We were fortunate to connect with the Programming Director of the Atlanta Film Society, Jon Kieran. Hailing from Essex County, Massachusetts, Jon has made a start as an amateur filmmaker at the tender age of 22, when he moved across the country to take a spot at the Master of Fine Arts program in Film Production at the University of New Orleans. At the same time, he started as a volunteer for the New Orleans Film Festival, which slowly grew to become his professional home over the next decade and where he wore many hats, from organizing panels, to assisting the festival’s technical department, to finally settling into the role of Programming Manager. He also lent a hand at other regional festivals including Court 13’s Always for Pleasure fest in New Orleans, Borscht Corporation’s “Borscht Diez” in Miami, and the Camden International Film Festival. He was also a longtime contributor to online indie-film showcase NoBudge.
Jon shares what inspired him to become a programming director.
"After finishing college, I regrouped and discovered my love for films. Although I was always a film fan, during my time of regrouping was when I became obsessed with filmmaking.. Eventually, I started making films and completed an MFA program at the University of New Orleans, where I produced a thesis film. Through this experience, I became involved with The New Orleans Film Festival, which at the time was going through a period of growth. However, I discovered that many aspects of filmmaking did not align with my life goals."
"Working for film festivals allowed me to live an artistic life. Some people create art and are completely obsessed with it, immersing themselves in their medium and drawing inspiration from their unique perspectives and experiences. Through their work, they enrich our lives, and I want to be a part of that."
- Jon Kieran, Atlanta Film Society's Programming Director.
Atlanta Film and TV: For those who may not know what a programming director is, can you share with us about what you do?
Jon Kieran: "A Programming Director runs a department of programmers. Within the programming department, I build a system of people who can handle people, delegate tasks and distribute work especially when you have over seven thousand submissions. One of my duties when filmmakers submit, is to ensure that everything is viewed with care and not being watched with an eye to being immediately discarded. I ensure that we engage with the films, which can be difficult if you watch at least two to four thousand films a year. Therefore, delegation and distribution are necessary across a team, including contracted staff. I make that happen, and building a system is a big part of my job.
Another part of my job is working to make the festival happen on a logistical level. Our department has a small hand in reaching out to partners, making arrangements with various venues, local businesses, and sponsors."
The Atlanta Film Society is a grassroots organization, and ATLFF is not a highly funded festival like SXSW or Sundance. We don’t have millions of dollars in our budget to hire people. Therefore, it comes down to pitching in and ensuring that everything happens."
Atlanta Film and TV: What does a typical day look like for you?
Jon Kieran: "A typical day for me varies throughout the year. When I used to work as a programmer, I would watch at least four to eight hours of films a day. During the summer and fall, I spend a lot of time screening or checking in with my programmers, attending meetings, and asking them about the most exciting films they are watching and what's coming up.At this time of year, my day consists of emails, SLACK and ZOOM meetings, as well as communicating with various departments to share and gather information."
Atlanta Film and TV: What can audiences expect from the 2023 Atlanta Film Festival, and is there anything new and exciting in store for this year's festival?
Jon Kieran: "The Atlanta Film Festival is in its 47th year, and part of it is keeping it going. We also make sure that the festival is a force in the artistic community, and film culture. To me, in terms of what we’re introducing as new, the work within the festival is the new and exciting part, and we’re creating a place that is more-or-less as reliable as we can keep it. It’s here every spring, in the community, the doors are open to where anyone can buy a ticket to see a film. However, one thing that is different since the pandemic is that we are showing all the films in-person and not everything will be available virtually. I wanted to make sure that if a filmmaker was sending us their work that it be seen at the festival and ensured that there was room for it in a theater.
In terms of exciting, there will be a few famous people, films coming in hot from other festivals, and the stuff we’ve planned programming-wise the past 6 months. We have a late night shorts block, full of super creative, colorful, and off the wall films. We have animated shorts, which is a hotbed of weirdness, and new. Narrative shorts programming, first features by filmmakers releasing their craft into the world."
About the Atlanta Film Festival
“The Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF)—one of only two-dozen Academy Award® qualifying festivals in the U.S.—is the area’s preeminent celebration of cinema. ATLFF is one of the largest and longest-running festivals in the country, welcoming an audience of over 28,000 to discover hundreds of new independent, international, animated, documentary, and short films, selected from 8000+ submissions from all over the world. It is also the most distinguished event in its class, recognized as Best Film Festival by Creative Loafing, Sunday Paper, 10Best, and Atlanta Magazine.”
The 2023 Atlanta Film Festival dates are Thursday, April 20th until Sunday, April 30th.
Click here to read more about the festival.