Mention drone technology – those miniature helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles – and a lot of people will immediately think about war in far-flung desert countries, of invasion of privacy at home, of kneejerk US Federal Aviation Authority regulations and suspicious flying objects crash-landing on the White House lawn.
Filmmaker Randy Scott Slavin wanted to redress the balance, to destigmatize the use of drones and to celebrate the art of drone cinematography. After his own work, a two minute drone-camera journey over New York (titled ‘_Aerial_NYC’), became a massive viral hit online he searched for a film festival where he – and other drone filmmakers – could showcase their work, but found nothing. So Slavin took the next option: start your own event. From this, the New York City Drone Film Festival – the first of its kind in the world – was born.
For its inaugural fest in March 2015, the New York City Drone Film Festival (NYCDFF) managed to bag a huge sponsor in the form of NBC News, immediately raising its profile on the city’s festival circuit and amongst the mainstream press, with features in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and even France’s Le Monde. Slavin has stated that he wants ‘to fight back with a show in an amazing place with respectable films that use drone photography’, arguing that drone and UAV movies can take audiences to places helicopters and jibs/boom cameras, due to their cumbersome equipment or sheer size, will never be able to reach.
The end result has been submission of over 150 drone films from around the globe, with 35 amazing efforts eventually selected by panel for screening during the festival weekend on the 6th and 7th of March – which took place in the famed, state of the art Director’s Guild of America New York Theater. Slavin and his team kept it simple, with just two categories: Short Film, for entries which run under five minutes, and Dronie, which is a ‘selfie’ taken with a drone that had to have a running time of one minute or less and be as epic as possible.
A festival jury, comprised of some heavy hitters from the entertainment industry such as director Steve ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop’ Carr and Filmmaker magazine editor-in-chief Scott Macaulay, presented awards to the best and brightest of the weekend, in categories such as Landscape/Travel, Technical Flying, Architecture and Narrative. One highlight was AeroCine’s stunning ‘The Fallout’, featuring drone footage in and around the Ukrainian ghost city of Pripyat in the shadow of Chernobyl, which went home with the Architecture award.
In August 2015 Slavin and his creative team will be accepting submissions for 2016’s second edition, and in the meantime fans can satisfy themselves with a selection of NYCDFF branded apparel – including tee shirts and baseball caps – which are available on the fest’s website store.
The New York City Drone Film Festival takes place in March 2016, at the DGA New York Theatre in the Midtown area of Manhattan.