On December 5th and 6th, I was a guest of the second annual International Film Festival Summit. The yearly event seeks to bring together film festival directors and guest speakers to help improve the film festival industry. This year, in New York City, I was pleased to see and meet film festival representatives from all around the country. The idea of a film festival summit is important. There should be a yearly event where like minded individuals can learn how to run better and stronger festivals, if not to recharge their motivation and spirit. A network is created, where film festival directors can discuss what is popular and what isn’t, how to garner additional sponsors, the right sponsors, how to increase film submissions, how to get additional town involvement, and of course, how to get additional press coverage.
The IFFS was host to film festival professionals from around the globe. Participants included Seattle International Film Festival, Newport International Film Festival, GenArt, Variety, Screen International, Austin Film Festival, AFI FEST Presented by Audi, Eastman Kodak Company, Samsung, Tribeca Film Festival, Hamptons Film Festival, Octagon Worldwide, The Creative Coalition, Universal Pictures, Philadelphia Film Society, Porchlight Entertainment, FileMaker, Right Angle Studios, Cardiff Screen Festival, and the Avignon Film Festival.
The event was also represented by attending sponsors including FileMaker, Withoutabox.com, iTravel411.com, enigma research corporation, tix/Sys, XLGraphics, and Bside.com.
Check out Bside.com. It’s an interesting idea for film festivals to provide an audience ratings system for the films that they attend, and even has a section for filmmakers to have their own personal festival blog; all free. They recently launched with the Austin Film Festival. Chris Hyams one of the founders of Bside.com was at the summit to give product demos and descriptions about his new online tool. Chris is a down to earth guy who used to sell high end enterprise computer software and is now doing this because he thinks that "this is more fun".
My favorite speaker of the event was Mr. Christian Gaines, Director of Festivals, AFI FEST Presented by Audi.
Christian’s presentation centered on the recent decline of American movigoing. Because of the increased popularity of television choices and other entertainment, better digital home systems that are more affordable, Netflix, DVD’s, Video Games, the loyalty to the movie going experience is lessening.
This is where film festivals come in.
In 2004 the US experienced a 14% gross decline in ticket sales. The reasons for this according to surveys of the movie going public include bad movies, increased ticket prices, in theater advertising, cell phones and other rude behavior.
Yet we are still seeing a growth in the number of film festivals.
“Film festivals are on the front line of this issue. We actually play a critical role, regionally, nationally, and internationally.” Christian said.
“Film Festivals have an opportunity and responsibility. A responsibility to put on the best show you possibly can. Film Festivals have a transforming effect on the behavior and habits of those who love movies. Film Festivals are not just a social diversion but can be just as important to the community as the Opera, or the Theatre.”
Christian left the audience with the following words of advice.
“Some events shame us. Some Festivals should even be reported, and even possibility arrested. Stories of stranded filmmakers lost or shredded prints, and poor equipment. So, from my vantage point here are some golden nuggets of wisdom.”
1. Be a strong organization rather than big. Create a boundary rather than just growth.
2. Avoid Hyperbole. Be yourself. Look at strengths and advantages.
3. Manage expectations. People will hold you to expectations. Look at different matrix for success. Be honest. Quality of films in program. Look at efficiency of event as a measure. Satisfaction on filmmakers. Audience attendance. Industry activity. Financial outcome of event. Celebrity attendance. Any other matrix.
4. Fundraise the best you can. The goal is not as many as sponsors as possible, but as few. Keeping a sponser is 60%, show a high level of delivery and fulfillment. Prove that you delivered. Getting a sponsor is easy compared to keeping one.
5. Wrap properly. Treat the following two weeks after the festival wraps just as important. Track your data. Make most of people who work for you including volunteers.
6. Progress is more impotant than perfection. Chart progress year to year. Films show up, program spelling mistakes, sponsor loss. Deal year to year.
7. Institutionalize as much as you can. It’s the only way to be a voice of advocacy of film and filmmakers in your community. Set dates over a three year period. Talk about long term. Create school programs. Think about advance screenings in town.
Next years film festival summit will be held in Las Vegas on December 3rd-5th, 2006.