Stephen Elliott Decided Film Fests are Bullshit — So He Created His Own

Stephen Elliott Decided Film Fests are Bullshit — So He Created His Own
Courtesy Stephen Elliott

What do you do when you make a movie about a movie about your life, shell out a great deal of cash submitting it to festivals and get back a whole lot of rejection letters in return? You do some research and realize the odds are against you.

And, if you’re Stephen Elliott, you write an exposé about your experience and start your own damn film festival.

The first (potentially annual) Rumpus Lo-Fi Los Angeles Film Festival, a micro-festival of sorts, features the world debut of Elliott’s film After Adderall, as well as three other directors' films and two panels: "How to Film Festival" and "Life Into Art, When Books Become Movies."

Elliott is the founding editor of online lit magazine the Rumpus and the author of several books including memoir The Adderall Diaries, which became a film in 2015 produced by and starring James Franco. As thrilling as this sounds, Elliott didn’t exactly give the movie a glowing endorsement. His reaction to the experience of having someone else tell his story was part of the inspiration for After Adderall.

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“I didn't make After Adderall to get revenge, but my memoir being made into a movie and that process and seeing James Franco play me was really inspiring,” he says. “There was so much to think about in terms of what is a story and who owns it and is it even possible to tell someone's story, particularly someone who is alive and changing all the time.”

Elliott describes After Adderall as “literally a movie about James Franco making a movie about me." But, he says, "It's not a documentary, it's more a re-creation, retelling, reimagining.” He stars as himself in the film along with an ensemble cast including Mickaela Tombrock, Bill Heck, Lili Taylor, Michael C. Hall, James Urbaniak, Ned Van Zandt and Adam Busch. 

A still from After AderallEXPAND
A still from After Aderall
Courtesy Stephen Elliott

After completing the film, he began to submit it to various festivals and was surprised when After Adderall kept getting rejected. He soon began to suspect that festival organizers were more interested in the checks being submitted with the films than they were in the films themselves. “They take advantage of people's dreams,” he says. “The cost for submitting movies to certain festivals has gotten insane. The most egregious is probably Chicago. They charge $100 and then if you're late they charge as much as $200.” Elliott says it's fruitless because the major festivals know who’s on their roster before they even look through many of the submissions.

“They accept essentially no feature narratives from the submission pile. They're all given a waiver or invited. The people that pay to submit narrative features are just taken advantage of. The losers are throwing a party for the winners.”

Last May, Elliott published an exposé about his findings, concluding his piece with the idea that the site might start its own film festival. The response was so great that that's exactly what happened. Much like the content on the site, the Rumpus’ film festival doesn’t have to follow anyone else’s rules. There were no submission fees because there were no submissions. The festival is by invitation only.

Elliott found most of the movies he wanted to feature while researching his article. “Some of them, in particular Creedmoria, are movies that had to jump through more hurdles than I thought was fair. Creedmoria was accepted into both Cinequest and Dances With Films and won an award at both. After doing all the research for this article, I realized that what Alicia Slimmer had done with this movie was much more impressive than getting into Sundance or Cannes.”

While the festival doesn’t have a theme per se, Elliott chose films that he thought deserved a break. “I was looking for ultra-low-budget movies that told great stories. Movies that had maybe been treated unfairly by the festival system, like Creedmoria, or not really shown to the more general population, like S&M Sally, which did great on the gay and queer festival circuit but really deserves to be seen by a more mainstream audience as well.”

The Rumpus Lo-Fi Los Angeles Film Festival, Brewery Arts Complex, 604 Moulton Ave., Lincoln Heights; Sat., July 30, 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; $5-$25. therumpus.net/filmfestival.

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