A celebration of storytelling: Hobnobben Film Festival returns for eighth year

Returning for its eighth year, the Hobnobben Film Festival invites everyone to experience engaging storytelling through film. 

The festival runs from October 19-22, featuring 144 films, from filmmakers in 30 different countries. This year, 20 percent of the films have connections to Indiana– they were made here or made by someone from here, shedding a light on the local filmmaking scene. 

The films are curated into blocks, based on themes determined by the Hobnobben staff. 2023 blocks include Human Stories: Cool People Edition, Tough Topics: From Life to Death, Iranian Filmmaker Showcase, Saturday Scaries, and Dark & Twisty & (Sometimes) Pretty Fun.

Hobnobben also hosts workshops and networking events for filmmakers throughout the weekend.

Input Fort Wayne sat down with Festival Directors Christi Hille and Alix Watson to learn about the upcoming festival. 

Hobnobben Film Festival PosterIFW: What can patrons expect from the 2023 Hobnobben Film Festival?
Christi Hille: It really is just a cool opportunity to experience film in a way you haven’t done before. With Hobobben we do try to do it so we’ve got sports films, if you’re really into that. If you’re into romance films, we have a block about that. If you like horror films, we’ve got two blocks of that. It really is a great way to experience the genres you love and that you enjoy watching in a way that you won’t be able to experience anywhere else. 

I would say overall it’s similar to last year in the way that we group our films by content. In terms of the type of submissions we got this year, it’s pretty comparable. We do have quite a few more feature-length films this year, both narrative and unscripted. 

One thing I’d want to make clear to people is that Hobnobben is not a bunch of film snobs. I’m not a filmmaker by any means-- I just love a good story!

IFW: Can you share a few of the films you’re excited to have in the lineup this year?
CH: I’m really excited about the Johnny Bright Story. He was a fantastic football player, who was born in Fort Wayne. He ended up in Canada in his later life, coaching and being a principal there, but throughout his life, he was just a rockstar at football. He experienced a lot of racial discrimination on the field and is the reason why football players wear the mouth guard now, because of the violence enacted upon him while playing the game. 

It’s a great tie to the local community. I admittedly did know who he was, because I am not a sports fan in any way, until watching this documentary. It was really enlightening. 

Alix Watson: We made sure to have time for a post-film conversation because his family is in the area and will be there. It’s really well-done documentary. 

CH: We’re also excited to bring a panel together and show the film “A Safe Place” by a very talented filmmaker that dives into what happened to a man in a Southern Indiana jail, where he was brutally tortured by law enforcement officers within that jail while he was dying. The film highlights his story as a person and the court case surrounding him. 

We’re going to have some of his lawyers, who are featured in the documentary, as well as the filmmaker, do a Q&A afterward. 

IFW: Many of your blocks contain Q&As or panel discussions afterward. Why is that an important part of the programming?
CH: It’s a core tenet of what we’re trying to do always– to draw people in and have conversations after films. We try to contextualize and bring it to a local level if possible. We try to think of people in the community who are doing action or work in a certain field or area that is close to the topic of the film and really just have a conversation about how we’re feeling or about the film or what we can do.

IFW: As a festival, you opt to group the film blocks thematically, meaning they change each year based on submissions. What block themes are on the schedule for this year?
AW: Opening night is all a celebration of local and Indiana filmmakers. There are 13 short films and a feature film. We’ll have the live score performed by Metavari for “Liminal: Indiana in the Anthropocene.” We’re super excited about it!

CH: “Stories From Ukraine” is a block of films we have in the festival and afterward we’re going to have a panel conversation about those films and a little insight into what’s going on over in Ukraine and ways we can support. Each film in the block is really different and that’s why I really appreciate that block. 

On Friday, we have a cool block– it’s human stories about cool people that highlight different people in different communities who are being themselves. It’s a fantastic block. It’s fun and it gives you an opportunity to see different types of people and relate to them in different ways. 

AW: We also have two Fright Night blocks– “Saturday Scaries” and “Saturday Scares Slightly Later Night Edition.”

Festival-goers await the start of a film.IFW: Any new and notable changes this year?
AW: After our awards ceremony on Friday night we’re going to be at the new J.K. O’Donnell’s space for a Hobnobben after-party. It’s open to everybody. It’s not a ticketed event or a paid event. It’s just come to celebrate Hobnobben. We’re really excited about it! They’re coming up with a Hobnobben cocktail for us and we’ll have finger foods. They’ve been super awesome and helpful. 

