Originated and based in Seattle, Couch Fest Films is the largest single-day shorts film festival in the world. Hosted in homes all over the globe on one day (this Saturday, December 6), Couch Fest Films unites lovers of film who can meet and sit shoulder to shoulder while taking in the best of bite-size cinema.
Most of the programmed shorts have played prestigious festivals around the world, including Sundance, SXSW, Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and Berlin International Film Festival; others are world-premiering gems.
We recently sat down with Festival Director and Founder Craig Downing to discuss Couch Fest Films and what role it plays in the ever-changing climate of content accessibility.
Washington Filmworks (WF): How did Couch Fest Films start, and what does the setting add to the experience?
Craig Downing (CD): We started the festival in 2008, because when I moved here I got a sense of an endearing community in Seattle. So I was struck with the idea of creating a community development project disguised as a film festival – I wanted to engage film-lovers and wanted them to get outside of their comfort zone and engage with one another more than the traditional film festival would allow. But our film festival, at its core, is very much like the traditional model – we have a jury, audience award, genre awards, awards ceremonies, parties, programs, and a strict admissions process to select the very best films we could find.
What makes it unique, however, is the unusual venue that promotes community engagement – 15-20 houses in the Seattle area will host the festival in the city, with each house screening a particular programming each hour (like Animation, for example). And these houses are only scratching the surface of the venues we have this year. We are showing shorts worldwide, in cities like Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Amsterdam, London, and Philadelphia, to name a few.
The home setting co-ops the festival experience, as they’re an instrumental part of the structure and are hosting our numerous programs. Festivals are used to following the same model (cinema exhibition, lines, etc.). People are now doing so many cool things and experimenting with the model that’s thematically appropriate with the content they’re sharing, and we wanted to do something along those lines to bring people together.
WF: By experimenting with the model, what does that do to the accessibility and experience of watching the content?
CD: Couch Fest is a film festival that expands the concept of where to find content and how you experience it. We are definitely expanding the availability of our content, but in a very controlled way. We’re not facilitating the accessibility or streamlining the content virally – we are doing a lot of our grassroots marketing online, of course, but we handle our content through DVD’s and disc images.
In doing so, the risks are low but we still are excitingly experimenting with the distribution of our content. That’s why Couch Fest Films intrigues the industry – we are offering a new way of distributing, exhibiting, and experiencing the content. We are showing the range of possibilities for film festivals worldwide.
We are pushing the boundaries, but filmmakers can rest assured that we are doing so safely – there is less of a risk with piracy via DVD’s, and people from all over the world can still have access to the amazing shorts we show. So we are still testing different means of expansion, but doing so without violating any rights.
This is exciting for us as festival programmers and directors who are handling the distribution to over 50 locations across the world, but it’s also especially exciting for the filmmakers. Audiences are more directly and quickly gaining access to their work!
Couch Fest Films widens the audience of these short films in a global fashion in only a day – it’s definitely intriguing to think how this model can be applied elsewhere in the industry. It connects film-lovers with filmmakers with awesome locations.
Craig is the Festival Director and Founder of Couch Fest Films. For the last three years, he was the head of the film production department of Saga Film in Iceland. Craig has been on the shorts jury for SIFF and has been a shorts screener for SXSW. When he’s not writing or screening films for Short of the Week, he’s testing the tensile strength of his immune system while shooting funding videos for NGOs in third-world countries. He is also currently working as the Education Manager at Northwest Film Forum.