Exhibitor FAQ: Enzian Theater

For 25 years, Orlando area audiences have flocked to the Enzian Theater to enjoy independent films in a unique atmosphere. Instead of the usual stadium seating, the intimate Maitland, Florida art house cinema has four floors with tables for two and four. In its front section, gorgeous purple velvet captains’ chairs and couches with coffee tables claim the space. More like a dinner theater, Enzian serves beer, wine, and gourmet food. It even celebrates Happy Hour.

And although it might be a single-screen venue, Enzian manages to showcase an unbelievable breadth and depth of independent films. Aside from its regular programming of the best art house films, the nonprofit runs several film festivals throughout the year, giving filmmakers a variety of opportunities to get their films screened. Programming Director Matthew Curtis explained exactly how Enzian’s films are selected to The Independent’s Enette Ngoei.

What is the best way for independent filmmakers to get their films screened at the Enzian Theater?

The first step is to send a screener with any press material the filmmaker might have to us at Enzian Theater, and we’ll take a look at it internally. If [the filmmaker] hasn’t done the film festival circuit yet, he or she might want to consider submitting something for one of our festivals. Our big project is the Florida Film Festival every spring. It’s a 10-day-long festival, with approximately 150 films, that draws up to 25,000 people, many of whom are industry people and filmmakers.

Throughout the beginning of the summer, we also do “mini festivals” or what we call our cultural programming circuit. In late September, early October, we do the South Asian Film Festival, which consists of films of specific interest to the Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan community. In its 15th year now, the festival is done in conjunction with the local Asian cultural association. In November, we do the Central Florida Jewish Film Festival, which is heading into its 11th year. It’s done in conjunction with the local Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando (JCC). In December, we do the Brouhaha film and video showcase, which is a two-day, four program showcase of short films that are submitted from all around the state. A local industry panel judges these films and of six hours of programming, they pick out 80 to 90 minutes of the best of Brouhaha, which then plays as our Florida shorts side bar in the Florida Film Festival in the spring.

If the filmmaker has already gone through the film festival process on the other hand, and is interested in getting his or her film commercially onto movie screens around the country, the best thing to do is send me an e-mail at mcurtis@enzian.org and tell me what your film is. I get at least two or three requests a day. For a single screen theater, we’re one of the highest grossing art houses in the state. It’s tough to get “smaller” films onto our schedule, but you never know. If it’s something that we feel we can do – a full-week run or a split-week run, even a special screening or two, a matinee on a weekend or a late night on a weekend – if it’s something we feel we can show and get an audience [to watch], and [we] feel [as though] we have a responsibility to show [the film], then we’ll try to get it on our screen. If something does well, it will be put into our regular programming.

What are the criteria you look out for?

We’re always looking for original work, and we’re always trying to think of the audience as well. Will this [film] draw an audience? Will an audience pay for it? We’re nonprofit, but we have to break even.

What’s the best time to send you a screener?

There are specific deadlines for the Florida Film Festival and Brouhaha, which you will find on our website. However, for both the South Asian Film Festival or the Jewish Film Festival, there is no real submission process. We look at a lot of stuff over the summer. If the event is taking place in the fall, early summer is a good time to send us your work…at least three or four months ahead of time is always good.

If the film is not for one of our festivals, then send us your screener – the earlier the better. We have a small staff, and everybody wears many, many hats. My kitchen counter is literally covered with screeners; if you need something done for next week, it’s probably not going to happen.

Out of all the filmmakers who approach you, about what percentage are successful in getting their films screened?

The Florida Film Festival probably gets around 1,500 submissions every year, and we end up showing somewhere between 150 and 170 films. That’s about 10 percent, and I think that probably sticks to what we get to show in some capacity, either for one of our festivals or events or one-time screenings.

Why not the other 90 percent?

It’s a combination of factors. Our lack of flexibility with [only] one screen for one, not just quality. We can’t afford to do something that will draw 20 or 30 people…[it must have] a legitimate shot at getting 80–100 people in.

What format should the films be in?

We preview in DVD right now. We have a digital projector, but we do not own a DigiMate Deck, a DVCAM or an HD Deck. Right now, we’re doing stuff in DVD, Blu-ray and 35mm.

What draws Enzian’s audiences to its doors?

Just the overall experience. They know Enzian’s been around for 25 years now, and they trust what we put on the screen. They trust the experience: the food, the drink, the hanging out afterward to talk about the movie. They know that the people who are putting the film on, from the projectionists to the programmers to the waiters to the cooks in the kitchen, everybody is just as passionate or more passionate about film and giving [the audience] a good experience. And that’s what you don’t get at the mall or any other cookie cutter theater.

Any additional advice for filmmakers trying to get their films screened?

Research all the top markets, and look for the alternative venues in those markets. Look at museums, libraries, college film series and clubs (some do independent film screenings). The information is there, it just takes a lot of digging.

For more information, visit www.enzian.org.

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