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REBELFEST indie attitude


Toronto,  Dec 2005 - Rebelfest. A coined word that exudes a certain aura. 


It smacks of being on the fringe and proud of it… of challenging the status quo and celebrating the carving of a new path. 


It’s also the name of a sexy and hip, new Canadian international film festival, and it seems to define the spirit of the three indie filmmakers who are the unflinching masterminds behind the startup.


Grace Kosaka (L - with Lia Lyons, festival publicist on right), Neil Coombs, and Anna Lee are co-directors of Rebelfest. They are enterprising and oh-so-serious about their work. With several films under their belts, the three are not strangers to the quirky and demanding world of filmmaking. The experiences they’ve gleaned from years of being in the trenches have gifted them with valuable lessons.


Having chewed on the fat of mainstream festivals through their own indie filmmaking projects, and deciding it wasn’t to their taste, the trio cooked up an inspired idea to create a marketable, large scale alternative film festival, and incorporate some uncommon criteria for acceptance.     


Chiefly, the uncommon criteria are that Rebelfest will not accept films that have been made with government money, nor will they accept films that have been produced through established film institutes or film centres.  


It sounds like a gamble to ignore films that haven't received government funding when many agencies of government, federally and provincially, channel taxpayer dollars to film proposals they consider as having the most potential for success. But, to Kosaka, there isn't any gamble. She and her festival co-directors are intent on serving a market of what they consider true indie filmmakers. A market they feel is being underserved. As a case in point, she offers the following comment on the 2005 version of Rebelfest.



“We programmed a film that was a five thousand dollar film, called THE PLAN -- that was our opening night film! Then, we also had one that was close to five million dollars. We give opportunity to all the films, based on story and creativity. And, that’s a fair thing.”

Grace Kosaka, Co-Director, Rebelfest Film Festival



That word fairness. In the film world it’s a common complaint that things aren’t fair. Financing is tough to get. Truly experienced crew and cast are rarely affordable. Based on statistics, distribution deals are the stuff of dreams. So, dreaming is about all many filmmakers are left with. Kosaka continues.


“I think Sundance has something like 4000 submissions. I think their official entries are something like 400. That figure is generous in a way because that one slot if probably already filled by a film that's already been in Cannes, or, they know it's coming up because it's from a filmmaker who had a film in the previous year. I believe the statistic is that only one in 800 films gets a distribution deal." 


Rebelfest wants to make a difference in connecting indie films with a distribution deal, so the partners have formed a new arm of their organization. Called Rebelfest Releasing, the winners of the Festival Directors' Prize receive an offer of distribution for thier film. This year, I WILL AVENGE YO, IAGO (USA - Director, Zhenya Kiperman) and HIDDEN (New Zealand - Director, Tim McLachlan) were the recipients.



“Its [Rebelfest’s] mission is to be a distribution company that interacts with the filmmaker,” Kosaka offers. “One of the things we found with our first distribution deal is that once you sign, you’re abstracted from the process and you just have to wait. And that’s difficult because the filmmaker is also the person who’s most passionate about their film.”

Grace Kosaka, Co-Director, Rebelfest Film Festival



She points out other ways in which Rebelfest differs. For the audience, it’s a unique and energetic format. Each screening starts with a music video, followed by a short or two, then the main feature. The package works. It never drags. For the filmmakers, the lure of a potential distribution deal is very real, and the prospect of winning an award and receiving a Sony HD video camera is so sweet. It’s all very appealing to emerging filmmakers and to audience alike. 


On top of their unique approach, and to their credit, Kosaka et al have also managed to snag corporate heavyweights Equinoxe Films, Sony, and American Airlines as lead sponsors, and several other profiled names have jumped aboard to juice things up.


Mostly though, Rebelfest is about being indie and what that means.


Star Anthony Guidera (L), and Director Dean Alioto (R) relax after winning a major award at Rebelfest in Toronto for the indie film L.A. DICKS (U.S.A. - Director, Dean Alioto)


“It seemed like there were a lot of really good independent films that just didn’t get an opportunity to get into somewhere like TIFF or Sundance. I think people are looking for different types of films. And, we have our Rebel Award recipient, this year, Michael Madsen. He has been in so many independent films, and he has such a good spirit. The fact that he did a cameo in L. A. DICKS, that’s very sweet of him. He’s such a big star, he doesn’t need to do that, but it’s nice to give back, and it’s nice for him to come to Rebelfest. He embodies so many of the things that are great about independent film.”


In a city like Toronto that’s choked with film festivals, perhaps the greatest challenge ahead for Rebelfest will be to create awareness and to stay relevant, building their crowds each successive year, and feeding the ravenous appetite which that city’s discriminating filmgoers have for all things film.


It takes pluck for a young, no-name upstart to sidle up to a massive, established festival like Toronto International Film Festival and overlap its schedule, with the intent of attracting some of the powerbrokers who have come to town. But the fearless friends at Rebelfest may have a sound strategy. With the current trend of DVD sales and rentals significantly outperforming box office sales, and the fact that it’s attractive to a buyer to snap up a quality indie film made on a modest budget, it would appear that Rebelfest has hit on a good thing. Film, after all, is a business as much as it is an art form.


For a complete list of award recipients from Rebelfest International Film Festival 2005 CLICK HERE.


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