A warning: As I started to write this article, it became something very different than I intended. It became a sort of manifesto to film festivals, and how they handle their alumni relations. Lots of festivals try to do something for their alumni. Sundance has an amazing Alumni Services program, but they also have $40 million budget. But it is the smaller regional festivals I am speaking to, the network of festivals that often compete over premiering the same titles, and then ‘have to’ move on to next year a few weeks after the festival ends. It’s really easy to say ‘we can’t help out every alumni we have’ but really, shouldn’t you? Don’t you owe it to them?
It is the privilege of film programmers to get to see the most adventurous film before anyone else. A few of them take chances and fail stupendously. Others, no matter how far-fetched they seem, cannot be held back. They don’t play by the studio rules (clearly), they don’t even really play by the film festival rules. One of those films, and one I had the unique pleasure of giving its world premiere, is HANDY, a film (in English) by an Italian filmmaker about a ‘hand’ that liberates itself from its arm in order to see the world and experience a fuller life.
HANDY is the first feature film about the life of a standalone hand (named Handy). Handy wants nothing more than to express himself. After a lifetime spent with his owner (a bad writer) Handy decides to detach from its human body in order to prove that a stand alone hand can be the best writer ever… but his actions become a movement that inspires other hands on other arms to do the same, changing the world forever. Along the way, Handy finds and loses love, sees the world, and becomes Hollywood’s next big thing.
Vincenzo Cosentino’s epic story began its life as a short, playing around twenty festivals, before the writer/director/editor/visual effects artist set to work on a full-length version. In fact, the feature was partially filmed as Cosentino criss-crossed the world with his short. HANDY was filmed across 23 countries, which, I have no idea how to look this up, has to be some sort of record for an indie film that isn’t a youtube video of a guy dancing. The feature made its debut in Austin, and then went on to play a number of high profile festivals across the country (and in other countries). Now Cosentino wants to give the world a hand (it’s his hand who plays ‘Handy’ in the film anyway) so he’s in the midst of a kickstarter campaign to offer the film a limited theatrical run.
Why HANDY? Why am I writing about this film? Two reasons. 1) There is no other film like this and there will likely never be again. This is one of the most profoundly original and bizarre and yet somehow still life-affirming films ever made. It’s a true testament to a filmmaker’s desire to dream and to his courage to work towards (an often ludicrous) goal. It’s funny, it’s sweet, and it’s really amazing to see how he did it. 2) We always say film festivals are the new distribution model for indie films. Sure, but when a film is this unique, it deserves to be seen outside that environment. And there are probably not too many distributors going to take a chance on something like this (I’m sure Cosentino has been shopping it as much as he can). How can a film that played Austin, Atlanta, Cleveland, St. Louis, Newport Beach and Heartland Film festivals not have audience potential? And how are these festivals not pushing this film as much as they can? This is a true success story, a film that represents everything a film festival can and should be.
We programmers find films, we bring them to our audiences hoping they will resonate, and most of them do, and then the festival ends and the festival moves on. They move on to the next year, the next batch of filmmakers. We might send out a tweet to celebrate a film being picked up for distribution, but isn’t that more about the festival itself than the filmmaker? Aren’t we just saying ‘hey look at us, we have good taste!’ One of the best things for me about getting out of the major festival programming arms race has been that I can really help filmmakers that deserve it and need it. Maybe it’s articles like this, maybe it’s using my scifi festival’s twitter account to highlight local filmmaker’s projects looking for funding, maybe it’s sending a note to another programmer to check out a film that is getting overlooked on the circuit.
Not that other people don’t do this, but they don’t do it as a foundation of their existence, which they really should. If a filmmaker plays your festival, and you pluck up that filmmaker’s ‘world premiere’ or ‘us premiere,’ you owe it to that filmmaker moving forward to get that film seen, not just at your festival, by your audience, but at other festivals worldwide. It drives me crazy when a festival puts out a story in their newsletter about one of their ‘alumni’ and its some already-famous Hollywood filmmaker who came to the festival (maybe it was to speak on a panel or to receive an award). That’s not an alumni. That’s someone who came to your festival because they could fit it into their already busy schedule. You probably flew them out and put them up. A real alumni is an undiscovered filmmaker hawking their film-wares around the circuit looking for buyers. These are the fresh voices that need to be heard. These are the people asking local film commissions to help them raise funds just to attend your festival so they can be at the Q&A.
