Imagine This Women’s International Film Festival: a conversation with founders Patrice and Susie Francois

Susie Francois (L) and Patrice Francois (R), Mother and Daughter dream team.

Mother and daughter power team, Patrice (daughter) and Susie (mother) Francois, are making an impact for women in the film community. Their annual international female-directed film festival and Girl Power Film & Media Summit brings together women in film from all over the world. We are approaching their fourth-annual Imagine This Women’s International Film Festival on Thursday, November 7th and it goes until Sunday, November 10th. I first met Francois and Susie at their second-annual Girl Power Film & Media Summit in March 2019, and if you follow my features you’ll see that I’ve interviewed several women I met at the summit. Patrice and Susie are strengthening the community by giving a platform to female-directed films from all over the world, networking events, and education on distribution as well as how to succeed in filmmaking. I was fortunate to hear more about their story and their hopes for the festival. Read my conversation with them below and visit their site to learn more about the upcoming festival: https://www.imaginethisprods.com/

REBECCA MARTIN: How did your film journey together start?

PATRICE FRANCOIS: I think it was our passion for film. When I was growing up, my mother would take me to go to the movies every other weekend. That’s where my love for movies grew. It’s just always been a part of our lives. I love everything about films. I also love to be able to give opportunities to female filmmakers because I know how hard it is being an aspiring filmmaker myself.

MARTIN: What experience with the film drove you to starting the festival?

SUSIE FRANCOIS: Like Patrice said, we used to go see films together every other weekend. She went to school for theatre and transitioned into filmmaking.  Seeing the difficulties that she faced trying to get into film festival circuit gave us the idea to provide women filmmakers a platform to showcase their work and that’s how we got the idea to start a film festival.  I know that filmmakers want their work to be seen. For years, we would talk about starting a women’s film festival and in early 2016 we launched the Imagine This Women’s International Film Festival. 

MARTIN: I’m so glad you did.

PATRICE: And then five or six months later in November, we had our first film festival. 

MARTIN: Making a film is hard enough, I can’t even imagine. 

Tribeca Film Festival

PATRICE: It was a bit overwhelming at first. We thought we had an idea of what it took to run a film festival, but there was so much more that we didn’t know was involved. We started looking at the film festivals that we’ve loved so much, like Tribeca, and we saw how they ran their film festival from the step and repeats to the program books to the audience awards and we sort of built our foundation from that. The next step was to find a platform where we could get submissions. We listed our festival on FilmFreeway and by the end of the submission deadline we received over two hundred submissions. 

MARTIN: Oh wow. 

PATRICE: We weren’t expecting to get that many submissions, especially since it was our first year. All that did was prove to us that there were so many female filmmakers out there that wanted to have their work seen. The festival is growing and we try to make it the best possible experience for the filmmakers. This year, we had over four hundred submissions–more shorts, more features, and more filmmakers from countries all over the world like Germany and the Netherlands that are attending our festival in Brooklyn. The first year we had our film festival, we had a filmmaker from Italy who said, “You are the first film festival that I’ve submitted to that accepted my work, and that empowered me to submit to more film festivals.” Getting feedback like that confirms to us that we are doing the right thing. 

MARTIN: What I love about what you do is that you bring the educational side to it as well. Along with panel discussions. I wondered if you could share more about how you brought in these educational elements.

Susie Francois and Patrice Francois at second-annual Girl Power Film & Media Summit 2019

PATRICE: After the first two years of the festival, we wanted to do more for the creative community and that’s when my mom, Susie, suggested that we do a summit. We came up with the Girl Power Film & Media Summit where we would have panels, speakers, workshops and showcase short films from aspiring filmmakers. We created a platform to empower women. We wanted a space for female filmmakers to be able to learn from the workshops, grow their network, and find support so that they  have the resources and the confidence to go out there and create. We held our first Girl Power Film + Media Summit in March 2018. We felt that March was perfect since it is also Women’s History Month. We had four panels with female industry leaders, two educational workshops, networking opportunities, and showcased short films.

MARTIN: What would you say you’ve learned since you started about running a film festival?

SUSIE: I would say I’ve learned a lot and that it takes a lot to run a film festival. I know for sure the hardest part is not having enough time or budget to screen every film submitted. I’ve learned we hate sending out rejection letters. It’s one of the reasons our festival went from a two-day event to a four-day event this year.  

PATRICE: The first year the festival was a two-day event held over the weekend so we were very limited with the number of films we could showcase. I would agree with her, sending out rejection letters is probably the hardest part of the festival. We are always adding hours and days to the festival so that we can showcase more films. This year the festival is four days. We will be screening 56 films from 13 countries. We have also added more special events to the festival like a networking and a filmmaker mixer hosted by HiO Life and a wine tasting sponsored by H&B Provence.

