In the director’s chair

By Kelly Murray and Jonathan Glover
The Greene Team

Alan Inkles has a serious job, but it never takes away from his vivacious personality.

Inkles, who has built one of the most well-known film festivals in New York, has a job title that can certainly sound intimidating: creator and director of the Stony Brook University Film Festival. But in talking with Inkles recently, his smile never faded and his relaxed manner flowed throughout the whole room.

It all started when Inkles attended the Sundance Film Festival in 1999 and was immediately inspired by the diversity and quality of the films. “I was just taken over by it. I said ‘this is really cool’.”

At the time, Inkles worked at the Staller Center for the Arts as an acting director, managing director and director of production. Sundance inspired him to host a similar event at the Staller Center. With help from Stony Brook for funding and use of their 1,000-seat theatre, his vision became reality. With influence from Sundance, he started getting independent films, producers and actors together, and over the years it eventually added up to be the Stony Brook Film Festival.

Director's chair

“I don’t manage the staff, my staff manages me, actually,” Inkles said. Photo by Nicole Sganga.

The Sundance film festival was created in Utah in 1978 with the goal of getting more people involved in independent films and more attention for the industry.

The Stony Brook festival now draws in anywhere from 5,000- 6,000 attendees during the ten-day period that it takes place, with 25-30 independent films that are chosen out of the thousands that are sent in. In that span, Inkles works furiously with his team of 15, many of who have been with him since the festival’s inception.

Even as the director of a film festival, Inkles doesn’t see himself in any higher position than his team who are enjoying the ride with him.

“I don’t manage the staff, my staff manages me, actually,” Inkles said, chuckling.

Julie Greene, marketing director for the Staller Center describes Inkles using the Latin phrase “sui generis,” meaning he is “one of a kind.” She described Inkles as “very energetic, very positive…he’s the kind of boss that will do it if nobody else steps up to the plate.”

Inkles spends the winter poring over thousands of films to find the right ones. He looks for movies that spark emotion in him and that he feels have the potential to be bigger.
The most important part of the film festival according to Inkles is getting the films out there and known. Some of them, such as the Dutch film “The Storm,” are being screened for the first time in America. “The Storm,” one of two films that opened this year’s festival, brought the audience to their feet applauding the producer and actress who were in attendance.
“The last few days I’ve been working to get it sold to an American distributor,” Inkles said. “If we make that happen, that would be the favorite part of the job.”
Along with being a film festival creator and director comes the fulfillment of helping producers and their films become more well known all over the world. Inkles said his staff is key in making that happen.
“We’re all a team, I don’t consider myself a director,” he said. Still, someone has to take the heat when a viewer disagrees.
When the night’s film has ended and the filmgoers are taking in what they have just witnessed, not everyone sees the reason why that film has been chosen. The film festival is a unique experience and sometimes the audience is not always pleased.
Inkles recalled one viewer who was unhappy with a horror film choice. The man called it “garbage” and could not be convinced otherwise.
Finally, Inkles, said: “You know what? You might think of going to the multiplex next time.”