As director of the Bermuda International Film Festival (BIFF), Full Sail grad Andrew Stoneham knows all about what goes on behind the scenes of the festival circuit. From fundraising, to combing through hundreds of applications, to working with filmmakers and distributors, he’s well versed in the struggles organizers face when putting together an event. But before he ascended to the rank of director, Andrew was just another film student trying to figure out what he wanted to do after graduation.
“I think most people go to Full Sail with the intention of being a film director, and then when you get there it’s like, no, that might not necessarily be for me” he says. “Full Sail opens your eyes to the different processes behind filmmaking.”
After serving as a production designer for both his 16mm and 35mm projects, Andrew was pretty sure that was where his career interests lay. But in his last few months of school, he began working on a screenplay for a short film he describes as an “anti-romantic comedy.” After graduating, Andrew moved back home to Bermuda to work and save up for a move to New York City. During that time, he volunteered for BIFF as a way to bridge the gap between his passion and his community.
“Unlike many places in the world, we do not have an art house cinema on the island. We only have two movie theaters, and they bring in standard Hollywood films. The film festival provides an alternative to all that, which is foreign films. We collect the best foreign films of the previous year and showcase them in a week-long cerebration.”
His work as a volunteer led to a seasonal position with the festival, which led to a promotion to operations manager. Andrew did eventually move to New York, but he remained on staff at BIFF, traveling back to Bermuda for a few months out of the year to fulfill his duties.
While living in New York, Andrew teamed up with director Douglas Horn to produce Coffee & Pie, the film he’d started writing during his last few months at Full Sail. He says that Full Sail’s comprehensive overview of the industry gave him the confidence to pursue different aspects of film making.
“When I was in the program,I didn’t think I would go on to write or produce. But once I was out in the real world, that’s how things developed. Everyone saw me as the organized guy. I don’t have a problem organizing, and dare I say I get some enjoyment out it. I started writing my own content, and then that just naturally progressed to producing.”
Once the film was complete, Andrew and his creative partners immediately started sending them out to film festivals for consideration. It was a process that taught him a lot about developing a strategy for navigating the festival circuit.
“I think a lot of people just apply to festivals they hear about or maybe festivals they like or would want to go to, and that’s not necessarily the best way to go about it,” he says. “Coffee & Pie had LGBT themes and characters. So we applied to a lot of LGBT film festivals. We applied to women-centric film festivals because it was an all female cast, and then we also identified some larger film festivals which we would have really loved to play. So we had a wish list in addition to the strategic list of festivals we thought would have an interest in the type of story we were trying to tell.”
Coffee & Pie went on to play at dozens of festivals including the Florida Film Festival, Outfest, and the Seattle International Film Festival. It was nominated for an Iris Prize and won the award for Best LGBT Short Film at the Queens World Film Festival. Around the time the film was completing its run of the festival circuit, the director of the Bermuda Film Festival stepped down. Andrew stayed on as operations manager for a few more years before moving back to Bermuda full time to take on the position of director. It was a decision he’d been contemplating for a long time, and this year it just felt right.
“There was talk a year ago about making me an offer, but I didn’t feel like I was quite there yet. This time around when they made the offer I was ready,” he says.
Now, Andrew devotes his time to organizing staff and volunteers, courting sponsors, and traveling to other festivals to forge industry connections. He says the experience he gained as a filmmaker is a valuable asset to him in his current job, as it allows him to approach the festival experience from both sides. As for his love of writing and producing, it’s something he’d eventually like to return to.
“My focus right now is trying to spearhead us into the next generation of the film festival. But I’m still a filmmaker,” he says. “I definitely have to put my projects on hold a little bit longer, because the film festival takes up so much of my time. But I’m writing, and I’m hoping to produce more original content on my own in the future.”