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Meet Susy Botello of International Mobile Film Festival in Hillcrest

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susy Botello.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
It was after September 11th that I realized storytelling connected people around the world and the media had the power in the tools they used to share our stories. I remember how popular cell phones were and realized right away that the trend of owning a cell phone would only grow because humanity was not limited to the distance a cordless phone reached and that meant freedom… let freedom ring! (pun intended) I really enjoyed the concept of cell phones and communication and I grew up recording videos, audio, taking photos… by 9/11 I had already decided my career was in video production and my major in college was Media Communications.

Soon after I saw the first camera on a phone I realized the video would follow and if that was going to happen, and I was certain it would, then the world was about to change for the film industry and the news media. What I didn’t realize was that the news media did not want to shift to using video on their Blackberry phones for video reports on location. So I thought, in 2009, that I would dare the film industry through a film festival to prove to the rest of the video industry, that if a movie could be made with a cellphone camera, then for sure it was good enough for news reports and documentaries, and the like. Of course, I realized by then that filmmakers were my favorite people in the whole world.

They are special people with dreams, drive, passion, energy and determination and they were also magicians. However, they didn’t really get much respect unless they were “Hollywood.”

That’s why it took a while for me to find a venue. I wanted to put the films shot with mobile phones on a big screen and roll out the red carpet for anyone in the world who would make a movie with a cell phone. They deserved the same respect as any other filmmaker received in any other film festival for making films. The only difference was that in order to qualify to get into this film festival, you had to have shot your film entirely with a phone. Any brand. I didn’t care if it was an iPhone or an Android phone. It just had to be a phone to give an equal platform and to exclude all the other mobile devices which I believed were secondary because we always make sure we have our phone wherever we go. So if you are pretty much broke, but you can buy one mobile device… what would you buy? A phone.

The Swiss army knife of mobile devices is the mobile phone. I also thought anyone who was a human being could make a movie with a phone. Would you give your six years old your DSLR or would you rather give them your phone to shoot videos with? My story revolves around storytelling and empowering everyone in the world to share their stories using the most accessible device around the world. My target audience for the film festival is you and everyone in the world. And hey, even professional filmmakers have smartphones… so it’s not like I am excluding them.

Back in 2009 and for the first few years after publicizing the idea of a mobile phone film festival, I began to get a reputation for this concept and that was because the more I thought about it, the more I talked to anyone who listened… the more passionate I became. I believe stories are more powerful than money. Ask a salesperson what the best tool is for making a sale and they may just tell you, that in order to connect with a customer and gain their trust is to through stories. Ask a parent how they communicate best with a young child and they will realize it’s stories. So if you listen to the stories people share with you, you empower them. That is a good thing. Connecting with each other is a good thing.

My story is about giving that power to everyone. I didn’t think it would be hard to simply create a platform like this. I put my heart into it. I would invest what others invest on going out to eat and concerts and partying into making this a reality. I was getting messages and emails from people all over the world telling me how much they appreciated what I was doing. Oddly enough, in the first few film festivals, no one from San Diego made a movie with their phone and submitted it. One person, a Mom and her children from North County found it on Facebook and submitted a cool film about a Mom’s life and she will forever have that film as her children grow. Actually, they are now grown.

But they walked the red carpet in the first film festival. And speaking of, a filmmaker came out to San Diego from Macedonia to be a part of it! The first film festival had 9 films. I could not even turn any down. That was all I got. The last film festival I received over 260! And this year, it’s a thing for Hollywood filmmakers to make a statement that they are making movies with a phone. Now going on the seventh year, I have many stories to share which have become a part of my story. Anyone who knows me will probably tell you that I am super passionate about this stuff. I never gave up on it, no matter what. And that was not easy.

My closest friends know the risks I have taken to keep this going. I also teach workshops and now I have a podcast which is “the voice of mobile film.” If you have a story and make a film using your phone then I hope you will submit it to the film festival. I also hope that if you are remotely interested you will come to the film festival. I’d love to meet you! No matter what your background is or your age, your industry… everyone has stories to share.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I had to put the idea for making movies with phones away many times. So every once in a while I would go and search for it online. In 2005 or so, I was so ready to launch the film festival but the world was not ready. YouTube was still tough as a learning curve. The internet was not fast enough and depending on where you lived some people still had dial-up. The cameras on the phones were not ready to export videos good enough for a big screen. I did not want to create a website. So I put it away again.

However, in 2011, after going public and having postponed the festival due to not enough films and most importantly, not finding a venue sponsor, I was given advice to just start online. Stubborn me. ‘No, I am not going to start another film festival website.’ My response surprised my friends and people I worked with. But I just persisted. Had I found anyone else creating a film festival for mobile phone shot films to put on a big screen I would have stopped. That would have been the end. Needless to say, the challenge to be the first was a big driver for me.

