Every good film starts with an idea. Some are hatched by experiences, passions and values, or a spark of creative genius.
Films are meant to evoke different emotions and largely broaden our perspective on the human experience and the world around us.
Even the greatest ideas that become inspiring realities must reach an audience. For filmmakers, getting to the big screen is no easy feat. Film festivals work as the catalyst for film careers, celebrating the art of film while shining a spotlight on independent filmmakers.
BendFilm Festival—based in Bend, Oregon—has connected filmmakers and captivated audiences for the past 18 years. The independent film festival screens around 100 short and feature-length films in specific categories, including narrative, documentary, and outdoor and environmental.
For a weekend in October, the festival takes over downtown Bend with screenings accompanied by food and drink at venues including Tin Pan Theater, Tower Theatre, McMenamins Old St. Francis School and Old Mill District.
“In my festival experience, small towns where all the venues are walking distance to make it from screening to screening make it a social event,” says Selin Sevinc, BendFilm’s head of festival programming. “It is a great environment when everything is right there. Bend has the capacity to do that. It creates an intimate, social, fun atmosphere.”
While the festival is designed to attract film lovers with a diverse selection of captivating films, it plays an important role in the careers of filmmakers that goes beyond entertaining audiences.
Being an independent filmmaker makes it harder to get films viewed by audiences because creators are not backed by a studio with a sizable budget. Film festivals allow creators to have their films seen and their voices heard.
“As a programmer, one of my two main duties is to select filmmakers that do have a future and help them get there,” Selin says. “The other service is to give the audience an experience they couldn’t have at a mainstream cinema to get a different perspective and experience.”
Bringing together film professionals for a weekend of entertainment is a chance to collaborate, get funding for films and grow the passion for filmmaking, Selin explains.
Selin is responsible for curating films for the festival. She works with her team to review more than 1,000 submissions and choose the best for each category, while considering the needs of filmmakers.
“I personally like to choose films that are pushing boundaries creatively and artistically,” Selin says.
Filmmakers chosen for the BendFilm Festival are entered into category competitions to win cash prizes. The festival awards more than $11,500 in prizes to independent filmmakers in the competition categories, including $5,000 for Best of Show.
“The fact we fundraise for it shows that BendFilm is incredibly film-centric,” says Elizabeth Latenser, public relations manager for BendFilm. “We make sure filmmakers have a great experience, networking opportunities, and (we) help their careers.”
There are three jurors for each film category comprised of past filmmakers, friends of the festival and industry professionals, such as programmers, distributors, producers, journalists and agents.
“I like to include as many types of jurors who could help advance the filmmaker’s career and in different ways contribute to a filmmaker’s career and success,” Selin says.
Festivalgoers vote for their favorites for the Audience Award.
“Every time someone attends a film they give a ranking,” Elizabeth says. “The Audience Award is so special for the filmmakers because they have connected with the audience.”
Usually when watching a movie, there is not a chance to have an insider’s look at the motivations of the filmmaker. Question-and-answer talks with filmmakers at festivals are a unique opportunity for audiences and creators alike.
“A film festival is your only outlet to reach audiences, answer questions and understand how people are receiving your film,” Selin says. “It helps you understand what you are doing, what you’ve done and how it is perceived.”
BendFilm also hosts one-hour panel discussions on specific film topics. One of this year’s panels will discuss social impact campaigns and how filmmakers use their films to showcase their values and the challenges they face making films to create change.
In 2021, there is a new element to BendFilm that puts the festival on the map: It is recognized as one of 64 Oscar-qualifying film festivals in the world by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Winning short films in the Best Narrative Short, Best Animated Short and Best Indigenous Short categories are sent to the academy after the festival for Oscar consideration.
“This helps the filmmakers in our festival get a better shot at getting considered for an Oscar nomination, because it’s as if we are providing recommendations and we have been vetted to do so because of our track record of curating cutting-edge programming,” Elizabeth says.
