Celebrating film in Lansing

There is film in Lansing. Or rather, there was this past April when the first ever Capital City Film Festival was held. Putting on a brand new event can be a challenge, especially one with events in six venues over four days, all in downtown Lansing.

In The Beginning

"For me, it started with a text from Dom Cochran asking if I wanted to come to a meeting about something super secret," says Jake Pechtel, who was in charge of the non-film related entertainment. "That's always an immediate yes."

Cochran was a founding member of CCFF, along with Nicole Sclafani Szymczak and Jason Gabriel. "Creating CCFF was something Dom Cochran and I briefly talked about at first, then organized a core group of talented folks that could help turn it into a reality," says Sclafani Szymczak, who was festival coordinator. "We started brainstorming the idea back in July or August. We really wanted a celebration centered around film and music--something that's never been done in downtown Lansing."

As a founding member, Cochran had a lion's share of responsibilities, "I was responsible for developing the mission of the festival, early conceptualization, initial festival branding, and overall festival management, as well as recruiting advisors, partners, and sponsors."

Coming Attractions

Dan Hartley, along with Katie Wittenauer, was in charge of programming. The pair had to keep audiences entertained for four days—no easy task for a first year festival. "It was our job to watch all of the submissions, make decisions on whether to pass them along to the Selection Committee," says Hartley. "Once we had our films selected, it was our job to create the schedule, contact filmmakers, arrange for representatives of films to attend, and host the Q and A's. We also had to seek out some films to fill out our schedule."

One such film was Aardvark, which ended up being the opening night film for the festival. "Dom, Katie and I had selected this film on our own, and I was incredibly nervous about its reception from the audience. I wouldn't stop pacing, and my friends were getting concerned with how nervous I was."

Hartley was pleased with the final line-up for the festival, "I think content-wise, we put on one of the best festivals in Lansing."

Turn It Up

Inspired by the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW), CCFF also featured musical events. Pechtel began working the music half of the festival last summer. "We started out with the concept of bringing in something different each night of the festival--an indie rock night, a hip-hop showcase and an electronic focused night."

Finding available bands was a bit of a challenge at first, "We went through our wish list of performers to see what we could make happen. Unfortunately, CCFF fell on the same weekend as Coachella, which eliminated a number of acts almost immediately."

Pechtel persevered and was able to fill every night, "The acts we were able to bring in were phenomenal and the response from those who attended was great." He even had couple favorite shows, "I would have to say it's a toss-up between Maps and Atlases or Othello and the Third Coast Kings."

Growing Pains

With any first year event, there are aspects which can be tweaked or improved. "Pricing was a tough thing to nail down. I'm not sure what we'll do next year, but we will most likely do something different with festival passes and individual show tickets," says Pechtel.

"This being our first festival, there were some logistics that we didn't do so well. Mostly it was small things, but there were a handful of more significant things we will do differently next year," said Hartley. "While I think we had reached promotional saturation, we need to rethink our targeting for next year."

Cochran would like to do more community outreach next time, "For instance, Dan visited the African Student Alliance at MSU to tell them about our Burundi short film showcase."

The Highlight Reel

But, there was plenty of praise for the festival, "I'm always hesitant to call anything a success too early, but judging by the feedback we've received so far I have to say that for a first year and only having limited resources I'm very happy," says Cochran.

Pechtel adds, "The most flattering thing I heard during the festival was that we didn't look like a first year event. Some people actually thought we were in our fifth year."

"My favorite part of CCFF was seeing the visitors enjoying the films and entertainment we hand picked for them," says Sclafani Szymczak "We had such great feedback and many folks were surprised to find out CCFF was only in its first year."

Hartley says, "Despite a few hiccups, I was fantastically proud of what we put together."

Special Thanks

The CCFF team had help from sponsors and partners around Lansing. "Lake Trust, our presenting sponsor, really stepped up to the plate and took a chance with a start up festival," says Sclafani Szymczak. "Also, we thank the more than 50 volunteers that worked tirelessly on making this event a success."

The help did not stop with volunteers or sponsors either, "Our logo was killer! Traction did such a great job with promotional materials and our online marketing strategy. From stickers to [t-shirts], newspaper pull out's to programs--they defined our brand and were so important in creating the identity for CCFF," adds Sclafani Szymczak.

To Be Continued?

Did CCFF survive its first year? Will it return for an action-packed sequel? "Absolutely," says Pechtel. A more reserved Sclafani Szymczak adds, "Hells yes!"

"The festival was a financial success and we will definitely be here next year," says Cochran.

"I absolutely can't wait to work on it for 2012," said Hartley "After [CCFF] was over, I was a little sad, I just wanted to keep working on it forever."

Daniel J. Hogan is the Geek half of the Ginger and the Geek Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter, @danieljhogan.

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