There were times when the stress was overwhelming. There were costs and time, and I couldn’t hire anyone to do things so I had to learn everything along the way. I remember a few times I got discouraged and then I would go about my day and something would happen. Either I would receive an email from someone praising me or thanking me for what I was doing, or perhaps a magazine or an online website asking for an interview. Or perhaps, many times, I would end up having a conversation with someone I never met before who would tell me how great an idea I had and that they had never heard of the idea of making movies with phones and that I was on to something. There was a big smile in their face and you could hear it in their voice: inspiration.

Someone was inspired by it. It was like an energy pill each time and then I was determined again to overcome the difficulties and keep going. Not giving up is actually easy. Giving up is the hardest thing. That is because my passion has overtaken what others referred to as “reality” you know? My family would tell me to accept the reality that this was a wish or something that was above me. But they did that because they did not want to see my struggle. And running a film festival is stressful, demanding and a bit nerve-wracking at times. But along the way, the journey that you walk endures you.

You’ve come so far… you can’t stop. And if you think about stopping something comes along and nudges you to keep moving.

Everything is a lesson for a reason. Being a positive person has helped me a lot. But the people I have met along this path are never forgotten. Even if they are not a part of the story anymore, they are a part of my story. If you have a dream it’s not a wish. Don’t get them confused. A dream is driven by passion and a wish is driven by desire. Our desires change. I wish I had a Lamborghini but if I had a baby I probably would rather have a Volvo. I don’t know. A dream though… once passion drives you, it won’t let you go. Passion is like a living thing that needs you to survive.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about International Mobile Film Festival – what should we know?
I am known for what I work towards and that is to empower everyone in the world to share stories through film using the one device most accessible to everyone. If someday that changes into a different mobile device then the International Mobile Film Festival will only accept films shot with whatever that device is. Right now, it’s a mobile phone and the whole point is that for a long time I worked hard to prove to the world that you don’t need a Hollywood professional or expensive camera to make films. The story is what matters most. Now I believe anyone with a phone can share stories through film. Distribution is not as limited as it used to be. It’s all coming together.

There are no other film festivals around the world like this. I still like the idea of our platform embracing all types of stories and not just cinematic narrative films. The only catch is that it must be shot with a phone. It’s like we are open to just about all genres, including new ones, but focused on the mobile phones as the device to shoot with. The exclusivity actually gives inclusivity. I hope it makes sense. Because more people have a phone than any other device and everyone has a story they can share. I love San Diego. I think I am lucky to be in San Diego. Qualcomm is from San Diego and they created the chip in our phones and then there is Comic-Con. We have a very special place in the world to be a part of. Oh, and we just created a new category for our next film festival: Cosplay. We will be talking about it this year at our film festival.

We are much more than a film festival. I am working on a Mobile Film Resource Center which includes the Mobile Film School (non-accredited) and other programs. We also launched the Global Mobile Film Awards™ for any film festival (mobile or traditional) who wishes to join the mobile filmmaking community. GMFA is being referred to as the Oscars of mobile film but it’s a little different. Is my passion showing again?

What I am most proud of is the opportunities we have given to people all over the world to make movies with their phone camera and get the respect any other filmmaker with any camera would receive in a film festival… maybe more, actually. They really get the star treatment and a lot of attention in our film festival. Lately, I am really enjoying giving the mobile film community around the world a voice through the podcast. Each week I host a discussion about mobile filmmaking with a guest. I am getting good feedback. But the best part is how much I am loving it. I love talking about it and I love to listen to their stories and our guests have some great stories to share and information to share too!

Come join us at the film festival. Allow me to share it with you. Allow me to share international filmmakers who shot films with mobile phones with you because they are amazing people. They are truly special. It’s the weekend of April 28 and 29.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Patience. To be determined and perseverant takes a lot of patience. To listen to people and to be willing to watch films even though you’ve watched well over a hundred but to watch each one more than once to consider choosing them to screen at a film festival when you know you can only choose a limited number… patience is super important.

The thing is, ironically, I am very impatient. I don’t like waiting. If it wasn’t due to my phone, I find it hard to stand in line. But there is something magical that happens to me that makes me patient for me to do what I am doing. I don’t know for sure what it is but if I wasn’t patience I would never have come this far. Meaning, almost ten years and growing.

Also being patient not to launch an idea before it’s ready and being patient with people because people change and people grow. But I would not call me a success. I have just come a long way from where I began and the world and this industry has also come a long way. There is still a way to go and I am enjoying every moment.

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Image Credit:

Aris Tyros, Mickey Harrison, Miranda J. Mullings and Anthony De La Cruz

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