INTERVIEW - M Rooney (Videodrunk Film Festival)
M Rooney Founder, Programmer Videodrunk Film Festival M Rooney is the founder of Videodrunk, zinester and a journalist. He has directed several shorts that have been screened at festivals in Canada and the US.
Interview conducted on 12/23/2016 (Skype Interview) throwdown815: I'm gonna assume that organizing Videodrunk isn't a full time job for you, so do you normally work in the film industry? M Rooney (Videodrunk): Yeah, I try to make short films from time to time. td815: And how did you get involved with the film festival world? MR: I actually ran a film festival back in 2011 and 2012, and I started it as a place to show my own stuff along with my friend's stuff. So it grew nice and steadily but kind of imploded on itself, suddenly, so Videodrunk was a rebirth of that format on a grander scale and more prepared. td815: What was the name of that film festival? MR: King Alt. td815: And with King Alt, what prompted you to start a film festival back then? MR: I really just wanted to show off a lot of the stuff I've been making on my own. And along with that, was reading the biography of Todd Phillips (the guy who made Hangover) and discovered that he had started a film festival when he was slightly older than I was at the time. And I sort of had the mentality of; if he was able to do this at X age, I would be able to do it even younger. And so I did. td815: I see, so it wasn't so much the idea of creating a film festival that prompted all this, but the idea that a film festival could serve as a stepping stone for other things in your career. MR: Yes, at the time it was. td815: Before we get into Videodrunk itself, what type of film genres are you normally into? MR: I'm usually into horror, indie and underground type stuff. td815: And as far are film festivals go, are you someone who attends other film festivals around the city on a regular basis? MR: I try to get out to a few a year. I used to go to TIFF a fair bit, this year I went to Afterdark and the Bloody Mary Film Festival - both of which I liked. But I would typically go to a lot more smaller things, like art house screenings and things like that. td815: Right, meaning even outside of the film festival circuit you'd try to catch some of these smaller screenings. MR: Yeah, small stuff, video art stuff, things like that. td815: And around the city, what are your usual go to theatres for the smaller art house and indie films? MR: I usually try to catch stuff at the Royal a fair bit, I like going there. I haven't gone so much this year, but usually when I go to the Varsity, I just try to catch something that I know will be on limited release there. td815: Okay, now going back to Videodrunk itself, when you started it, it was the second time you started a film festival so you had a bit of experience already. But logistically speaking, walk me through what goes into starting a film festival. MR: Just the will to do it, for me at the time. Knowing what avenues to go to for submissions, and finding venues that are going to work for what I'm aiming to present. td815: So was it more of a one man show? Or did you have a team of people helping you with this? MR: It's usually pretty one man, but I do expand to other people to help me with the selection of films. And this year, I had somebody help me with the tech side of things as well, and the promotion side too. td815: The festival was at The Social Capital this year, so is the idea that you have the festival at a different venue every year? MR: Not so much, but it's becoming more and more likely. I liked Social Capital, but it was felt to be a bit too difficult to do logistically. Just for people to find it, and working with the stuff going on downstairs. I did it in the White House for a few years, and again, there were just little issues with people finding it. So I might do it again at The Social Capital, but possibly move again for the 4th year. td815: And the concept of having a film festival in a bar, how did you come up with that idea? MR: Some of the things I enjoy when watching a movie is with friends and in odd places. So with drinking, it just makes the experience more fun and upbeat. And watching something that's sort of out there in a good atmosphere adds another level to it. And I just felt that this was something that needed to be done on a wider scale. td815: So was the idea adapted from another film festival that did the same thing? Or was this an original idea? MR: King Alt originally also ran out of a bar, so I really just took that concept and ran it on a larger scale. And there are probably other festivals that do it - I know there's one that actually does it in people's apartments on couches. td815: What's that film festival called? MR: It's a touring film festival of sorts, but I can't remember the name of it right now. td815: In terms of selecting the films themselves, what is the selection criteria like for Videodrunk? MR: So going through all the submissions, we give every film a rough watch to see if it's able to capture