stay in Canada.
"She sort of fell in love, and all the pieces kind of fit for her," McLennan said, adding that Eidson is looking forward to working on some solo projects. "She's an incredibly creative person and hasn't really had the time to really explore that, so she's really excited for that."
- Photos Courtesy Of SLOIFF
- WINNERS Filmmakers Leslie Iwerks, Lauren Schwartzman, and Hammad Rizvi (left to right) took home awards during the 2019 SLO International Film Festival.
In 2021, SLOIFF introduced a new music video competition, McLennan said. About 80 music videos were entered into the competition, which was judged by New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey, American General Media Program Directer Suzanne Schonig, and SLOIFF board member David Hardberger.
"We always receive music video submission, and they don't always play right with a feature or a short narrative feature or documentaries, but they're just an incredible medium. They're just as much work as the other films, and there's a lot of artistry in them," McLennan said. "The connection between music and film, it's just a really nice marriage."
Tucker said music videos are fun because a lot of people may not be into watching something experimental, but are more open to it in a music video. In 2022, the plan is to show some of the music videos during a live concert.
SLOIFF is scheduled for March 8 through 13, 2022, and the festival recently opened its film submissions. Its George Sidney Independent Film Competition categories include best full-length narrative film (45 minutes or longer), full-length documentary (45 minutes or longer), narrative short film (under 45 minutes), documentary short film (under 45), student film, music film, and animation. The festival also has The Filmmakers of Tomorrow competition for elementary, middle, and high school students as well as the Central Coast Filmmakers Showcase.
McLennan said the 2022 festival will put a higher focus on Central Coast filmmakers and give them more opportunities to network with filmmakers from around the world.
"Ultimately, we want the festival to really be a place where people can network, people can meet each other, and from that make more films, and maybe even consider shooting in the area," McLennan said. Δ
Correction: In the original version of this story, SLOIFF Associate Director Grace Tucker was given her old title. She became the festival's associate director on July 1, 2021.
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