Films showcased at the 2021 BendFilm Festival cover a range of topics. Selin has noticed a few themes in the submissions.
“There are a lot of wonderful films about youth doing wonderful things,” Selin says. “It gave me a lot of hope and encouragement that there are young people who are really smart and fearless.”
Youth in power and strength will be shown throughout the festival’s films.
Two other themes are exploring mental health issues through humor and artistry, and showcasing environmental issues and politics through a unique lens.
“People tend to think that if it is about the environment and politics, it will preach and feel heavy and hopeless,” Selin says, noting some of the political subjects show a lot of heart and emotion. “A lot is coming at the issue of climate change and animal welfare from a very heartfelt and imaginative way—nothing doom and gloom.”
In her curation, Selin says she stays true to a range of topics and emotions provoked by the films to create a festival filled with symmetry and intrigue.
“I don’t shy away from subjects that may seem heavy,” she says. “I don’t like things that are only one thing: humor, drama, sad. Don’t worry. Nothing is going to be all good or all bad. Everything will have a balance.” n
Visit www.bendfilm.org for details about in-person and virtual passes for BendFilm Fest’s 18th annual event October 7-17.
Meet BendFilm’s Head of Programming
There are several factors to consider when choosing the right place to plant roots. For some, it is access to good schools, outlets for entertainment, vicinity to the outdoors or a great restaurant scene. Selin Sevic’s family wanted to be close to rock climbing. Selin had a different set of criteria.
“I have to look at the film festival to see if the town will work for me,” Selin says.
Two days after moving to Bend, Oregon, Selin met with BendFilm Executive Director Todd Looby.
For Selin, that first connection to the community four years ago made Bend feel like home. She joined the festival as a programming committee volunteer and became head of festival programming in February 2021.
Raised in Turkey, Selin moved to the United States six years ago. She has had an extensive career in the film industry in England, Turkey and the U.S., working in casting, film critiquing and screenwriting.
One of her claims to fame is writing two documentary series that were broadcast on national television in Turkey.
“My No. 1 passion is writing screenplays,” Selin says.
As a script consultant, Selin has helped other screenwriters improve their films. She assisted on Francis Annan’s “Escape from Pretoria,” starring Daniel Radcliffe, and Erol Mintaş’s “Song of My Mother,” which won best film in 2014 at the Sarajevo Film Festival—the largest film festival in southeast Europe.
Drawing on her experiences and collaborative nature, Selin selects films screened at BendFilm Festival and brings filmmakers together to support one another at all stages of production.
“I am passionate about film in all its incarnations,” she says.
Selin has six feature-length screenplays at various stages of development and a TV pilot project called “Blue River.”
How to Make the Most of Your Film Festival Experience
Whether you are an independent film newbie or a seasoned cinephile, Selin Sevinc, BendFilm’s head of festival programming, offers these tips to make the most out of attending a film festival.
Book tickets early. This gives plenty of time to prepare for the festival and all it offers. Use the festival guide to make a list of must-see films, map the route from one screening to the next, and choose local sightseeing and places to eat in town. “Give yourself some room to get excited about it,” Selin says.
Try something new. Attending a film festival is a chance to get out of your comfort zone and explore different genres and categories. If you only watch feature-length narrative films, go to a few of the documentary or short film screenings. “It is an opportunity to find yourself in other people’s journeys,” Selin notes.
Join the conversation. Stay for the question-and-answer session to go behind the scenes with filmmakers and industry professionals. Having an endless list of films available at the click of a button makes consuming movies easier than ever. However, understanding the motivations behind the films means hitting the pause button and taking in the experience. “We don’t often hear what the people who make them think and feel,” Selin says. “‘What was the purpose’ is a very enriching thing to hear.”
Even if not in the film industry, join a panel discussion. These are typically one-hour conversations with film professionals about the creative process and how films are made, usually focused on a specific topic. The BendFilm Festival will have a panel about social impact campaigns to discuss how filmmakers use films to share their values and the challenges they face making films to inspire change.