After a full three days of attending the International Film Festival Summit, festival organizers walked away with new insight on sponsorship strategies, acquisition and distribution, long term planning and sustainable growth, programming trends and more. Truly, it was a haven for networking first and foremost, as representatives from festivals all over the world were present and eager to swap stories. Appropriately held in our hometown of Austin, both centrally located and known for its welcoming hospitality, it was particularly pleasing to observe the growing recognition of the prosperous film scene in Texas, along with attending the IFFS awards luncheon where AFF’s very own Executive Director Barbara Morgan accepted their lifetime achievement award for her service to the industry.
A few standout panels included an informational session by the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences, a focus on how to manage positive growth as a non-profit festival, and an engaging conversation on the future and outlook of film distribution and acquisitions. It was wonderful to see one of my college screenwriting professors, Eugene Martin, deliver a keynote presentation on the importance of a festival’s accessibility and interactivity amongst registrants and filmmakers. He also made a compelling argument for attendees to actively explore the indie programming, opposed to the films that will be released in theatres a few weeks later.
Perhaps the greatest take-away of the summit was Ted Hope’s keynote presentation on why film matters, and why festival support is significant. He challenged: “How do we ensure that film festivals matter in this over-saturated environment of infinite options?” Truly, he surmised, this comes down to filmmaking 101: know your audience.
The emerging fear is that the need to customize programming comes head to head with the availability of choices for those in the market for a place to plant their film. Topped with an ever-changing industry that was founded on the basis of providing film-lovers with never-before-seen material, the challenges for festivals and independent filmmakers are abundant.
Additionally, the role of festival planners has undergone a great shift in the past 20 years, with a notable component involving the swift move toward digitalization. The landscape and availability of resources is diluted in part to the rapid evolution of technology, with organizations left struggling to keep up.
Truth be told, though the digitalization of cinema presents a fair amount of concern across the board, it does provide some great benefits for filmmakers and furthering film communities. And that’s what festivals are all about. I believe Hope’s underlying message encompassed this point exactly. It is the duty of the festival to accommodate and adapt.
As I touched upon in my last blog, festivals (of all kinds) serve as a place for the exchange of ideas. ‘Not only do fests across the world set a stage for networking and distribution, otherwise typically unavailable, they also combat the monopolization of Hollywood with a broader range of content, much of which challenges the norm.’
This is consequential. While many may pose the argument that the film-going experience has lost some of its lust and lore, I will stand by the enchantment of watching new and emerging talents at a festival. As Eugene Martin posed – you may not be able to see these films again.
Beyond any frustrations with transformations in the industry, the fact of the matter is change can be a good thing. After all, that’s the embodiment of a good film, isn’t’ it? I’m happy to go along for the ride.
I’ll leave you with a final thought from Hope: “We all know that movies matter. We have given our labor to the only art form that brings people together, inspires, educates and challenges them. Movies build bridges of empathy across vast divides of difference. Movies make the world a better place. By choosing to run film festivals, we have acknowledged firsthand the importance of cinema.” The question is, “are we contributing enough to save it, to push it forward?”
Miss IFFS? Check out Hope’s keynote speech here.
— Erin Hallagan, Conference Director