Q&A with Scott Hillier, Independent Film Festival Founder

independent-film-festivalThe 12th European Independent Film Festival (ECU) will take place in Paris on April 21, 22 and 23.

Searching for untold stories and fresh perspectives? Look no further. From April 21 until April 23, the Cinema Les 7 Parnassiens in Paris will host the 12th edition of ECU.

Highlights include 73 films from 28 countries, 3 workshops with industry professionals and for the first time this year, a roundtable of female directors (28 were selected to be part of this year’s festival). The European Independent Film Festival has made a name for itself and has become a reference for indie filmmakers throughout the world.

We met with Scott Hillier, founder and president of ECU to ask a few questions about the festival, along with lessons learned over the years and the current state of independent film.

What makes ECU special and different from other film festivals?

S.H.: We are proudly a filmmaker’s film festival. I am a film director and not a film festival manager. It is a festival run by filmmakers. It is Europe’s largest independent film festival. All the jury, all the judges–we have 60 submission judges all around the world–are alumni. People who have participated in the festival come back to give a hand. And I think that is pretty unique.

2017 marks your 12th edition. What have you learned over the years?

S.H.: There are still great stories being told and it is so much easier now to make films with the technology and everything at people’s hands. But no matter how many brand-new cameras or brand-new lenses or this or that, it still takes a good story to make a good film. Also over the last 12 years, the digitalization has made our jobs so much easier. We can reach so many people nowadays.

What is the role of indie films and indie film festivals in today’s world?

S.H.: The independent film world is a niche market. Very small. Very selective. But it is also a way of getting true, unfiltered stories. You can actually get real, true, genuine stories told by people who really don’t care, which I think is important. The poet Rimbaud didn’t care … some of his poetry is amazing, some is really weird as well. I feel that the independent film world gives people a voice to say things the way they are, rather than having to go through audience screenings. An executive producer will want their money back so they are trying to get the biggest audience possible. So you don’t say this, you can’t say that.

In our film festival, we give people the chance to get their stories out to an audience. And that’s hard because people prefer to watch Netflix in their pajamas rather than get up and go to a cinema.

image2What advice would you have for independent filmmakers?

S.H.: Find a great story, pick up a camera and go out and shoot. Right now, I just try to make as many things as I possibly can, just to keep developing my skill. The advice is: you are just going to make stuff. Don’t get caught up on: this is going to take this long, because you get known by your body of work rather than just one film.

What has been the key to success for your festival?

S.H.: The proof of our success is that filmmakers still send us their films. The festival never gets bigger and better than the films and filmmakers that attend. I go to a lot of film festivals and I tend to think that they think that they are more important than the films. We will never let that happen … we have a very international audience that comes. At least 60% of our attendees are international. That’s fabulous. The key to our success is engagement. I got a great team around me. Social media is very important to what we do. We are very honest about what do. We don’t have any external financing. I fund the film festival and the submissions pay for it as well.

ECU-on-the-road [an international program to screen ECU’s awarded films abroad] is something I have been pushing ever since I started the festival. I think it is important to show our films. The films rewarded at our festival are Europe’s best independent films. Our festival partners: festivals, cultural centers, love the idea.

Did you have all that in mind when you launched the festival?

S.H. : I launched it for many reasons. One of them was that I had been told:
“Independent films are rubbish: bad lightning and bad acting.” I said: “No, I am a professional filmmaker and I make independent films.” There are a lot of people out there like me who are making films and who can’t get a voice. So they really need a film festival like this. The festival started with a lot of drive and determination. In hindsight, there was never any big global plan, except to just keep going, because we believe that’s right and that’s good. Being very honest and keeping it very simple. People coming back and submitting their films is the whole reason. I hate going to film festivals where you get closeted off and you can’t meet the filmmakers. You never see an actor or an actress and it’s all glitz and glamor. It’s great but it’s got nothing to do with making good stories. At ECU, there’s no read carpet or limousine. But you walk out and you can talk to the directors, editors, cameramen and I believe this is a true, creative film experience.

Will you be in Paris this spring? Find tickets and passes.

Images credit:
Scott Hillier at the ECU Festival launch in Paris.
Hillier & independent filmmakers selected for the festival.
© Caroline Planque

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How Argentina Time Applies to Roller Derby

Bob_Noxious_ArgentinaRollerDerbyLast month, I posted insights from my first week in Argentina’s derby community.

