By Patty Fantasia
Photos by Patty Fantasia

The International Film Festival Summit: A Winning Hand for Filmmakers

Sundance, SXSW, Telluride. These are some of the magical kingdoms known as film festivals that delight fans in cities all over the world and from December 6th through the 8th at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas the movers and shakers, organizers and directors of these events gathered for the 6th annual International Film Festival Summit. Amid the panel discussions, networking events and informal conversations participants shared information pertaining to membership drives, the growing importance of social media and perhaps most importantly of all, how to raise and earn money, the life’s blood of every festival.

The_Excellence_Awards_Winners
The_Excellence_Awards_Winners

My colleague Jacqueline Monahan wrote about the Festival’s kick off events in her column last week. Following opening remarks on Monday from the Co-Founder of XOMO Digital, the Chief Curator for the Department of Film at the Museum of Modern Art, Rajendra Roy gave his Keynote Presentation “Making Choices: The Beating Heart of Cinema” He related that while “commercial films guarantee a satisfying beginning, middle and end” sometimes audiences need to step outside of their comfort zones and that festivals provide the opportunity for them to do so. They offer diversity by creating platforms to give access for audiences looking for something different and less main stream”. Roy, who served as Director of Programming for the Hamptons Film Festival prior to coming to MOMA, has enjoyed several other honors including being the only American invited to join the 12 member selection committee at the Berlin Film Festival. Another feat he’s proud of was arranging the midnight screening world premiere for “Open Water”. He said modestly, “Variety wrote a rave, scouts from Lionsgate mentioned it, a sales agent got it into Sundance and the rest is history.”

In his current role at MOMA, Roy believes the importance of his work is to protect the integrity of the history of the archive He also believes the Museum took a leap of faith handing the reins to him, a member of the indie film movement, since his predecessor was in the position for 30 years. “An artistic history is important to the history of our own work,” he claims. As for the influence of new media and its effect on the tradition of film he adds, “People want to come and watch films together.” Roy spent four months working on a retrospective for Mike Nichols, watching the director’s films with him and taking them apart, which he enjoyed immensely. He believes that Nichols’ body of work was greatly ignored because he’s “too collaborative, not an auteur,” and that celebrating the collaborative nature of filmmaking has been shied away from in the U.S. He’s now busy with a Tim Burton retrospective which features 700 drawings showing the director’s inner workings.

The_IFFS_Excellence_Awards
The_IFFS_Excellence_Awards

Following a lunch break attendees joined one of 3 Afternoon Breakout Tracks. The first was an Entry Level Sponsorship Workshop concentrating on how festivals can establish strong and relaiable revenue streams with Dan Kowitcz, VP of IEG Sponsorship Consulting. In other rooms two panels were held. The first was “Distribution Festival Strategies” covering the effects shifting digital technology and changing economic conditions are having on prioritizing for festival strategies, while track three discussed “The Rubik’s Cube of Programming” This panel focused on how to make selections based on premiere status, release windows, distribution and media attention.

One of the interesting and fun parts of Monday’s events happened later with moderator Chris Gore, author of the Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide. Called The UnConference, during this meeting, participants had the opportunity create and drive the activity. Topics were chosen and then small groups were formed to discuss them. Subjects included how to get celebrities to attend film festivals, the differences between profit and non-profit status and also how festivals are structured. This event allowed attendees to engage their colleagues and ask questions and discuss issues in a friendly open forum and turned out to be one of the Summit’s most informative networking sessions

A presentation on the Exhibit Floor by Regal Tents preceded a cocktail reception and announcement of the Audience Choice Awards, which served as a warm up for the presentation of The Third Annual Excellence Awards bestowed by Actor/Producer Ernie Hudson. These are the only awards given recognizing the achievements and success of those working in the film festival industry. This year’s recipients were: International: Director - Graham Leggatt, Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society and Professional – Rose Kuo, Artistic Director, AFI Fest; National: Director – Gary Meyer, Co-Director, Telluride Film Festival and Professional – Natalie McMenemy and Regional: Director – Richard Paradise, Executive Director, MV Film Society and Professional – Mary Dippell, Executive Director, Lake Arrowhead Film Festival. The winners of the Audience Choice Awards were: For the Image Award (Best Festival Poster) – National Category, Independent Film Festival of Boston and Regional Category, L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival and for the Livre d’Or Award – National Category, RiverRun International Film Festival and Regional Category, Lone Star Film Festival. Later that evening attendees were also treated to an IFFS After-Party at Prive.

