Jamie Dispirito at Outfest
Thrive (2019) directed by Jamie Dispirito
Writer/Director Jamie Dispirito reports back from a successful trip to Outfest in LA with his debut short film, Thrive, supported by a Short Film Festival Travel Grant from the British Council.
Thrive is my debut short film as a writer/director. I had no ambitions beyond making my first film, and learning as much as possible from the experience, so I’m extremely grateful for the festival success it’s receiving.
Thrive had its UK premiere at BFI Flare, which was also the first film festival I’d ever attended. The importance of meeting so many LGBTQI+ filmmaking peers soon became apparent, as I made friends, and we discussed wanting to tackle similar issues in our work, whilst facing the same challenges and barriers. It’s with huge thanks to the British Council, and the Audience Award prize money from Inside Out Toronto LGBTQ Film Festival, that I was able to attend my second film festival: Outfest.
The festival takes place in the heart of cinema: Hollywood, Los Angeles. I’d come to learn that it is the pre-eminent LGBTQ+ film festival, and the only Oscar qualifying LGBTQ+ film festival in the world. The film screenings are in grand, iconic venues such as The TCL Chinese Theatre, and The Egyptian Theatre.
Thrive was selected to close out their popular ‘boys shorts’ programme, alongside filmmakers I’d been admiring from afar (on Instagram) for a while, so to say I was nervous is an understatement. Despite my nerves, the incredibly diverse programme of films the programmers had put together took me completely outside of myself, and I couldn’t have been more proud of the company I was in. In fact, all the films programmed across the festival opened my eyes to cultures I hadn’t even seen on film before and proved that there are infinite LGBTQ+ stories to be told, with a huge audience, keen to see them. The post screening Q+A’s were endlessly inspiring and gave a fascinating insight into the difficulties LGBTQ+ filmmakers face internationally.
The most useful aspect of the festival was the parties and events for planned for the filmmakers. Throughout the festival there was a ‘filmmaker breakfast series’, which covered various aspects of filmmaking: LGBTQ+ Writers on Writing; Women in Entertainment; Marketing, Acquisitions and Distribution; Grants & Labs; The Present and future of Episodics and Television.
Every morning, after a breakfast of coffee, fruit, and pastries, leading industry figures would come and impart their hard-earned wisdom upon us emerging filmmakers. A particular highlight was insights on writing and directing from panellists including Desiree Akhavan (Writer/Director of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, 2018), and Ron Nyswaner (screenwriter of Philadelphia, 1993), who were incredibly generous and vulnerable when sharing their own experiences as filmmakers.
Every evening there was also a ‘networking’ event hosted by sponsors and affiliates, including HBO, Film Independent, Tribeca institute, SAG-AFTRA, and The Director’s Guild of America. This was a brilliant opportunity to ‘network’ in a relatively relaxed environment, meeting festival directors and programmers, as well as meeting other filmmakers attending the festival.
I was worried that travelling alone I might not have much to do whilst there, but the festival is so hands on with all filmmakers, that my entire time there was spent immersed in cinema: either watching films, meeting filmmakers, or learning how films are made. I had an amazing time learning, making professional connections, meeting peers and making friends. The whole festival was such a whirlwind of activities, that it wasn’t long until the penultimate day had arrived: the awards ceremony.
With such a big festival, it’s hard to see every film you want to, and to meet every filmmaker attending, so I figured this would be a nice opportunity to congratulate my fellow filmmakers (and possibly swap online viewing links with people whose films I hadn’t managed to see!). It was fascinating to see which films resonated, with both audiences, and juries. It was also beautiful to see filmmakers receiving their awards, knowing how hard it is to make a film, seeing that their hard work had paid off.
What I wasn’t anticipating, was Thrive winning the Oscar qualifying Grand Jury Prize for Best international Short Film. I can’t remember anything I said in my ‘speech’, but I know that I hugged every person I came into contact with (mostly to their discomfort). It was incredibly heart-warming to have the appreciation of fellow filmmakers (the award proved to be a great encouragement for filmmakers to swap viewing links!) as well as the jury, who were extremely supportive, and along with a number of executives I met at the festival, are helping me with my career in ways that wouldn’t have materialised had I not been able to attend the festival.
Immediately afterwards, I facetime’d my producer to give him the good news: he thought I was trying to trick him and asked for me to send him a picture of the award to prove it!
I had the best time celebrating both that night, and the next, at the closing party. The only way it could have been better, is if my amazing producer Lewis Partovi, was able to attend and celebrate with me.
Next for us is Encounters film festival, which we’ll be attending together this time.