During my near 12 years in derby, I’ve documented, well … almost nothing of my whereabouts. Friend and New York Shock Exchange (NYSE) skater, Harm’s Way made me aware that I have “derbied” on four continents. Argentina felt different than other places I have traveled.

Roller derby may play by the same rules, but the experience is different. The subculture in Argentina is similar as that in the States, but more tightly knit and energy filled—reminiscent of the first five years in the U.S. That DIY spirit remains high. Argentina, as I expected, was electric.

I didn’t anticipate that Argentina’s social culture would parallel the derby subculture.

Family, Friends, Community

Argentinians are about family, friends, community and spending time to relax and enjoy each other. When sitting down to dinner, which is shared by all guests (you literally cut pieces of food and give them to the person next to you), who got stir crazy after two hours at the table? Yep, the U.S. crew. As friend Sin Diesel put it, “Fellas, you are now on Argentina time.” We talked, laughed and (Billy Joel reference) “forgot about life for a while.”

My greatest regret was not experiencing a neighborhood social club. Family, friends and neighbors gather to eat, enjoy the pool and relax at the clubs. They’re common in neighborhoods outside of the bustling city center. Many of the NYSE skaters had the experience and it sounded terrific. Of course, in 100-degree weather, a pool, cold drinks and good company always sounds terrific.

Argentinians aren’t joking when they invite you to stay at their homes. I was stunned to learn that the gentleman who put the SEVEN of us in his apartment wasn’t even a derby participant—his connection to the sport was a derby official in Buenos Aires. He opened his place in Cordoba to our motley crew of snoring, stinking-from-the-heat skaters and myself.

While in Cordoba, to express their appreciation for NYSE and support staff, they threw us a party. When invited to an Argentine dinner, eat a snack first. Chances are you will drink, share stories and laugh for three hours before the food comes out. Again, Argentina time. R-E-L-A-X. It’s hard for Americans, especially once we’re hangry. On a beautiful evening, our hosts worked magic over an open pit to make the best beef I have ever tasted.

Argentinians share everything. They don’t crack open a twelver and hand out bottles. They’re more likely to mix Fernet and Coke, the local favorite into a large container and pass it around. After a while, you drop the germ-phobic tendencies and realize the group shares all food and drink. It’s an amazing tradition. Oh how the conversation changes dynamics when the beer is passed around, in one large cup as you chat.

No Pressure. No Politics. A Fun Night of Good Derby.
A few days in Cordoba passed and it was back to Buenos Aires. Everything on the trip at this point was amazing. Yet, the best experience was still to come. I was invited to two “tournament games” at a schoolyard. Seriously, who would miss that? The entire local derby community turns out and in Buenos Aires, that’s a lot of people.

Every other Monday night in summer, the community comes together to play and watch games—a simple concept with overwhelming results. For five weeks, two weekly games are played: one women’s, one co-ed. The teams comprise a mix of players from all teams in the city. You have five weeks of play; it’s round robin and one team has a bi each week.

With a track painted on a school playground, it is simply understood by street soccer players they will relinquish the area to derby at 8PM. Between 200 and 300 of the derby family arrives, tables get set up where they are mixing and selling drinks and desserts. As skaters prepare, people socialize, a scoreboard with flip numbers is set up on a soccer goal and managed by two women. By the time it starts, we’re playing under school ground lights.

Games end, people linger for hours to talk, go to grab some food, return to the playground and hang out into the early hours of the morning. Think about how easy this would be to do. How it would bond the local derby community and provide exposure to onlookers. Not to mention, give an outlet for skating during off-season.

No pressure, no politics. Just a fun night of good derby.

Everyone can take something from this story. Argentine roller derby complements the passionate culture. It accentuates all that is good about our sport – the camaraderie, our grassroots, and the fun we could have without the formality of a full game production. So many forget to enjoy the moment and each other. “Argentina time” takes some getting used to, but is greatly missed once back to the hustle and formality of everyday life in America.

The New York Shock Exchange, along with many other derby leagues will be participating in coast-to-coast derby blood drives, along with the American Red Cross and Brown Paper Tickets. Check out the schedule of the Blood for Life derby blood drives.