the jury, who are also intoxicated when they're watching the film. And we base everything from a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most amazing thing. And the films that ultimately score within a certain range are selected and distributed evenly across the three nights. td815: And how many people were on the panel? MR: The first year it was 4, the second year was 5 and this year was 5 as well. td815: The fact that there are so many film festivals in Toronto each year, what do you think makes Videodrunk unique? And more broadly, where do you think Videodrunk fits in the spectrum of film festivals in the city. MR: Well, aside from the alcohol, the use of non-traditional venues I feel gives it a different character. And the selection of films, because it really is all over the place in terms of what we show - there's horror, drama, comedy, there's weird little things that people have made. I don't think there's another film festival that's as mixed as we are in such a short period of time. Like, you have Images, TIFF, where they do it, but it's always on a grander scale and it's all divided up. Its not crammed together the way we do it. I feel it takes the audience on a more jerky ride. td815: As far as feature length movies, is that something Videodrunk is interested in showing? MR: We do show features, the second year we had 3 features. With features though, I find them difficult to program and so we've scaled it back to a shorter feature this year just for a single night. But we are open to them, depending on how they will fit in, more than anything else. td815: And this is a very broad question, but since you're a part of the film festival circle in Toronto, how would you describe the city's film festival circuit? Is it something that's pretty strong and booming? Or is it still, for the most part, a niche market? MR: It's part of the city, it's in the city's blood now. I think we have 90-100 festivals overall, and some of the biggest festivals for their genres, and easily one of the biggest festivals on the entire planet. I don't think there's anyone in the city who isn't aware of how big these festivals are to our city's identity. And so, it's something that stays as it is, but it goes up and expands as Toronto grows and changes, and as the market changes. Like this year, I think Bloody Mary was the first female only directed horror film festival in North America - I'm not 100% sure about that, but I know it's the first in Toronto. And I believe it was the first in Canada as well. But it changes with the times, it's a great thing. It's one of the more adaptable parts of our city's culture. td815: You're right in that there are a lot of festivals in the city, and when I was making this website, I was surprised that there wasn't really one unifying group that linked or listed all the film festivals in Toronto in a presentable and useful manner. Everything seemed pretty disjointed and you really had to Google around to find everything that was available. Am I missing something here? Or is there no group or site that does this? MR: There are people I communicate with, but it's more on my own. I wish there was something like that. I know there are lists of all the film festivals, but to have something to facilitate things would be great. Like this year, we have films that showed a month before they showed with us at Blood in the Snow, which kind of kills some of our luster for them. So having the ability to coordinate would be great, especially with other film festivals that are similar. td815: Agreed. You mentioned how the Toronto film festival circuit is expanding and changing. With Videodrunk, how do you see it changing over the next few years. Do you see it getting bigger? Or is the current size and scale where you want it to be moving forward? MR: I'd like to see it grow. Again, it kind of depends on my mood and how long it'll continue for and if someone wants to take it over after I'm done with it. But it's really something that I would like to see reach a larger scale audience and maybe become a preview for films that are aiming for things like Slamdance or Sundance, but has run a month and a half before it so you can get some attention. We're not a buyer's market like they are. But I'd really like to see it reach a 50 person a night audience with a solid line of short films, possibly features, and maybe go another day or two. But it really all depends on a day to day, year to year basis. td815: To end things off, what's your favourite screening experience at Videodrunk so far? MR: So for the first one, we had an accidental greatness moment. Our projector conked out on us so we had a setup with televisions where we positioned them in circles and had chairs around which was an experience that felt very hang out-y, and not cinematic. And I thought it was really nice to do that. This year, just how easy the flow was at the festival, I really liked that as well. We've always had projector issues like every year, and this year was the first year where it went rather smoothly.