by Nathan Lerner
FirstGlance Film Festival has the distinction of being a bicoastal affair, which is presented in both Hollywood and right here in Philadelphia. This year’s festival will include three narrative feature films, four documentary feature films, sixteen narrative shorts, three documentary shorts, two animated films, four student shorts, two music videos and four web series pilots.
The festival’s founder and director is Plymouth Meeting resident Bill Ostroff. The 44-year old Ostroff is a producer, Director’s Guild of America assistant director and independent media consultant. He has worked for such studios as Disney, Warner Bros, Universal, Dreamworks, and Paramount. Recently, Ostroff pitched his first television series to ABC. He also wrote, produced and directed “Jedi Camp,” his first webseries about bullying and “Star Wars.”
Ostroff grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and graduated from Washington High School. These days, like the festival itself, Ostroff himself alternates between the west coast and the Delaware Valley. During his time away, he misses his hometown, “Nothing beats a cheesesteak, soft pretzel and a Rita’s Water Ice.”
Ostroff recalled his early affinity for film. “I was nine years old, watching ‘Star Wars’ for the 1,000th time on VHS!” He matriculated at Penn State before scoring a B.A. in Radio, Television and Film from Temple University. During college, he scored his first job in the entertainment business, working for Janis Productions. He shot mostly weddings, sweet 16s and bar/bat mitzvahs, with the occasional industrial or commercial. This led to more creative work.
Surprisingly, Ostroff had no background in festivals before starting FirstGlance, “When I got out of college, there were no real independent film festivals in the Philadelphia area. So, I decided to start my own! I was working with three other college grads doing live theater and musicals. The idea came to me to show a couple of my films that I directed in college to an audience that was not my peers.”
The inaugural 1996 festival was held in the basement of the Bourse Building in a small theater with a 40-seat capacity. Ostroff recalled, “We showed 30 films, mostly local. This was before the internet, so we had to rely on local word of mouth.”
Until 2000, brimming with self-confidence, Ostroff decided to mount a parallel festival on the West Coast. “I figured if I can do one in Philly, I can do one in Hollywood! The advantage of having two is that we are offering filmmakers two different festivals on separate coasts. It’s the dream of most filmmakers to premiere or screen in Los Angeles, so we made it happen! “
Ostroff has learned from running FirstGlance that operating costs go up almost every year and that it is very difficult to raise entry fees, so the festivals have a very small margin of error. The biggest challenge of running FirstGlance? “Time. I spend many a free weekend watching dozens of submissions.”
Many of the festival’s feature films, both narrative and documentary, have been picked up for distribution after the fests. Many FirstGlance Film Fest alumni have been shown on Showtime, HBO, SnagFilm, PBS, the local indie theater, Netflix, Redbox and in some retail stores. The festival awards about $50,000 in prizes annually, as well.
“As soon as the festivals end, we start planning for the next year’s festival,” Ostroff said. “With two festivals a year (he runs one in L.A. also), we are always working on one aspect of one of the festivals. The festival is lots of work and little money. However, it is very fulfilling to know that we’ve made it possible for a smaller indie festival to succeed. We are Philadelphia’s first and longest running independent film festival.”
FirstGlance Film Festival will take place on Friday, Sept. 20, through Sunday, Sept. 22, at the Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St. For more information or tickets, visit firstglancefilms.com.
Nathan Lerner, the Director of Davenport Communications, sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.