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Behind the Scenes with HIFF’s Director of Programming: Anderson Le

    By Victoria Piccoli. November 10, 2014 - 8:18 am

For some, going to the movies is a hobby. But for Anderson Le, director of programming at Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF), watching movies is a full-time job. Le has been the programming director for HIFF since 2002, and has traveled all around the world to other film festivals and film markets to find new films to show at HIFF.

This year’s multicultural films come from countries in Asia, the Pacific Rim, North America and Europe, but the ‘New Frontiers Program’ is focusing on exploring Islamic communities from countries around the world. Challenging audiences to watch movies outside their comfort zone and allowing others to learn about a different culture through film are Le’s goals when picking films for HIFF.

The Kalamalama sat down with Le for more detail on his job, how he chooses films and HIFF.


Kalamalama: Could you tell me about your job?

Anderson Le: My official role is director of programing and basically I am in charge of the overall film program for the festival. Just taking the lead on choosing the film for every section. So we have a programming team that is in charge of different sections but I have the final say.

What are you looking for when you choose films?

For a person who chooses films for a film festival it is very important to choose films that would suit the taste of your audience. So with Hawaii being an unique place, it’s different from let’s say Illinois, we have a multicultural make up. So we have a strong influence from Asia and the Pacific Rim so it really is just catering to your audience. But, at the same time with film festivals you kind of want to challenge your audience. So you want to choose films that they might not see or may not be familiar with. Say, for example, we have a section of films about Islamic communities around the world – so that’s not a subject that is very well known here in everyday life Hawaii. So, that’s why you want to provide this window to different cultures and different ways of life. In a way it’s kind of like going on a tour around the world and experiencing all these different cultures.

When did you start picking the films for this year?

I actually travel to different festivals and other film markets. First half of the year I am always on the road, I go to Sundance (Park City, Utah), Cannes (Cannes, France), South by Southwest (Austin, Texas) and all these major festivals. I am always trying to look for the new films out there. Seeing and following what the new trends are and what film projects are. Just pick and choose what would be good for my festival.

How do you get in contact with the film markers?

I have been doing it for a while so there is a big rolodex of film distributors and filmmakers I know, different film companies that I approach. So we all, in the film festival world and film communities – about 300 to 500 professionals where we all know each other. When I go to the festivals we kind of see the same faces. It’s more like camp; you always see the same faces. I have friends from Japan or France that I see more often than my family because we are always on the circuit. That’s how we know each other and how we communicate with each other. Try to make deals and have them show their films here or there.


How do you choose the films from Hawai‘i?

We have an open call for entries; it’s like college admission. You know, submit your film and have a cover letter and fill out a form. We have a committee that reviews everything and we rate it and it goes through different cuts. With Hawaii being such a small close-knit community, we kind of know what is out there already. We kind of know who is making what film, so we expect to see it next year or we just take tally’s on who is doing what so it is pretty close knit. We are very serious about promoting and supporting local films so we take great consideration. It goes through a long process, different people view it, we discuss it and debate if it is worthy to present at the festival.

Is there anything at HIFF that is super new?

I think what is super new is the creative lab, a series of master classes and workshops we have where professionals come in. They are here from Hollywood, L.A. or New York and just kind of giving their guidance to people who are interested in film or interested in working in film. We have these accelerator programs where there is a call for entries process where we choose 12 scripts and those participate in this workshop. We work with different guilds in L.A. like the writers guild of America. So the winners will be flown to L.A. and have different meetings with different studios and all that stuff. It’s kind of like career development.  We are trying to expand our education and career development components in festivals so that festivals are not just about showing films it is about movie culture in general. From someone who can appreciate movies or to someone who is really interested in making movies.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I think my favorite thing is when I discover a filmmaker and show their film at the festival – it is really well attended and people just love it. The filmmakers are in attendance and that energy it is amazing. One of my key programs that we are showing this year is called Halloween, we are doing a double feature of this New Zealand comedy, and we will have the two stars and their director there.

Thanks for the interview Anderson!


Photos courtesy of, Scott Sesko, and Silje Lie Solland.