Empty out the barn and put on a show! The Beginning of FIRST TIME FEST

by Mandy Ward

I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs. Looking for fresh content after producing in NYC for nearly 10 years and working for a production company in Tribeca was not as easy as it seemed. There was a gaping hole that I discovered in my search: a reluctance to finance, produce, and distribute anything by first time directors. I would read dozens of scripts a week and see nothing but old stories reworked and retold (or genre-based just for genre’s sake). But occasionally, I would stumble onto an amazing, ORIGINAL, imaginative and well written story by a first time writer or director and pitch it around. And this would be the response: “This is amazing. Great writing, seems like a big talent… BUT NO THANKS.” This would happen not once – but literally hundreds of times! It was not only frustrating, but it left me thinking: “What is to become of the film industry if we do not support new thinkers and artists?” And the answer: We are left with the same people, the same styles and the same stories. And they will attract ever-diminishing audiences.

Johanna Bennett – an actor and friend for many years – was noticing the same thing at the same time. She observed that “Industry” elites seemed to only want to work with buddies from prior shoots and companies they’d been involved with. The system, by its very nature, was closed to newcomers, to new ideas, to fresh ways of seeing our art form and the world. There was little chance to discover the unrecognized gem.

[caption id="attachment_8089" align="alignleft" width="300"] Johanna Bennet (Tony's Daughter), Tony Bennett, Mandy Ward and Mitch Winehouse (Amy's father).[/caption]

And so, Johanna and I started chatting one Sunday night while escaping our reality by watching the first season of TRUE BLOOD. I had just gotten back from the crazy film festival circuit. Johanna asked, "What would make a festival stand out and be different from all the others that you have seen?" I said, “Ummmm, I don't know – maybe if they offered theatrical distribution to a first-time filmmaker?”

And the idea of First Time Fest was born! I reached out to my friends at Cinema Libre Studios. Over the years, not only had they done a great job releasing a documentary I produced, but had an amazing passion for the independent film world. Their mission states:

Our message to filmmakers with views – and to those who seek to nurture the art of independent filmmaking – is to join our community and help us achieve greater freedom in the process of filmmaking and to gain increased exposure to larger audiences worldwide.

We knew it was a perfect fit.

Over the years, Johanna had been involved in many events at The Players Club – the oldest arts organization of its kind in the country (it was co-founded by Edwin Booth, Mark Twain and John Singer Sargent). The Players Club had been exploring ways to attract new members and revive its place in the New York cultural scene. Johanna had an interesting suggestion: "Why don't you start a film festival? And why not make it a celebration of first time filmmakers?" And with that, First Time Fest found its home.

First Time Fest hopes to support, mentor, and truly create careers for these first time filmmakers. Each of the FTF’s twelve finalists will be offered a full-year mentorship with some of the most respected cinema artists in our community. Who knows – my dream for the future of First Time Fest is to develop a fund that not only supports the winner through the festival and the release of their film – but also to assist in the development of their next film. First Time Fest is about one thing: to turn what are normally obstacles in our industry into opportunities. And to promote the creation of new art, new artists, and a new way of thinking about our world.

The first First Time Fest is coming soon: March 1-4, 2012 in New York City. We encourage all first time filmmakers: producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, editors and composers to apply with their documentary or fiction feature film. And the Grand Prize winner will receive THEATRICAL DISTRIBUTION in the United States and sales representation throughout the world. The finalists will be judged by a distinguished jury and a voting public. It’s going to be an amazing event for filmmakers, for audiences and for New York. We invite you to join us: www.FirstTimeFest.com.