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December 3 at 2:15pm

12 Questions Toward The Future Of FIlm Festivals

By Ted Hope

Yesterday I gave the Keynote Address at the International Film Festival Summit in Austin, Texas.  You can read the speech on Indiewire here.  Or watch the video here. I ended the talk with a host of questions — 12 to be exact, and they follow below.

The abundance of questions I’ve raised, point that we have a tremendous opportunity to unlock all ta new power of film festivals — and I certainly can brainstorm with you they myriad of ways that can be done –but if we seek to begin to recognize the boundaries we can push at the festival level, I want to first shower you with even more questions — not answers — as I suspect they will allow far more solutions to flower.

I have twelve questions I am going to be pondering this year when I look at our festival, the San Francisco International Film Festival, when I come to your festivals, and when I hear the tales of the intrepid filmmaker / traveller ushering their film from one festival to another:

1. What is the full power of community and how do we transform our audiences into sustainable communities? Can we curate communities in a similar way? What if we connected like minded people in a more sustainable way and then allow audience to truly influence what is seen and discovered?

2. How doe we utilize cinema’s power to activate? What is our call to action? What is the call to action to our constituencies? How do we transition them from passive to action?

3. What do our audiences really want Film Festivals to be? What does it mean to be a communal gathering?

4. What do filmmakers really want from Festivals these days? Very few can be markets or premieres, even publicity machines. How can we deepen the utility of festivals for the creative community? Festivals deliver intelligent and engaged audiences to the films. Can we deepen the relationship between the fans and the creators?

5. If authenticity, participation, and customization are indeed what people want today, how do our programs provide that?

6. Can we work together so that films gain better momentum festival to festival and unleash the power of the combined festival community in some way?

7. Are we utilizing the strength of the festivals as an information gathering and dissemination tool as fully as we might? What information is not being gathered when we collect films and crowds and can we change that? This is the data age. Are we embracing transparency as fully as we might?

8. As trusted curators of this colossal heap of cinema culture, how do we really make a difference on a long term basis? Is a short burst of guidance enough? Growth requires consistency and do we provide that? We are the filter, the trusted source. Film festivals are discovery platform for films that might otherwise be ignored. How to carry that over to the online environment?

9. How do we transform young people into loyal cinema lovers? We are losing the youth. Can we stem the tide?

10. What is the broadest definition of film? Can we reflect that and help people embrace that? Have we forgotten what show business is and neglected the spectacle and event in favor of the practical and executable?

11. If we are moving away from the one film at a time business model towards one of artists forming long term relationships with their audiences, how do film festivals facilitate it?

12. The best thing the film industry can do to help ambitious and diverse work is to make sure that artists and their supporters are the direct beneficiaries of the rewards of the film. How do festivals do that?

We have an incredible opportunity before us. The only consistent is change. We can’t stand still. Never before have we had access to the tools that can change our world. But yet we don’t know where to go. We need to ask real questions and on a consistent basis. We will find the answers and the maps. There are no boundaries but ourselves.

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  1. FollowMyFilm / Dec 3 at 2:15pm

    Fantastic, Ted. I sure hope the conference went well! RE: #5, I’ve recently been very troubled by the lack of accountability festivals face in the US. There simply is no consolidated, popular way of reviewing fests and rating them. I believe a bit of good old consumer culture a la Amazon.com/Yelp/Zagat can help keep festivals on their toes, but where can we do this? I’ve searched for festival review sites, but I couldn’t find anything up-to-date and thriving….

  2. Michael Medeiros / Dec 3 at 2:15pm

    So many of these questions are concerned with community and the ongoing nature of relationship – I think it might be useful to ponder regional theatre in America for some insight. Regional theatres were non-existent a few decades ago and now are big cultural components of cities large and small. Just to name a few, Yale, Arena, Long Wharf, Huntington, Goodman, Steppenwolf, ACT, Guthrie. As arts institutions, there may be some lessons to learn from them.

  3. Phila Indie Film / Dec 3 at 2:15pm

    Great article. Our goal has always been to introduce a film to an audience who might never have seen the film otherwise, online, in the Theatre or both.

    We truly believe festivals “should syndicate” their films for max potential penetration and viewing. This is truly what can step up a films shelf life at a cost they cannot refuse. For example, as an “Independent” film festival we have begun to organize other festivals with the same goals in mind. This manner of submission is like submitting to 5, 10 festivals or more at once. We will then select films that are vetted by other fest’s for screening with us. As festival directors get together and discuss the film, this ups the films goal in the first place – visibility. It also helps our festival branch out to other regions or genres that perhaps we would not be able to do. the film maker gets acceptance into multiple fest’s for the price of one.

    Another thought is that films that are submitted for screening and are not accepted to screen should have an opportunity to be seen outside of the submission process. We are working on providing resources including a film festival marketing pamphlet (actual college level class) to all who want to download it. We are also attaching a media list with local, national, and international contacts as well. We believe that the value of submitting in the first place should be rewarded with an opportunity.

    As a caveat, I see here that yelp reviews etc. are being called for. We encourage this but all to often it’s usually one or two people who are upset that post. Happy customers or film makers are not so keen to support one fest when they are calling on others to screen their film. Film makers have told us they would not post a review for this reason alone as they have been told ” if you screen there” you cannot screen here. There is no bullet proof way to do this.

  4. Raindance Film Fest / Dec 3 at 2:15pm

    It’s a question I have been struggling with since 1993 when I single handedly started Raindance Film Festival. I think your questions about fhe festival community is a key and very core question. It’s one that i have seen the answers change since 1993.

    My question to you Ted, is: When was the last time you ate out in a restaurant and why? Isn’t it more cost effective to eat at home?

    A film festival is, if you like, a boutique niche restaurant where you can get unique ‘tastes’ you cant get anywhere else.

    Maybe we can intrigue you enough to come to Raindance in Sept/Pct 2013!


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