Winners_from_the_LA_Shorts_Film_Festival
Winners_from_the_LA_Shorts_Film_Festival

Audience_Award_to_the_Independent_Boston_Film_Festival
Audience Award to the Independent Boston Film Festival

The final day of the Summit began with Keynote Speaker Jonathan Sehring, President of IFC Entertainment and was followed by an Innovation Presentation given by Element Eight. The first panel of the day covered “Creative Cost Cutting Solutions” and was moderated by Andre Rodgers, Executive Director of River Run International Film Festival, who was joined on stage by Keith Weckstein Director of Ticketing at Tribecca Film Festival, Tom Olbrich, the Executive Director of the Ashland Independent Film Festival, Gabe Wardell, Executive Director of the Atlanta Film Festival 365 and Sarah Pearce, Director of Operations at Sundance. When it comes to making cuts the panelists agreed that festival directors need to take a long hard look on what they’re spending they’re money on and asking themselves why they’re doing it. The intricacies of budgeting varied among them as well as their methods for putting events together. However, everyone was in agreement about the benefits of leveraging and trading “in kind” type services, although Weckstein cautioned “You don’t want to eliminate your reason for being.” While Olbrich has cut back on travel and special guests, Weckstein related that Tribecca stopped producing a special bound book with their icon, which not one patron has missed or asked about.. Each festival must take a look at its own needs and determine where they can cut: parties, panels, screenings, handouts. They are also experimenting with new technologies and mentioned that Jackie Mason used Skype for a Q & A session recently, a method which could become more commonplace in lieu of bringing in guests for personal appearances. This panel also set the table for several other discussions continuing on later that day revolving around marketing and the immersion of social media into the mix, an avenue leading to more cost savings. Wardell observed, “Word of mouth is your key marketing tool. Give people a quality experience, generate excitement. They like discovery.”

Socializing_in_the_Exhibition_Hall
Socializing_in_the_Exhibition_Hall

The afternoon hours were once again divided into Afternoon Breakout Tracks with the first sessions offering workshops on Advanced Sponsorship, “Using Economic Impact Data to Gain Financial Support” and “Media Trends & The Internet: Streaming Content VOD, Social Networking and More. I joined that group featuring Andrew Rodgers, Executive Director of RiverRun International Film Festival and panelists Brian Newman, former CEO, Tribecca Film Institute Gabriel Bellman, Co-Founder, San Francisco Frozen Film Festival, Peter Stain Executive Director, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and Phillip Luque, Operations Director of the San Diego Asian Film Foundation. While all of the speakers were in agreement that the new technologies are creating more challenges and opportunities, once again it became clear that how each festival chooses to implement these options varies a great deal. One of their considerations is the fact that each festival has entirely different type audiences they are trying to appeal to. Another major issue, at least where popular sites like Twitter and Facebook are concerned, is the question of who is going to handle updating the information. These new tools aren’t a substitution for other methods, but usually are an addition, which means an expenditure of time even if they are free to utilize. Panelists spoke about the necessity of engaging their audience and keeping their content fresh, so as to attract repeat visitors. One question everyone finds perplexing is how to turn viral attention into money, yet even without that knowledge participation seems necessary just to keep their bases covered.

The next three tracks offered were all panels: “Fests Role in Educating Filmmakers”, “Greening Your Festival” and “Festival Marketing Strategies: Applications, Tools, Branding and More!”. I chose to attend the last track, which John Wildman Head of Press for AFI FEST moderated and featured Don Franken, the Festival Director of The Method Fest, Tony Armer, Executive Director at Sunscreen Film Festival and Jonathan Lipp, Director of the Big Apple Film Festival. Once again both similarities and differences turned up. Lipp breaks down films into different projects and themes, but states, “We’ll promote each individual program, 114 movies this year” and Wildman recommends, “Be smart about your PR and know what you’re trying to achieve.”

At day’s end the final offering were three more Afternoon Breakout Tracks: “The New Media Mix – A Brave New World!”, “Jury and Your Festival: Selection and Working with The Jury to Reflect Your Festivals Mission” and a panel about “Year Round Film Festival Management: Extending Festival Activities and the Experience to 365 Days. Sticking with the Marketing theme I chose the “New Media Mix” workshop run by Barbara King and Michele Quiles, partners in the firm Marketing Inspirations. While showing an informative slideshow, the ladies explained the importance of partnership marketing and programs benefitting their clients, one of the newest ones being The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. They spoke about creating win/win campaigns with partners where the participants gain from attending or using the service and the promoters benefit with increased ticket sales or in reaching other tangible goals. As before, the new world of social media was discussed and evaluated. One thing is for certain, in the film festival world as in all other aspects of life, the diverse media options and constantly updated technology is expected to play a large part in bringing people together and helping to shape what lies ahead.

While The IFFS was going on, down the hall in another conference room the International Music Festival Conference (IMFCON) was conducting panels and workshops of their own. The only event of its kind addressing issues facing the music festival industry, their mission is to promote it via education, networking, and the cultivation of higher industry standards. Founded in 2007, IMFCON will also be included in Amsterdam this April when the IFFS holds its European conference there. Wyatt Royce, Industry Relations & Education Program Manager, ran a smooth and highly engaging event, while Director/DP Philip Marcus, who is currently featured in Millimeter Magazine, handled filming various segments for the IFFS and will also be handling these responsibilities at the event coming up this spring in Europe.