Imagine This Women’s International Film Festival

MARTIN: I know, that’s amazing, but it’s intense!

PATRICE: It is and it’s literally just the two of us working on the festival. We try to balance it with our day jobs. I still have yet to figure out the work-life balance.  And with a lack of financial support, it’s even harder. We rely on submission fees and out of pocket expenses to help run the festival. For most film festival programmers, running a film festival is a labor of love,  we do it for the passion and the love of all things indie. However, we are grateful to receive in-kind donations that help with the overall experience for the attendees and filmmakers. 

MARTIN: What’s unique about this year’s film festival, beyond just having so many more films that are screening and the additional days of the festival?

PATRICE: For the first time, we are having a screenplay competition. This year we received over 30 screenplay submissions. We weren’t sure of the direction we wanted to take, but we wanted to do something special so we decided to have a screenplay reading on November 8th with actors and judges.

MARTIN: That sounds amazing. 

PATRICE: We’re really excited about it. Screenplays were submitted from all over the world–from Austria to California. Right now, we now have five finalists and we’re really thrilled.

SUSIE: The grand prize winner will get a year of ISA Network subscription and a ScreenCraft package. 

MARTIN: I think it’s great you’re being such a support to women filmmakers from all over the world.

PATRICE: We’re trying!

MARTIN: From the films you are showcasing in the festival, how do you think they reflect the current climate of where we are at with women in film?

Photo from third-annual Imagine This Women’s International Film Festival

PATRICE: Women filmmakers tend to tell different kinds of stories from a different lens. They tend to be bolder in their storytelling. They are passionate about the stories they want to share. Whether it’s a story about the #MeToo movement, or about education, or about women’s rights and reproductive rights, women aren’t afraid to tell those stories. However, not all films we feature deal with social issues. We have a lot of animation, comedies, thrillers and light-hearted films as well. Not to brag, but I think women filmmakers are just better at telling stories, they just are. They are not afraid to be bold and use their voices. That’s what I absolutely love about the films that we get submitted to our film festival. Whether they get selected or not, I love watching their films. I feel that no matter what’s in women’s stories, it’s something that needs to be said, and they are not afraid of saying it.

Not to brag, but I think women filmmakers are just better at telling stories, they just are. They are not afraid to be bold and use their voices. That’s what I absolutely love about the films that we get submitted to our film festival. Whether they get selected or not, I love watching their films. I feel that no matter what’s in women’s stories, it’s something that needs to be said, and they are not afraid of saying it.

-Patrice Francois

MARTIN: One of the short films I watched that will be featured at your festival struck me as so unique, “The Cunning Man”, directed by Zoe Dobson. The story is told through the eyes of an older man. What I love is that this is an example of how female-directed stories aren’t always focusing on female characters, or through the eyes of female characters, just like male-directed films aren’t just revolved around male characters. And I love that you have this film as part of the festival to show the diverse stories that female filmmakers bring to the table.

“The Cunning Man” (2019) short film directed by Zoe Dobson

PATRICE: Exactly. I think people expect that women are going to tell the same kind of stories over and over again. We are all very different. We all have different things to say. I mean, we have films that are horror, some films that are sci-fi, and thriller. 

MARTIN: Yes. 

PATRICE: The films are as diverse as the filmmakers who make them. That’s what we love about women storytellers they are able to tell different kinds of stories. Good storytellers have the ability to influence and inspire people to take action. 

MARTIN: What you all are doing here is so special, and the community you’re building and supporting is amazing.

PATRICE: We want to give a space where women and men filmmakers can connect and build their network and resources to make their art. I would like to point out that all of our events are open to everyone. Some of our selected films have had male directors – we just require that a woman filmmaker has a major role in making the film such as an editor or a producer.

MARTIN: It’s great to have men supporting women.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own film festival?

PATRICE: Do your research and also reach out to your local indie film festivals. You never know, they might need someone like you who’s passionate about indie films to help be part of their festival. Find out what you love about that film festival world. Understand what’s drawn you to wanting to start your own film festival and try to offer something different.  

SUSIE: It’s simple for us. We love great indie films and we wanted to have no politics involved. All we want to do is share the work of women filmmakers from all over the world who deserve to have their work seen. We just want to show great films by established and aspiring filmmakers and support the community. If you want to start a film festival, make sure you’re passionate about films and want to build a film community.  And just do it.

MARTIN: I feel a lot of good things could happen if people just did things. And you two are doing it. Thank you.

Film Preview for the 4th Annual Imagine This Women’s International Film Festival

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