After receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Media Production from the Illinois Institute of Art, Clayton Monical co-founded the Peace On Earth Film Festival, whose unique mission statement is to raise awareness of peace, non-violence, social justice and an eco-balanced world. He has served as a director and member of its review committee ever since, while simultaneously working virtually every production job imaginable in Chicago’s indie film scene. (Full disclosure: he also produced my last two short films.) The 5th Annual Peace On Earth Film Festival will take place in the historic Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater, from Thursday, February 23 through Sunday, February 26. You can learn more about the festival and view the 2012 line-up here: http://peaceonearthfilmfestival.org
I recently spoke with Clayton about POEFF and independent film production in Chicago.
MGS: You wear many hats in the Chicago film scene. What initially attracted you to the movies as a medium?
CM: That is actually a funny story. I was never a kid to watch movies and study them, I was actually fascinated with animation as a kid. I originally went to college wholeheartedly with the passion to become an animator. I was in my second year of college when I took an Intro to Digital Media Production course. Our main project for this course was to create a short film. I was lucky enough to work with a couple really talented animators who also liked film; this is what got my interest. We did a 14 minute short film (our project was supposed to be 3 minutes) and after that I switched my degree and never looked back, and loved it ever since.
MGS: How does one go about founding a film festival? Were you intimidated at all by the fact that Chicago already plays host to many annual film festivals?
CM: Well, in all honesty it was not my brainchild, it was Nick Angotti’s (the Exec-Director of the festival) I was brought on in the early stages by one of the original co-founding member Brad LaMar whose films I had produced in the past. Nick was seeking to start a festival but did not have a set path in the production industry in the city; he was an actor but had little experience with film festivals. Brad and I have had several projects that had been and were in the festival circuit, so we felt that we could be key assets in co-founding and co-running the festival. As for the intimidation factor, well I guess it never came up. When we sat down and talked about POEFF it was something that was needed in Chicago. We started the festival in 2007, with the first festival debuting in 2008, when the violence in the city was at its highest, murder and crime was really bad that year. So since our message was different than most festivals in the city we felt there was a need and we were ready to take the hurdles that came with the project. I feel a big aspect for me was to give filmmakers, who pour their heart and souls into a project that is not mainstream or “Hollywood,” a venue to show their work. Our festival focuses on peace, non-violence, along with social justice and eco-balanced issues.
MGS: What exactly does your job entail? Walk me through a typical day in the life of a film festival director/review committee member.
CM: I run into people thinking that we just run the festival that weekend. There are actually mountains of work that go into the festival. Thankfully as the years go by we have been able bring people on with the same passion as the original members that alleviate the workload a bit. A normal day for me differs, but mostly what you can find me doing is: watching films, discussing marketing tactics, meeting with our PR company, meeting with Nick Angotti (Exec-Director) and Melissa Pacelli (Co-Founder/Director) on the day to day issues that arise with anything from brand messaging in our poster designs and venue issues to what things should we raffle off during the festival. Nick, Melissa and I are all in agreement with things so almost everything goes through us. So really my day to day differs but one thing is for sure, it will be a busy one.
MGS: Every time I hear back from a film festival, they always say that they’ve received a “record number of submissions.” How much has POEFF grown over the past five years and how has it been affected by the digital revolution in terms of production, distribution and exhibition?
CM: The big thing that has grown with the festival, other than the film submission, which is at a “record number of submissions” (we received upwards of 150 films this year), is our Community Outreach Programs that Nick and Melissa work on. Although I am not a huge part of this aspect of the festival the work they are doing is too important not to bring up. We have a POEFF program to go into schools and do a seminar or class where we show films from the festival and open a discussion with students about peace and how to bring it back into their communities. It has been a great project and a huge part of the growing success of our festival. We do have a Thursday/Friday morning program during festival where schools come to the Chicago Cultural Center and participate in watching the films and we have an open discussion with the students about the films they just saw. Along with that being a huge growing part of the festival, I would have to say the people that have been coming to the festival is growing every year by large numbers. For instance our first year in 2008 we probably sat 250 people all weekend, now we probably sit 350 a day at the festival, which is a great sign that our festival is here to stay and people know it’s a good community project.
MGS: Do you see any correlations between your jobs as independent film producer and film festival director? How does your thorough knowledge of the in-and-outs of the production process benefit the festival?
CM: I do everyday; I don’t think I would be as successful as a POEFF Director without my years of producing films. Everyday I have to think on my toes especially during the festival, keeping things on track and making sure everything is flowing smoothly. Which, as you personally know, correlates nicely to making sure you keep on budget and schedule while doing producing/production management. A live event like the festival is not too far off from doing film. I also think I would not be such a successful producer without the festival.
MGS: I’ll be offering extra credits to any of my students who attend POEFF. Most of them will be young people who have never attended a film festival. How would you recommend they go about choosing a particular film or program from this year’s line-up?
CM: Well since I am kind of biased I would say attend all weekend but, generally we have some really good films Friday and Saturday night. I cannot say what films are the best to see, as each viewer takes something different from the festival. My best suggestion would be check out http://www.poeff.org and look over our films that are listed for this year, all have descriptions and will give you an estimated time it will be shown, find one that will be interesting to the viewer and check it out. We always have a give away for people that come and either “check-in” or “like” us on Facebook. So make sure you check the on screen ads at the festival for the details.