Thursday, January 7, 2010

FILM FESTIVALS: Grow Up and Get a Life

The year 2007 may have been the height of indie films theatrical exhibition and distribution then it all failed miserably in 2008-09. Beyond blaming the economy, maybe it was more than the glut of mediocre films just to get them out in theaters. The same thing was going on with film festivals- a glut of them operated by inexperienced festival directors with too many cooks in the kitchen and the funding eventually drying up. For many festivals there wasn't much going for it if the general description would read " a festival that showcases undistributed short and feature films in all genres from around the world". Can't get anymore general than that including the ever expanding programming with "something for everyone" becoming the eventual death knell. One such festival in LA was touted as a non profit "established to provide a showcase for independent film that are often neglected and rarely presented". Yawn. Apparently, this festival started off with a bang in 2000 and peaked in 2007, at least two years beyond what I give a film festival the time necessary to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. This festival is not around anymore since 2007 and there were probably more reasons for its demise that may have included bad management, bad films and bad economy.

One of the biggest blunders a film festival can make is not having a focus and getting too big, too fast before it has time to mature, establish and maintain a following. Two hundred films scheduled over a short period of time, understaffed in trained personnel and volunteers (yet there are thirty people sitting on the Board of Directors), not enough venues and technicians operating various projection systems, limited marketing and promotion planning and budget including stagnant websites that don't always include festival dates on their landing page. Nightmare city. The independent film audience that this was all going for becomes one or two people in a theater that seats four hundred and a disappointed filmmaker who gave up the prize (a premiere is like giving up your virginity - you only do it once) all for nothing.

The best festival websites have their festival name, dates and location in the title page, perfect for search engines to find and show up on the top of their list. The best film festivals go beyond panel discussions, master classes, public parties and private receptions. They have experienced, savvy film festival directors and programmers who understand the indie film business, are creative marketers and use their knowledge in conjunction with technology trends that takes over the lead from abandoned, ineffective distribution business models offering options for distributing the films that have been accepted in their program lineup and probably would not have progressed any further past the first film life and theatrical screening momentum. Film festivals need to get a life, too. Next: PART II FILM FESTIVALS THAT HAVE A FOCUS

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