Curate, when used as a verb, is defined as:
"to take charge of or organize" and..."to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation". Those are both perfect descriptions when applied to the business of putting together a film festival.
When the idea of a Diamond in the Rough Film Festival was first put to me by a wonderful friend in a Peet's coffee shop, I didn't know exactly how I would even find the films let alone which ones I would put on the big screen. I did know that we would show Diamond in the Rough Films' projects for scrutiny and feedback (out of competition of course) but I also knew that I didn't want the festival's focus to be us per se. I wanted to provide a forum for films and filmmakers who felt marginalized, frustrated or shut out by film festivals calling themselves "independent" when they just used their submission fees to invite bigger-name projects. As a filmmaker, I had read and experienced the horror stories myself.
When submissions come in through our FilmFreeway page it gets noticed right away because the main dashboard/submission portal is checked multiple times per day by the three partners at Diamond in the Rough Films. We get excited with each new submission and, speaking for myself, I usually try and watch the movie immediately. If it is a short film under 20 minutes long, I will watch the entire movie (ok I might stop once a couple of end credits have rolled). The only thing that would stop me is if it is in blatant violation of our stated rules (i.e. pornographic, depicting scenes of animal cruelty, etc.) which I can honestly say has only happened maybe twice in three years.
After watching it, a rating of 1 to 10 is applied to various aspects (writing, acting, sound, etc.), an average score is calculated, then our personal notes are applied to go beyond the numbers and each judge then selects either a PASS, RECOMMEND, MAYBE or AWARD WORTHY label to it. All of the films are viewed by us at Diamond in the Rough Films - we do not use nameless volunteers to view and pass judgement on your work. Only us filmmakers with a direct link to executing the film festival are viewing the submissions.
Sometimes we get asked what the Diamond in the Rough Film Festival "theme" is. There isn't a simple answer to this since I do not like getting boxed in with a specific theme and having that determine which films get accepted.
As we get closer to the final deadline in June, certain...patterns(?) develop where we identify maybe four or five really good films and see what other submissions pair up well with it. This helps create our "film blocks" each year where we might generate multiple "themes" within our one film festival. It makes it so that we have something to offer all types of audiences. Yes, this is why some very good films (short films mainly) don't make it into a certain festival year - it might just not "fit" within any of the themes that emerged among the submissions. But I do tag those films within Film Freeway and if there is a spot in the next year's festival where it might fit perfectly, I'll contact that filmmaker and ask to program it (I actually did this in the 2016 film festival).
Yes, we do encourage and solicit Bay Area-based filmmakers to submit and we do hope their work is good enough to be programmed. It's good for our local community and the local filmmakers love to participate at the festival in person. But we will not program a local filmmaker over a more worthy film simply because they are local. But it would be disingenuous of me to say they do not have a slight edge over other films when everything else is equal.
I would say that one overriding "theme" that seems to come through are films and stories that we have not seen before. I can't stress this enough. I have seen A LOT of movies over the years and love to study film history. I know it is tough, but I still see so many films that just copy established filmmakers - they try and be the next Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino or.....whoever. Don't go there. I can see it a mile away and I get bored VERY quickly.
So make something out of your comfort zone. Stop copying other filmmakers. It's ok to be inspired by them but don't try and re-make them. It's boring. The story can be simple but tell it and cast it in an original way. "Moonlight" was a great example of that - a simple story told personally and poetically with a dynamic cast that brought all sorts of layers that could only have come from them.
We currently stand at 95 total entries and look forward to many more hopefully. I love this part of the job - being exposed to all types of films and filmmakers is a great thing and always worth the time to do right.