Yes, this is a manifesto, but HANDY brings that out in me. Film festivals need to play more films like this, and then do more for the film after it plays there. So I challenge all the film festivals that played this fearless film, get the word out about this kickstarter campaign. The link is here: Cosentino is halfway to his goal with about 20 days left. Cosentino says Atlanta Film Festival and Heartland Film Festival have been sharing his campaign, but it has been hard to get traction with other places the film has screened (see below). This is the perfect opportunity to see if your 20,000 twitter followers or 45,000 facebook likers are paying attention. I asked Cosentino directly about this, and it was his response that motivated me to write this article as a call to action. I just gave him a pledge myself. Austin Film Festival, Cleveland Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival, St. Louis Film Festival, Orlando Film Festival, Hoboken Film Festival New York, Los Angeles Italia Film Festival, Fantasporto Film Festival, remind your audiences you played this film, they saw it, they have friends who might want to see it. Give Cosentino a ‘hand,’ help get this film out into the world.
And with that, I move on, to the interview portion of this article:
BEARS: The film began as a short – tell me about the decision to take it from short to feature. Why begin that process? What made you believe there was more story there?
Cosentino: I met Franco Nero (Django, Keoma) in a film festival in Miami while my short film was playing. That night the short won an honorable mention and Franco Nero liked the idea, he told me that if I was going to make the feature film out of it I could count on him. I told him that I didn’t have money to afford such a big actor and he told me that he would have helped me by acting for free in it because he believed in the “hand” concept/story. At that point I had zero money, zero producers wanting to invest in my movie, one HD camera, my right hand (named Handy) but…I had an Italian movie legend…and I was young and crazy so I said to my self: I will extend the story of the short into a feature even if I don’t have the resources to afford a professional crew. I will find somebody to help me for free. As I said I was crazy to think something like this and of course I didn’t find somebody to help me for free, so I took practically the entire feature on my shoulders. I thought to finish it in two years but then I was slow on the visual effects because I had to learn the software and I was spending 25 minutes per frame to make the Hand moving by itself. I made the entire feature film on a 13 inch laptop.
BEARS: Along the way, I’m sure many people told you this idea was crazy — what kept you going?
Cosentino: I don’t know if they thought that the idea itself was crazy or if I was crazy to make the entire film almost by myself. I didn’t give up mainly for 4 reasons during those 4 years:
1) I wanted to make something original, something hard to forget for the audience.
2) I wanted to give a message of peace, how you can use your hands to do good things instead of bad things.
3) the most important one: “If a hand can do it, you can do it.” I wanted to give a little bit of strength to all the people who have experienced some bad things in life and lost hope and strength like I did in some moments of my life. I wanted them to say to themselves “if Handy did all these things in the movie, I can do it too.”
4) If I was able to climb this huge 4-years-mountain one day I would have looked back and say in my future bad moments: “I did an entire visual effect feature film without ever quitting, I should be able to go through other bad things in life.”
BEARS: When you pitched the idea to others (actors/composers/etc, anyone else who works on the film), how did you explain what it was going to look like?
Cosentino: Actors were the easier part, I could not pay professional actors, they were all my close friends. My composer was different, he felt in love with the short and he decided to help me out making the music for it. We became amazing friends during those 4 years. He is from Norway and his name is Sveinung Nygaard.
BEARS: Handy goes all over the world. Were there any places that were particularly difficult to film? Any place you were hoping to get to but couldn’t?
Cosentino: Yes I filmed HANDY in more than 20 countries around the globe because I was traveling when the film festivals were selecting my short films. While I was there I was filming my hand everywhere. The most difficult places to film my hand were the Pyramids because I was in the middle of the desert, the great wall of China because that day it was very cold (-19 degrees celsius) and I had to climb to the highest point during a little snow storm, it was about 1 hour walking. The Ayers Rock was hard too because it was in the middle of the Australian Desert, very hot and full of mosquitos and dangerous insects.
