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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Buggs

280 - Navigating The Festival Circuit w/ Lauren Ponto (NaFF) & Filmmaker Ava Leigh Stewart

This and all other episodes of the MAKE IT podcast are brought to you in partnership with Women in Film and Television as part of the Voice of the Filmmaker Program. Please help us keep the conversation going.

MAKE IT Podcast, SWIFT Summit

In this episode, Chris joins the Creative Director of the Nashville Film Festival, Lauren Ponto, and Filmmaker Ava Leigh Stewart on a panel to discuss the best practices and pitfalls of deploying your film across festivals nationwide. We talk about the role of Film Freeway, what an “Oscar qualifying” festival actually means, how Creative Directors program festivals, the role of alternate film festivals, the value of in-person festival attendance compared to virtual, and why you should use pitch contests as practice for your big studio pitch, and much more.


About the Nashville Film Festival (NaFF, NashFilm)

NashFilm presents the best in independent film including world cinema, U.S. indies, narratives, documentaries, and numerous short form programs by veteran masters, up-and-coming directors, and first-time filmmakers.

NashFilm films have won the highest honors in the film world including multiple Academy Award nominees and Oscar awards.

With Academy Award qualifying status and numerous shorts programs, NashFilm has screened many prize-winning narrative, documentary and animated shorts.

Nashville is Music City. NashFilm emphasizes the music in films. Some of the most memorable songs in films have been written and performed by Nashville’s songwriters and artists. In addition to the many films about music and the Music Films in Music City awards, NashFilm presents showcases, workshops, and other events where these songwriters and artists come together with film professionals from Hollywood and around the world to promote collaboration.

About Lauren Ponto

Currently the Director of Programming at the Nashville Film Festival (NashFilm), Lauren has over seven years of experience working in the Film Festival industry. With a background focusing on media literacy and programming, Lauren was previously the Education Manager at Cinema/Chicago and the Chicago International Film Festival.

Through her experiences working with students in the Chicago Community, she developed an eye for approaching film from both entertainment and educational perspectives. An important aspect of her programming is placing both an emphasis on the craft of cinema and the power it holds to teach and promote cross-cultural understanding.

Lauren graduated with a B.A. in Media and Cinema Studies and a Minor in History from DePaul University. As a film theory professional, Lauren is passionate about executing community-driven programming, educating on the power of film, and of course, offering audiences a safe space to laugh, cry, smile, and feel all the emotions.

About Ava Leigh Stewart

Ava Leigh Stewart is a director, writer, producer, and artist. She cut her teeth at CNN, climbing the ranks of news production and then founded, Art West Film, a full service production company that specializes in film, television, commercials, and new media. She quickly established herself on the Hollywood radar after directing, producing, and writing an award winning film entitled "Keepers of the Gate" in London, England. She has worked in the Los Angeles, Atlanta, and London film industries for major studios and independent production companies in all areas of development, production, and new media. She is also an accomplished screenwriter and published author. Stewart continues to work domestically and internationally on a diverse range of projects.


About the MAKE IT Podcast

The MAKE IT podcast is a platform for the voice of independent filmmaker. We offer a variety of educational, aspirational, and entertaining content that promotes the success of creatives across the filmmaking community and the film industry.

Our Filmmaker Conversations with filmmaking professionals are dedicated to sharing the advice, knowledge, and insights of experienced filmmakers while exploring what it truly means to be an independent creative in the highly competitive world of filmmaking. Each filmmaker conversation is backed by thoughtful research that allows us to uncover the raw, authentic truths behind each filmmaker's journey.

Through our Indie Talks, we share our thoughts and perspectives on navigating independent film from the perspective of Advisory and Executive Producers. We discuss topics that are relevant to filmmakers across a wide spectrum of filmmaking perspectives, and we do our best to uncover hidden truths and new developments in the film industry. Our goal is to help filmmakers avoid the pitfalls and obstacles on the business side of film so that their filmmaking creativity can thrive.

Our Industry Insights provide bite-sized actionable advice that filmmaking professionals and creatives of all kinds can use to keep their heads up as they continue their filmmaking journeys. With advice sourced from the filmmaking community, we build upon the wisdom of our filmmaking guests to provide our audience with truly aspirational and inspirational content.

The Mistakes in the Making series gives our filmmaking friends an opportunity to speak directly to our filmmaking audience to share a specific lesson they've learned through a mistake they've made. We are firm believers that mistakes can be the gateway to success when we open our hearts and minds to learning from them, sharing them, and using them to Be Better.

The Film Investment series is a conversational series of 52 episodes geared towards the would-be film investor. Each episode, facilitated via a friendly conversation between hosts and friends Christopher Barkley and Jason McConnell, highlights a unique aspect of the film investment process. In addition to being a great resource for film investors, it serves as a reference for filmmakers regarding the many considerations that must be made when seeking film investment.


This and all other episodes of the MAKE IT podcast are brought to you in partnership with Women in Film and Television as part of the Voice of the Filmmaker Program. Please help us keep the conversation going.


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