Spare a Thought for the Festival Screeners

With all the attention paid to the filmmakers, actors, and other Sundance Film Festival movers and shakers, won’t anyone take a moment to consider the unsung heroes of this and other film festivals, the screeners? The Los Angeles Times has. The paper notes that these dedicated workers sign up to watch hundreds of films of … er … varying quality submitted for consideration every year and painstakingly write up their responses for others higher up the food chain to consider in making their final decisions about which films to accept.

In an eye-opening article, the L.A. Times reports:

This year, Sundance had more than 10,000 entries — including narrative and documentary features as well as short films — up from about 7,500 in 2006. To handle the deluge, the Utah festival employs 32 part-time screeners and eight part-time programming associates … in addition to the 22 full-time staff members who also view films.

The job may sound glamorous, but it can be grueling:

The work can be extremely tedious. You might watch days of material and only stumble across one gem. The films all start to blend together. Fatigue — or even delirium — begins to set in.

“You go to bed and have a nightmare because of a film you’ve watched, so you’ll watch another film just to forget the one that came before it,” said Darryl Macdonald, director of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which wrapped earlier this month. In addition to his 9-to-5 duties, Macdonald says he wakes up at 6 a.m. on weekends and watches films until 7 p.m.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” he said, only half-joking. “Of course, you take breaks. You have to. The process itself of watching them can be incredibly draining.”

And they’re sure not doing it for the money:

Many lower-level volunteers and contract employees sign up to sift through film festival submissions in exchange for almost nothing. Sundance’s regular screeners …  are paid $15 per film and watch a minimum of 75 films. (That’s a rather underwhelming $1,125, considering minimum wage in California is $8 an hour.) And most other festivals only offer a pass to their event as compensation.

So, wait, why do they do it? Love, hope, a desire to give back and make a difference — and you know, at the end of the day, they are getting paid to watch movies. They explain here.

Be sure to satisfy all your festival needs with the latest buzz, top stories, and celebrity interviews from Sundance Channel’s coverage of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.