I wanted to film also in Brazil in Rio De Janeiro,HANDY next to the Christ the Redeemer Statue but no festival selected me in Brazil and I could not afford to pay this huge travel cost. This is the biggest regret of my film. Maybe one day I will be able to save some money and film there.
BEARS: Maybe you can digitally insert into the film and do a lucasfilm-like special edition. Tell me about presenting the feature at film festivals, what was that like?
Cosentino: Film festivals changed my life, I had the luck to find amazing people, filmmakers, programmers, volunteers. They love and live for film. The most genuine people I have ever met during those years. Only if you live those experience you can understand how important film festivals are for young filmmakers. Especially if you don’t know people in the film industry (like in my case). My premiere was at the Austin Film Festival and it was an amazing experience, I remember I had so much tension that I got a huge fever.
[BEARS: This is true, I remember he disappeared for several days in the middle of the festival and never left his hotel, only to emerge triumphant at the end with a huge crowd at his final screening]
Cosentino: I worked on that movie on a laptop in Sicily where not too many people speak English and my movie is in English so I was never be able to make a screening test also because I didn’t have the money to rent a theater. Practically my first screening test was my premiere in Austin.
BEARS: You’ve got a kickstarter going now to bring the film to theaters. Why utilize crowdfunding? Why do you want to bring the film to theaters? Any particular festivals that have been helping you get the word out about the kickstarter campaign?
Cosentino: The Atlanta Film Festival and the Heartland Film Festival are helping me spread the word up to now but other festivals promised me to help me as well down the road so I hope to receive their “hand” because I am not from USA so for me it is really hard to connect with the people who saw my movie during the festival run in USA.
I wanted to utilize crowdfunding because people liked my movie in film festivals so I thought that I could distribute thanks to people’s love and support instead of accepting one of the offers I received because I thought that my movie deserved a better treatment instead of going straight to Video On Demand after all the work I put into it. I think that every filmmaker’s dream is having his film shown in a cinema where you can feel the audience, interact with them in the Q&As and this will make you improve as a filmmaker because you can capture their feelings, their feedbacks.
I am a young filmmaker and I need feedback and you can’t have feedback if a person is watching your movie only on itunes…you need to feel the people. Being part of the audience. That is what I think.
With the funds I will be able to collect, I can rent theaters, paying for marketing costs and more. It will be a one of a kind experience, maybe the right way to finish this adventure. I made this movie for the people and I want to see my movie with them. Then I could die happy…and HANDY.
BEARS: I knew a pun was coming. The kickstarter campaign, once again, below.
Cosentino’s original short BEING HANDY was bought for distribution by Canal Plus France but it previously played in the following festivals (so here’s another 20 trendmakers that could lend a ‘hand’):
Dances With Films (Los Angeles, USA), Grand Jury Award Honorable Mention
Taormina Film Festival (Italy), Short Film
Sacramento Film and Music Festival (California USA)
Los Angeles International Children Film Festival (California, USA)
Berlin Interfilm Festival (BERLIN, Germany)
Sapporo International Film Festival (SAPPORO, Japan)
Byron Bay International Film Festival (Byron Bay, Australia)
Skyfest (North Carolina, USA), Third Place Award 2009
15 Minutes Of Fame Film Festival (Palm Bay, Florida, USA) Awarded with Best Editing
Sicilian Film Festival (held in MIAMI USA), Awarded with Special Mention 2009
Ignition Film Festival (Australia)
Razoor Reel Fantastic Film Festival (Belgium),
I’ve Seen Films (Italy), internet contest
Festival Internazionale Del Cinema di Frontiera (Italy) Awarded with Special Mention 2009
Cinesol Film Festival (USA) , Short Film
BOLZANO SHORT FILM FESTIVAL (Bolzano, Italy)
Montana Independent Film Festival (Montana, USA)
242 Movie Tv Film Festival Casa del Cinema (ROMA)
Festival Internazionale “Ionio in Corto”,␣Short Film Awarded with Best Leading actor for the role of “Handy” the hand 2010
p style=”padding-left: 60px;”>