Roller Derby >

Derby Passion Runs High in Argentina

MensRollerDerby-Sqr-Argentina“Find passion and develop a lust for life with others who celebrate every day.”

No, this is not a personal ad; this sentence sums up my feelings on the Argentine roller derby scene. Argentina, a new hotbed for derby, is forging the movement in South America—the number of leagues is growing almost too quickly to track.

Traveling to South America excited me, but I also felt nervous. I am never nervous. I have spent weeks roving in countries where I don’t speak the official language. I have stood in front of 5,000 people with a microphone in my hand. But Argentina, land of tango and passion? This brash announcer dude would surely be out of his element.

Brown Paper Tickets sponsored the New York Shock Exchange, an American team playing in Buenos Aries and Córdoba tournaments. I traveled there to support, possibly announce and take photos. I took a derby leap of faith and found a room in Buenos Aires (population 14 million) believing my contacts, Optimuz Quad and NYSE would just find me.

Warm Welcome 

My Spanish was a bit rusty. Did I say rusty? I mean non-existent. I could count to eight and ask for a beer. Granted, “I’d like eight beers” has its uses, but requires seven buddies.

As I settled into the hotel, my phone buzzed with a Facebook alert: Optimuz was already checking in. I was unaware his team was hosting the tournament and did not know he was to be the tournament director. Our conversation went something like this:

“Still want to attend practice tonight?”
“I’m pretty beat, but I’m here so let’s do it.”

Three hours later, this staple in the Argentine derby movement was at my hotel. Optimuz is one of eight 2013 Team Argentina skaters who played in the Birmingham Men’s Roller Derby World Cup. A team that will resonate with men’s derby fans forever.

He greeted me with a hug (cool, I am a hugger), kissed me on the cheek (as is custom), and sincerely thanked me for making the trip. He had taken two hours of mass transit straight from work to familiarize me with the walk and subway ride. It didn’t matter how much was on his plate or how far he had to ride, as long as he took care of his guest. That epitomizes the Argentina experience.

It was the height of summer when I visited and hot. Not nice-vacation-let’s-tan hot, but my-clothes-are-stuck-to-me-and-I-stink hot. Thus, the city comes to life at night.

The ThunderQuads practice beneath an overpass, beginning at dusk. 2X4, one the numerous women’s leagues in Buenos Aries, practices from 10PM to midnight. The moon, stars and area walkways offered the only light sources. In the corners, teens with boomboxes practiced new breakdancing moves. A block north, boxers sparred. Runners filled a track about thirty feet west. Sidewalks clicked with the occasional skateboarder, while the overpass above hummed with cars and trucks. This was one of the most amazing, vibrant scenes I have ever witnessed in all of my derby travels.

Before ThunderQuads’ practice, everyone from both men’s and women’s teams introduced themselves and thanked me. As much as it meant to have NYSE attend their tournament and spread MRDA sanctioning into South America, they made it a point to also express gratitude to myself, refs and NSOs who traveled from other continents to assist.

HARD2016 Tournament

The HARD2016 tournament was crazy fun, even though economic limitations sadly prevented three Colombian teams from competing. Participating teams:

• New York Shock Exchange (USA)
• Hosting team Thunderquads (Argentina)
• Buenos Aires Conspiracy (Argentina)
• Congragolpe Roller Derby (Argentina)
• Terror S-quad (Chile)

Though a formal sport’s facility, the venue was another open-air location under an overpass. Teams began playing on two tracks, until a torrent of rain overcame the overpass drainage and flooded the facility (is anything easy in derby?). Teams played the second and final day on the other track, which was still dry.

The first day proven that the derby was quite good, but NYSE and the ThunderQuads were the cream of the crop. They would meet in the championship game and everyone was hyped for the match-up.

Seasoned announcers are used to varied environments. I called the 3v4 game and championship of the HARD Tournament with my new friend Yisus, an interpreter seated between us. That was awesome. It made for great (albeit delayed) banter. I worked the crowd’s excitement with the flow of the game and then looked to make Yisus and the crowd laugh. I was so out of my element, it was a blast and everyone seemed to be having fun.

