6 Questions: DocFest with Jeff Ross

This is the second interview in our 6 Questions series, where we email creators, curators, and other people we admire with 6 questions about their work and process, and then share their responses with you. You can read the first interview with the curators of National Geographic’s “Found” here.  – Ali


Jeff Ross is unique in the film festival world for many reasons, but the biggest has to be the fact that he wouldn’t describe himself as a “film buff.” Unlike many who get into the business due to a passion for film, Ross founded IndieFest in 1998 to give friend Rand Alexander an outlet to present his film CAGED to new audiences after it premiered at Slamdance. Since then, Ross has expanded IndieFest from a one-time event to a series of three festivals (IndieFest, DocFest, and Another Hole in the Head Festival) that span the entire year and put the focus on exposure for the filmmakers, not the festival or festival planners.


DocFest kicks off Thursday, June 6th, and screenings continue for more than two weeks. A variety of films will be shown in San Francisco, Oakland, Palo Alto, and Santa Cruz. Go here for more information.




We asked Jeff a few questions about upcoming festival and here’s what he had to say:


1. One of the taglines for DocFest that intrigued us was: “The film festival that provides a manageable amount of the truth.” Can you tell us a little bit more about what you mean by this?


I think it means that Doc Fest doesn’t try to deliver the whole truth (because what is that anyway?) but rather an amount that an individual can manage and thereby believe.


2. What goes into curating a film line-up for DocFest?


We solicit submissions from documentary filmmakers throughout the year. We looked at over 600 films for this year’s festival.


3. What films are you looking forward to in particular at this year’s festival?


My favorite is probably THE END OF TIME, because it’s unlike anything else in the festival. It’s somewhat experimental. Also looking forward to THE SUMMIT, which is basically an action adventure movie but shot by the people who lived through it.


4. You have a background in event planning. Planning festivals seems to be a natural extension of that. What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve come across in learning how to program a film festival?


Getting it funded. We don’t go after corporate sponsors (but don’t turn them down either) and get by on the support of our patrons. I’ve gotten very good at producing on a tight budget, but we always seem to only just barely squeak by.


5. Quite a few film festivals these days are moving towards having an online component in addition to the traditional screenings. Does IndieFest plan to go digital at any point?


I feel that the purpose of a Festival, whether for film, art, music, theater, whatever, is to bring people together for a shared experience. Viewing films by yourself on your device is not very Festive.


6. What’s one pearl of wisdom that you’d like to share with someone looking to start a film festival?


It doesn’t matter how great the event you put together is if no one knows about it.