The Early Years (Pre Thin Line)
Before we get to the festival, let’s go back a bit further. It began in 2004 with a small group of us organizing in our community around the idea of a film support organization. We incorporated our small non-profit on June 3, 2004 and set off to build an organization that would meet several ‘needs’ in our community. Our most ambitious goal was to organize an annual film festival within three years.
The next couple years were spent focusing on all of the smaller activities performed by the non-profit. We screened dozens of films at various venues around town. We granted thousands of dollars to small independent film projects. We awarded an annual $1,000 scholarship. We made our presence felt not only in our local community of Denton but also in the larger metropolitan area of Dallas / Fort Worth. We built strong relationships with industry and community leaders that ultimately laid the foundation of support needed to create something as large as a film festival.
Festival planning actually began in 2006. At that time we all assumed we were creating a general film festival, or one that accepts and screens any type of film. Some of us had recently completed work on a feature-length documentary about Bay St. Louis, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. That documentary, and our view of the genre at that time, was influenced heavily by films that began to blur the line between documentary and narrative film (Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus). We had many heated debates about what characteristics defined a documentary; some of us even questioning the ‘realness’ of any documentary. Out of this experience came the vision of creating a festival which celebrated and explored this ‘thin line’ between fact and fiction. As you can tell… our name quickly followed. Other contributing factors included an established MFA program in documentary production at the local University of North Texas and the small fact that we would be the only documentary film festival in the entire State of Texas! And in case you didn’t know, its a big state.
Thin Line Begins
2007, Aug 30-Sep 2
Our motto was “go big or go home.” We decided early on that we needed to distinguish ourselves as a major event. That included seven venues, four parties, nearly 60 films, an educational conference, and a trade show! It was an intense few days. Several dozen filmmakers came from around the world to participate in their screenings and they were joined by industry professionals from around the state imparting their wisdom at the conference. We received quite a bit of attention throughout the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex including a major spread in the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
2008, Sep 24-28
Year two saw a stronger focus on quality over quantity with fewer films but stronger titles such as More Shoes, Nerdcore Rising, and Girl 27. The festival also saw bigger crowds and even more attention from area media outlets. We were lucky enough to screen the World Premiere of Interrogate This: Psychologists Take on Terror; and the festival welcomed dozens of filmmakers from around the country to celebrate documentaries with our growing local fan-base.
2010, Feb 17-21
After two years in September we realized there was too much local/regional competition. We settled on February – a bold move. This would make us one of the first festivals of the year in Texas; before SXSW, and before Dallas International. 2010 turned out to be a huge year for Thin Line with record attendance and record sales. The festival opened with the Texas Premiere of Gas Land with Director Josh Fox in attendance. Also at that screening were the EPA Regional Director Dr. Al Armendariz, several gas industry representatives, and many frustrated regional land owners. It was a lively event! Other big screenings included the Texas Premiere of the Oscar-nominated The Most Dangerous Man in America, as well as Oscar-nominated Burma VJ and the Oscar-winning The Cove.
2011, Feb 15-20
In 2011 we opened on Wednesday instead of Thursday giving us an extra day of programming. We also reduced our number of venues so that every attendee could see every screening. We opened the festival with the Texas Premiere of Troubadours, a music doc fresh from its Sundance World Premiere. The screening was attended by Director Morgan Neville and Producer Eddie Schmidt. Also this year we welcomed comedian and actor Harry Shearer and his documentary The Big Uneasy. Other notable screenings included the Texas Premieres of Enemies of the People and This Way of Life.
2012, Feb 10-20
The biggest change in 2012 was the expanded schedule. We added the previous weekend to our schedule and included Monday Presidents Day for an eleven day festival! That meant we could screen more documentaries than ever before; a total of 75! We also added a smaller and more intimate venue as well as four more parties. Another special edition for 2012 was the DocuDenton 7K – a five-day documentary video race in which teams must create a short documentary on a random topic in under five days. All of this excitement surrounded many big films such as the Texas Premiere of Battle for Brooklyn attended by Director/Producer Suki Hawley, as well as Buck, Jane’s Journey, and Nostalgia for the Light.
2013, Feb 8-18
2013 was about refining the format. We continued the 11-day schedule, expanded the DocuDenton7K, and screened more documentaries than ever before. The biggest change in 2013 was our commitment to bringing in more filmmakers. Nearly 75% of all filmmakers were able to attend their screenings – a huge jump from 2012. We understand that having the artist present is an essential part of the festival experience and our goal will always be 100% filmmaker attendance. 2013 saw some of the biggest documentaries in the world make a stop here in North Texas. We opened the festival with the Texas Premiere of Blood Brother, which only two weeks prior had won the top two awards in the documentary category at Sundance. Other big films from 2013 included, 5 Broken Cameras (Oscar-nominated), Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Central Park Five, and The House I Live In.
2014, Feb 12-16
The festival landscape in Denton, TX changed a bit in 2014 as the largest music festival, 35Denton, chose to take the year off. Thin Line staff felt this was a great opportunity to step up and fill the void. This spawned some true soul-searching and we began to rethink what Thin Line could become. The new vision was a three-headed beast, a trifecta, a triple-threat festival: Film, Music, & Photography. We would begin with Music, and in 2014 we hosted over 100 bands across six music venues! We turned a parking lot downtown into the largest music venue in Denton for 5 days: a 6,000 square foot tent which held some of the biggest events of the 2014 festival. Featured music guests included Sebadoh, Snow tha Product, RTB2, Robert Gomez, Star Party, Slobberbone, The O’s, Eric Strickland, A.Dd+, Yeahdef, and more. Featured films included When We Were All Broncos, The Engineer, Sign Painters, The Punk Singer, & Who Took Johnny. This was a massive step forward for Thin Line, with one more addition to go… Photo in 2015.
2015, Feb 18-22
The vision for a three-dimensional festival was finally complete, three festivals in one. Thin Line Film featured over 40 documentary films hosting nearly 30 filmmakers and subjects from around the world. Big premieres included the World Premiere of Gifted, a documentary on Mr. Olympia Phil Heath (in attendance); and also the Texas Premiere of Midlake: Live in Denton, TX directed by Jason Lee and Eric Noren (in attendance). Thin Line Music shifted focus after 2014. Our new mantra became, “big acts on small stages;” and we did just that. Country/Rock legend Joe Ely, Houston Hip-Hop star Devin the Dude, Blues/Funk artist Black Joe Lewis, and returning Denton darlings Seryn headlined a bill of just under 30 acts. The Inaugural Thin Line Photo turned out to be the perfect addition to the Thin Line family. There were 8 photo galleries of all sizes around town. The largest gallery was at Banter and featured over 60 printed and 22 digitally-exhibited photographs. Three festivals in one. The Thin Line Experience.
2016, Feb 17-21
We tried to create more experiences to go along with the film content in 2016. This included a gospel choir outside the screening of Denton-native Alan Berg’s The Jones Family Will Make A Way, a drum-line through downtown, and a busking contest before the World Premiere of the alt-doc Busking Turf Wars. For opening night, Thin Line Film welcomed back the Oscar-nominated Josh Fox and his latest film, How To Let Go of the World (and love all the thing climate can’t change). There was great music throughout the festival, but the surprise event was a free show early Sunday afternoon with Jessie Frye at Dan’s Silverleaf. It was a big success, and conversations in the venue that night would lead to one of our biggest 2017 changes. Thin Line Photo had a breakout year with a move of the primary gallery space to the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center. This gave us more space and the opportunity to compliment the experience with performances by many great local musicians.