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Atlantic Film Festival gears up 

31st AFF braintrust predicts popular film screenings, including Roller Town

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The programme is locked, the tickets are on sale. We are in t-minus time for the Atlantic Film Festival, running from September 15-24.

"I know that in the first day of the box office being open we tripled the sales from last year," explains AFF director Lia Rinaldo. "Summer of Murray"---the six-week outdoor screening festival of Bill Murray movies as part of alFresco filmFesto---"has really changed things for us, how we approach social media and our marketing in general. We have a pretty engaged team here. Word is getting out farther and farther. That and the wild success of Picnicface."

When we spoke late last week, Rinaldo reported that the Picnicface feature Roller Town was almost sold out in its multiple screenings. On top of redoubling the effort to focus on Atlantic films this year, the AFF is also choosing to offer a number of extra screenings of the films they predict will be the most popular. They include Roller Town, Cloudburst, Charlie Zone and all the Atlantic Shorts programs.

The choices of repeats are proving to be right on the money, with Roller Town's instant popularity with ticket-buyers followed closely by Cloudburst. Also a hot pick is Crazy Wisdom, a documentary about Halifax's Shambhala community, along with Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz.

One thing that's notable is this year, with 189 films screening---including shorts---the ambitions on the number of films are more modest than they were back in 2009 where the total films spiraled much higher.

"For us, when we were screening upwards of 250 titles, the programmers jobs along with our marketing and publicity team is to fill those screenings," says Rinaldo. "And when you're spread between 250 films it's almost impossible to do each film any kind of justice. We made that switch to offer a smarter, more streamlined, focused program, and then allow people more access, hence the repeat screenings."

Another reality of putting on a film festival is how to pay for the films. A little secret of the film fest game is that many distributors will charge festivals for prints of their films, which seems counter-intuitive, since the buzz that catches at festivals can certainly benefit a picture's box office in the long run.

"There's sort of no rhyme or reason to it," says Rinaldo. "there's no standard across the board. It used to be that you'd want to have it at festivals to build word of mouth. It would be a marketing expense [for the distributors and film companies]. But the reality is it's expensive to make prints and have people present at their screening. Everything costs. It was only a matter of time before it evolved into more of a business scenario and less of a festival one."

There's also the theory that if a film gets seen at too many film festivals it can upset the distributors' marketing plans for a theatrical release. Here at The Coast, we receive an embargo list every year of movies we can't review outright, even while reviews already exist online from festivals such as those in Venice and Toronto. It's the price we pay for being a small market.

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