CH: It’s been a natural fit. We’ll also be screening some trailers there. It’s a chance to continue networking with people and get to know some local filmmakers and international filmmakers. And it’s a chance to see the new outdoor space at J.K.’s. 

This year we’re doing something we haven’t done in years past, which is the following weekend after the in-person festival, we’re going to do an award-winning screening. 

AW: For the first time this year, we do have a kind of VIP Deluxe Ticket. It’s the only ticket that gets you all access in-person– all the workshops, all the films, and online. You get a t-shirt, you get a poster and you get popcorn and drinks every day! It’s a little more expensive because you get a lot. I know for a fact people saw films in person, loved it, and bought another ticket online to see it again. I think it’s an awesome deal. We only have a limited number of those.

IFW: Parts of the festival, like the workshops, are geared specifically toward filmmakers. What workshops are in store for festival-goers in 2023?
AW: We have a lot of really cool workshops, in addition to all the film blocks we’re having. We are going to have Visit Fort Wayne come in to do a session where they talk about what they can do to help filmmakers and what they can do to help projects. They helped the festival in ways we didn’t know were possible until we had a conversation with them. They’ll also take feedback from filmmakers, like what aren’t we thinking of? What else can we do to encourage this creative community here in Fort Wayne?

CH: We’re also doing a workshop with Punch Film. Their Colorist and their CEO are going to do an editing workshop with filmmakers.

AW: And we’re doing a workshop with the Head of Development from Comet Pictures, which is Jamie Lee Curtis’ production company in LA. He has a film in the festival and he’s going to be doing a development workshop. It’s his job to hear pitches all day and he decides what to put into production. He’s going to be available to filmmakers to practice their pitch and he will give them feedback on the spot. 

CH: It is an invaluable opportunity for filmmakers!

Passes to the Hobnobben Film Festival.IFW: Coordinating 144 films into one weekend can’t be easy. What goes into planning the Hobnobben Film Festival?
AW: We don’t enter with any preconceived ideas about what we want the programming to be. We let the submissions lead the programming completely. We have several rounds of judging and screenings. When we have our final programming meeting, we go through and select the movies and then decide how to group them. What’s the best way to program this for the film, so that they stand out and are celebrated? We don’t want a situation where it feels like an awkward turn for the people watching. 

CH: It really is based on the films and how we can let each and every one of them shine in a natural progression that makes sense for the film and for the viewer.

IFW: Hobnobben’s slogan is “See and Be Seen”, can you explain how that plays a role in the festival?
CH: The tagline has been in existence since the festival started eight years ago. Really the background behind that is that the mission of Hobnobben really is to give people a chance to see themselves on screen, see others on screen, and be seen in return. We really do want to highlight different stories and different experiences that living in Fort Wayne, Indiana we might not have access to or be aware of. Not only within documentaries but within narratives films, there’s so much that can be unveiled. 

AW: We know from studies that representation in media matters so much. We know that being able to see yourself in media that is consumed and made– that matters. We want to be a part of that positivity of helping people see and be seen, helping these artists, helping these storytellers see and be seen. 

CH: That is at the heart of our film festival– trying to create an inclusive and representative space for everyone. We strive to be as accessible and inclusive as possible, so part of what we do is ask every single filmmaker if they’re able to, to provide closed captioning and subtitles on all their films. We also have some kits the AWS Foundation provided to Cinema Center, so people who are hearing impaired can enjoy the films both through subtitles and additional tools. We do our best to make sure everyone can enjoy the festival. 

We also stream everything online as well, or most everything online. We have that virtual option if you’re not from the area or if you can’t make it the day of, you can watch the content blocks online up until Halloween.

Learn more about the Hobnobben Film Festival here.

In-person day passes or tickets to individual blocks are available here. Films are also available via virtual tickets until October 31. 

Learn more about the Cinema Center here.
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Read more articles by Brittany Smith.

Brittany Smith is Input Fort Wayne's Managing Editor. Previously she served as Assistant Editor and participated in the College Input Program. She also volunteers for Northeast Indiana Public Radio.