Most Memorable Game

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The championship game was the most emotional and memorable in my 11 years as an announcer. The extraordinarily good home team competed against NYSE, who also had an outstanding record. The ThunderQuads played NYSE within a 30-point differential until the final ten minutes of the game.

Around 250 people sat virtually on top of the track and the outside ref lane needed to be cleared at times. The space was tight, making the audience part of the game. And it was loud. The crowd stood and shouted with each passing run. The adrenaline ran so high I had goosebumps and the call was pure excitement. When the game ended, I walked and paced for an hour afterward to come down. The scene was unbelievable. Players hugging in tears, exchanging uniforms (they even gave me one), photos went on for an hour, the crowd stayed until we moved to the after-party two hours later.

In general, derby is a passionate sport, but this was a whole new level. The players and crowd were so grateful for the Shock Exchange and support staff; they thanked us again and treated us like family the whole rest of the trip.

The after party gave us more time to talk, bond, and appreciate the people and experience that was the HARD2016 tournament.

Look out for another post on the growing Argentine derby community.

Photo credits: fb/johnnyderby21 and Len Rizzo

Roller Derby >

How Round Table Tours Became a Top Tour in Montreal

Montreal's Round Table ToursYou already know poutine, the cheese-curd and gravy comfort food. No? Someone needs to take a trip to Montreal. But poutine is only the beginning. Stacked smoked meat sandwiches. Arguably, better bagels than New York (easy, New Yorkers, we said arguably). Ice wine. Soft cheeses from provincial farms. Craft brew a plenty.

Who’s Ready for a Food Tour?

Founded only a few years ago, ‘Round Table Tours (Tours de la Table) is already Montreal’s number two activity on Trip Advisor. It is popular not only with tourists, but hard-to-impress foodies who live in the city.

Maybe it’s because tour owner and operator Mélissa Simard is bright and personable. Or maybe because she takes visitors to “forbidden” places – behind the kitchen, into neighborhoods well off the tourist track and to food production sites. Or maybe it’s her long list of accomplishments: A degree in Canadian Studies from McGill University and a diploma in professional cooking from St-PIUX. Winning “Best Female Entrepreneurial Project of Montreal” in 2013. A history working in top restaurants.

‘Round Table Tours is definitely doing something right. Whether you’re thinking of organizing your own tour group or looking for a good food tour, take a cue from Simard.

The Lightbulb Goes Off

Simard got the idea for the tours after cycling from Seattle to California, popping into eateries along the way. She felt burned out from years of working in restaurants and the trip provided a much-needed break. “I thought, this is so nice, people should do it all the time,” she says.

An idea was born: exceptional food tours with a rare look behind the scenes. Get guests in the kitchen and talking to chefs. Go to breweries and tea shops, to chorizo producers and rooftops to explore urban farms. It’s the unexpected, the underground, the “how it’s made” stuff that resonates with people.

Yum…

Food Tours Montreal Many food tours offer an overview of the region, small bites with a heavy dose of history and attractions. ‘Round Table Tours does it different. Simard wants her groups to “come in with an open mind, see things they’ll never see.”

According to Simard, the tours focus on important, iconic food that shaped the city. A taste of the Iberian Peninsula by way of Spanish tapas, Portuguese petiscos and Basque pintxos. A sampling of Montreal Jewish food from family-owned diners, delis and bagel factory. An eat and ride that explores Montreal’s emerging food truck scene. For the hungry but health conscious, there’s the Living Table Tour, which zeros in on the city’s green scene.

Tour-goers can expect the equivalent of a seven-course meal. “No one leaves hungry,” Simard says. Or thirsty, we suspect as most tours include wine, tea or coffee.

In-depth knowledge of the culinary scene and long-standing connections to the restaurant world helped Simard create her vision. But as the saying goes, anything worthwhile comes with challenges. Like many tour operators, Simard has extensive knowledge about her passion – food, but no prior business experience. “I don’t have a business background. It’s been trial and error,” she says. And she’s busy, running at least three or four tours a week, six in the summer.

As for expansion? Simard would like to set up ‘Round Table Tours in other cities, perhaps in British Columbia or maybe in one of those hamlets dotting the Quebec countryside. But there are no immediate plans. “We’re still growing in Montreal,” she says. If you’re headed to La Belle Province (lucky), find the tour for you.

Food & Drink >