February 17, 2011
It’s rough out there for a filmmaker. Unless you commit yourself to making “viral” videos, posting them online, and praying someone cares about them, there’s not a lot of opportunity to get people to see your work. That’s where Richard Hooban’s baby, the Zero Film Festival, comes in. It’s the only festival in the world (to my knowledge, anyway) that accepts only self-financed films. These are gritty, experimental, sometimes startlingly good, and never boring films—and Zero’s travelling festival is just about the only place you can see films like this. Richard was shooting a feature film in Idaho when we caught up to him, and he was generous enough to answer our questions about film festivals, films in general, and being a nomad.
How did you end up becoming a filmmaker? Your bio on the Zero Film Festival page says that you studied International Economics and worked in China–how do you go from that to making movies?
Richard Hooban: Post-college divorce in Seattle left me wanting to be as far away from Seattle culturally as possible, so I ended up keeping a place in LA while living in China. I was supposed to be working with the Chinese government managing projects for freshwater sustainability, but the Chinese didn’t really want sustainability, just the PR–so I started to drift. China is a crazy place to be adrift, so I drank too much, and spent too much time betting on cricket fights in the darker alleys of Shanghai. I don’t consider myself a filmmaker, rather a storyteller. Back in la la land I had a lot of images in my head I was having trouble relating in the English language, so I thought I would try and communicate via film.
Also from your bio: “Exposure to current film festival conditions inspired him to create the Zero Film Festival.” Care to expand on that?
The big “relevant” festivals for the most part are elitist, corporate, sterile and boring. They show celebrity films with massive budgets. Or they are provincial, irrelevant for a filmmaker and still tend to screen celebrity films. Authentically independent filmmakers don’t stand a chance in those environments. I wanted to create a festival experience that would even the playing field and match my idealized concept of what an independent film festival could be.
What do you like about self-financed films?
The impossibility of them. Without investors and outside producers, filmmakers are able to follow their original visions. Sure their films might have some flaws, but they are authentic and in a way able to create images and moments it would be impossible for a studio to re-create.
How has the experience of running the festival been as it expands?
With a solid foundation and experience, running the festival has become a tad more fun. Unfortunately I’m ambitious so I keep pushing myself to the limits of what I am capable of. 2010 was definitely a new plateau for personal accomplishment.
Is there a limit to how many cities the tour can go to?
No. Just limits to how far my credit cards can go to.
I saw that you have plans to go to Europe in 2011; is Asia next?
Yes. China. Haha! [Ed note: I have no idea whether he was kidding or not.]
Related question: Do you travel with the festival as it goes from city to city? Seems like that’s a huge amount of time on the road.
Yes. Genetically, I have a lot of nomadic influences: Native American, Irish Gypsy, Scandinavian. I’m more comfortable in motion and in exploration.
How’s the shooting in Idaho going?
What’s the film that you’re working on?
Old man alone in a cabin. Inner demons, guilt and isolation. Filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni once said, “A film that can be described in words is no film at all.” I like that quote.