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sofiafest2-6After the sold-out world premieres in Thessaloniki, we took a twisty (sometimes pothole-plagued) van trip north to Blagoevgrad and ultimately to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the next European screening.sofiafest2-4Current home to Jesse’s longtime mentor, producer of The Starfish Throwers (not to mention promoter extraordinaire, advisor and cheerleader) Melody Gilbert and her husband Mark Wollerman, who are teaching at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), Blagoevgrad surprised us with its surrounding mountains and warm sunshine.sofiafest2-3A quick tour of the AUBG campus warmed us up for presentations to Melody and Mark’s students on storytelling and balancing creating work for both paychecks’ and art’s sake. The students wrote up an article about the presentation for the AUBG website here.sofiafest2-2Jesse and Melody also gave interviews for Bulgarian television on the AUBG campus:

After, we enjoyed a celebratory traditional Bulgarian dinner of grilled meats, roasted red pepper salad, fried potatoes and more—much of it sprinkled with queso-fresco-like white Bulgarian cheese.Photo1 copyPhoto1 A softer cheese drizzled with local honey topped off the hearty dinner (along with a few more sips of Bulgarian Mavrud wine, which reminded us of super-earthy Rhone blends – it was phenomenal and one of Bulgaria’s best kept secrets says Melody.) We practiced a few key Bulgarian words, such as “Cheers!” (“Nazdrave,” which must always be said while looking each person at the table in the eye as you clink glasses), and “thank you” (“Blagodarya”). The pronunciation was a bit of a challenge, but we were inspired by Mark’s impressive accent and progress in learning such important Bulgarian phrases as, “One more beer, please.” sofiafest-2Of course, Melody and Mark’s students are fluent in multiple languages, and flip easily between English, Bulgarian, Russian, Dutch, Romanian and more. (Curious about what Bulgarian sounds like? Check it out here.) sofiafest-4The next day we drove to Sofia, Bulgaria, which has more of the “big city” vibe, where we were joined by a busload of Melody and Mark’s students for the screening at the Sofia International Film Festival. It was a thrill to be screening alongside big-name films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Great Beauty, and the huge theater was full of super-engaged viewers, many of whom stayed after to connect and write #ThrowStarfish messages.sofiafest2-7Check out this great video by Alexander Khambir and team for behind the scenes look at the evening, and stay tuned as The Starfish Throwers tour goes stateside for the North American Premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

– Jen Larson Roesler

PS – Have we mentioned how much we miss the AUBG crew??sofiafest-5


There’s nothing more exciting than debuting a film at its official world premiere—and we were honored to first give The Starfish Throwers to the world at the 16th Annual Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in Thessaloniki, Greece in March 2014.


Coming out of a seemingly endless Minnesota winter, the gentle Aegean Sea air was a relief. Yet it was also charged with excitement as we arrived in the central Artistotelous Square and saw the world-renowned festival’s banners draping the impressive Olympion Theater. At that moment, it all became real—the film was finally coming off of the cameras, hard drives and editing screens—and into real theaters, filled with real viewers.


We also didn’t know then what a crazy whirlwind the festival experience would be—filled not only with the screenings and events we expected, but also many things we didn’t: Dozens of introductions to new people everywhere we went; conversations with many more who were interested in or touched by the film; planned and impromptu meetings; making connections with people who wanted to connect you to other people who wanted to connect you to still more people; speaking on panels; giving interviews; promoting the screenings to boost attendance; picture-taking and posting; and so much more. Not to mention trying to keep up with our jobs and work that goes on no matter where we are in the world! While the word “festival” may have a leisurely ring to it, they really are incredibly busy events where you’re working hard (and almost running from place to place) almost every minute, to make the most impact possible for your film and its subjects during the short period of time you’re there.


Joining us in Thessaloniki was Producer Melody Gilbert and her husband Mark Wollerman, professors at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), and their energetic group of documentary film and writing students. It was great to have our own booster club of #StarfishThrowers there at the premiere!

The screening venues were beautiful, super-modern theaters in renovated buildings on cobblestone piers extending out into the sea. As we walked to the first screening—the very first time we’d see the film on a big screen—we wondered…had people actually bought tickets to see it? Would we screen to an empty theater? There was no way to know. Which is why when I walked into the crowded theater lobby (Jesse had arrived early for a tech and sound check) I first assumed that all of the people there must be lining up for another movie. It didn’t fully register that all of them were here to see our film until I looked up at the ticket availability board above the box office—and saw “SOLD OUT” in big, bold letters following The Starfish Throwers title. Sold out? Sold out! It was almost unbelievable.



As the lights went down, the first frames of the film flickered to life. The orange and blue cooking fire under Krishnan’s pot ignited, as the film’s title appeared on the big screen for the very first time. Jesse and I sat in two seats in the very back of the theater, almost unable to breathe. We felt so grateful at that moment for every single person, every hour of shooting, every Kickstarter supporter, every family member and friend, who has been part of this journey so far.


It was interesting to see how the story played out with a foreign audience. As the Greek subtitles rolled, we saw audience members sigh, laugh and even wipe away tears. However, other moments our American previewers had found funny (such as one aside about mowing a lawn) lacked context for the international audience. Above all, the overwhelmingly positive response and many moments of shared understanding showed that the film’s themes are truly universal and it is a film that many find very deeply moving.

Following every screening when the Director, Editor, Producer or someone who worked on the film is present, there’s a Q&A session. We’ll be sure to share more about these in future posts; the comments and questions people share are fascinating. There are lots of introductions, usually a few business cards exchanged, and also many hugs!

During the Q&A, we’re also asking people to fill out a #ThrowStarfish sign if they’ve been inspired by the film, to send the characters in the film a message or share how they plan to continue the “ripple effect” of good deeds shown in the film. You can see a gallery of all of these to date here.


There’s so much more to tell about the Thessaloniki festival, from Jesse’s awesome radio interview with Rock Radio Greece; to the panel discussion he was a presenter on; to the five interviews for TV, print and other media that he gave; plus meeting Jan Rofekamp of Films Transit, the sales agent who will help bring The Starfish Throwers to international audiences through film, broadcast and other distribution channels.


Whew! Hope that gives you all at least a snapshot of what the Thessaloniki festival was like. Before we knew it, the world premiere was wrapped and we were headed north to Bulgaria. Stay tuned for the next post to hear about our fast few days in Blagoevgrad and Sofia (including how to say “thank you “ and “cheers” in Bulgarian!)

We’ll leave you with this short video put together by talented AUBG student Igor Myakotin that captures beautifully the energy and spirit of the sold out World Premiere.

– Jen Larson Roesler

world-premiere It’s an exciting time that seemed far away during the three-and-a-half years of filming The Starfish Throwers: Now Jesse gets to bring the film’s three visionary subjects and their story to audiences in screenings at film festivals around the world.

If you’ve been following the film on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve seen a few postings on the festivals we’ve attended so far. But because so many people have helped make it possible for the film to get to this point, we wanted to give you more of a taste of what really happens at the festival screenings, so you can experience the reactions of audiences along with us, and continue to be inspired by the hundreds of #StarfishThrowers who we are getting the chance to reach and connect with. (Sneak preview: It has been an energizing, positive, momentum-filled whirlwind, which we’re humbled to be a part of.)

If you’d like to come along for the ride, stay tuned for a series of blog posts that will seek to give a taste of our experience at each festival. We’ll share behind-the-scenes looks at how the film was received at each screening; top audience questions; how the film is inspiring people to  #ThrowStarfish in their own right; plus a little local flavor from each of the cities and passionate film communities we’ve been honored to visit on this journey.

Kind Regards,

Jen Larson Roesler