8 Female Filmmakers: Allyson West on Creating the Cindependent Film Festival
This story is a two-part introduction to a series of interviews spotlighting eight local female filmmakers in collaboration with the Cindependent Film Festival. Meet Allyson, the woman behind the festival in “8 Female Filmmakers: Meet Allyson West.”
Stay tuned for more female filmmaker stories for the next several Fridays leading up to the festival, and support independent film in Cincinnati by taking part in the exciting inaugural event, August 23-25. Tickets can be found here.
Note that this interview contains some strong language and mature content.
"It's gonna be like a rad party," Allyson West tells me when I say I've never been to a film festival before. We met the bold, fiery filmmaker and founder of the Cindependent Film Festival at The Bramble Patch this spring – when she was 7 months pregnant, by the way – to find out how and why she decided Cincinnati's film festival scene needed a little shaking up.
Give us a quick overview of what the Cindependent Film Festival is all about.
So the who, what, where, when, why is it’s a three-day film festival at the Woodward Theater, August 23, 24, 25. It’s being designed to attract filmmakers, as well as community members. It’s really important to connect storytellers in and outside of the industry, because, I mean, just like at bars, you get to hear everybody’s stories. It’s no different than sitting next to somebody watching a movie and then turning to them and being like, “Oh my god. Did you just see that, too?” You get to talk to storytellers, and that’s all connected through the human experience and the human perspective.
I’m scared shitless. That’s enough to just keep me moving forward.
So, let’s talk about what it’s been like planning this inaugural festival while also preparing to be a mom for the first time.
It’s terrifying. People will be like, “I don’t know how you do it,” and I’m like, “I’m scared shitless.” That’s enough to just keep me moving forward.
I had to be okay with the possibility that it could actually fail. It could all go down the toilet. There’s middle ground, too. If things don’t end up the way we want them to, we just keep trying. I’m not worried about us making mistakes, because that’s how you learn better.
What will Olive be doing during the festival?
I’m gonna wear her. My mom’s gonna come up, and she’ll take her when it’s time for her to go bed. So she’ll stay with us during the daytime and then go home and go to bed, and I’ll go party, and then we’ll get her again in the morning, and she’ll just be with us. She needs to see art, too.
I’ve never been to a film festival.
So for someone who’s never been, what’s it like?
Well, it can be different because there’s lots and lots of different film festivals. This one’s gonna be like a party.
Check out a clip of Allyson describing her vision for the Cindependent Film Festival.
And then what we’re doing is making sure that the filmmakers are having a great time. So we’ll want to make sure that they have drinks and we encourage people to go across the street to have drinks and there’s talk back panels and parties for people to go to. The whole point is just facilitating conversation through these mediums. If we’re gonna have them take days off from work, travel from their cities, be away from their families for four days, they have to leave here being like, “Cincinnati was amazing. How have I never been here to work?” They have to feel like it’s overwhelmingly worth their time. Which, it’s not that hard for us to do – we just need to give a shit about them, which we do.
Why was the Woodward the right place for this?
The Woodward’s got the right attitude about this type of work. They’re very open minded. Dan McCabe, who runs it, is excited about film and excited about what film does. The Woodward was built as a 1920s silent movie house, and then it just sat vacant for years. It’s like literally, we’re putting movies in a place that was built to house movies.
Why does Cincinnati need this?
Well, you know how I’ve talked about just being frustrated? Cincinnati is missing a portion of the career ladder for filmmakers and storytellers, and this starts building professional opportunities for people like me. I can’t be the only person who wants more out of their career here. This is us becoming the home for Cincinnati’s independent filmmakers, where we can elevate people who have been trying to be elevated, and we can connect them with people who are already at the top professional rung. If we can find that middle ground that is great work and good storytelling, then we’re gonna start connecting people everywhere.
Why do you think independent film is important? What happens in independent film that doesn’t happen elsewhere?
There’s not as many rules. There’s more liberation and ownership in independent film. I can play a character that says really rude things to her brown boyfriend in a movie if I want to, and the only thing on the line is my reputation, you know? I probably wouldn’t get away with something like that in a larger studio production.
You have the opportunity to access people immediately with your thoughts, which is why, also, getting to meet and talk with an artist is so important, because you’re really accessing them. Artists need community to talk about their work. When I was traveling with the movie [“Texican”], a lot of my development as a professional was getting to talk with people about what was happening. I went to the San Diego Latino Film Festival, and I was sitting in the theater, and I suddenly realized that I was surrounded by people with brown skin. And I was like, “Oh my god. This is really uncomfortable.” I had never been in a situation where I was the minority in the room.
What else do you want people to know about the Cindependent festival?
I think people should know how much fun it’s gonna be. If they’re used to seeing movies, it’s not gonna be the same as going to see movies that they have in the past. It’s gonna feel a lot more like a party.
I think it’s really important for people to hear that the kind of filmmakers we’re bringing in are very entrepreneurial people. They’re people who kinda do their own thing and push it forward for one reason or another, and I think that’s an energy and an attitude that’s shared in Cincinnati. I think that the people that are gonna be here are that type of person.
What are you all most on the lookout for when you’re selecting films?
We have an emphasis on Cincinnati-made movies. And I think as women, we also have an emphasis on movies that are female-empowered, too. I will be choosing movies that I think the city needs to hear. I also like a lot of unsafe work, things that push the envelope a lot.
What do you think this city needs to hear?
Man. I feel like this city needs to hear about love through challenge, love through hardship. Movies that share the themes of unity, love, friendship through differences, difficulties, challenges, I think our city could hear.
When people are walking out the door, what do you hope they’re talking about?
I think it’s possible for people to just be like, “Wow. I didn’t expect that.” And that’s what I would want out of this: for people to see that there’s something that they can do, and it’s not passive. It will ask them to engage, and it will change them by having them there. That’s what independent film can do. It’s what storytelling at this level can do, and these movies, they just have a way of grabbing people and helping you see something new for a short time.
If you haven’t gotten to know Allyson yet in “8 Female Filmmakers: Meet Allyson West,” do it! And please join us in celebrating independent film in Cincinnati by coming out to the festival, August 23-25. Tickets here.