Catharine Des Forges • Director, Independent Cinema Office
- Independent Cinema Office director Catharine Des Forges talks to Cineuropa about the exhibition sector's challenges and opportunities
The Independent Cinema Office is the national organisation for the UK's independent exhibition sector, providing it with programming, distribution of world cinema and artists' films, and training. Over the years ICO has been training hundreds of film festival professionals, gaining a unique overview of the European film festival landscape. In 2011 ICO launched its international training course Developing Your Film Festival, which has so far welcomed participants from 127 festivals from across Europe and North America. Last year a Film Festival Symposium series was added to ICO's international offer. ICO director Catharine Des Forges talks to Cineuropa about the sector's challenges and opportunities during the symposium held at the Vilnius International Film Festival in partnership with Creative Europe - MEDIA.
Cineuropa: What are the big challenges and opportunities for film festivals today?
Catharine Des Forges: The explosion of film festivals is one of the biggest things to have happened during my 20 years of working in exhibition - the emergence of new ones and the growth of the established ones. It's an incredibly passionate and creative sector, it has become crucial for the circulation of cultural and European cinema, and audiences love festivals. So the opportunities are all there. An obvious challenge is funds and building sustainability, especially for festivals outside of the established ones. Another major challenge for the sector that I'd like to mention is that it isn't monitored, there are no overall statistics even on admissions. It's not uncommon even within the industry for people to view festivals as fun and exciting but not necessarily as economically or culturally significant as they are, and in some territories act as sole distributor or exhibitor of new work. If there were figures and festivals joined together more to present themselves as a sector they would be in a stronger position in relation to funders and their status as a business part of the industry would be better recognized. So this is both a challenge and an opportunity.
What are the training needs of the festival sector?
At the medium sized and smaller festivals that we are training, most people work on short contracts and there's both a lack of training opportunities and of a formal career or education path. More than a decade ago we launched our "Cultural Cinema Course" for the simple reason that there was no structured training for the UK exhibition sector, and today we're pleased to see that it has become an industry standard. With Developing Your Film Festival we have somewhat tried to mirror this and offer an all-round course for building sustainable festivals. We cover areas like strategic planning, income building, programming, how to engage new audiences, staff and PR. Even if your organisation is non profit, you have to be just as good as others with these things. There's often a demarcation between the creative and the business side, but being business minded is not going to kill your creativity, it will enable you to be creative! Running a cultural event is about having a passion for the arts and translating that into something that communicates with audiences and creates a sustainable operation - so that you can keep working with your passion.
Why have you launched the Film Festival Symposium? What were the main takeaways from the most recent one at Vilnius International Film Festival?
Festivals compete with each other for films, guests and sometimes funds, but there so many shared challenges and we wanted to offer more senior professionals a platform for discussion. We launched the Symposium series in Venice, and in Vilnius last month we talked about the current economic climate for festivals and future avenues for funding. We had a full house all day and speakers from Toronto, San Sebastian, Vilnius, Stockholm, Transylvania and BFI. Some of their recommendations for fellow festivals were to recruit specialist professionals for developing their marketing and corporate sponsorship activities, to think about sponsorship opportunities beyond film and film screenings, to find synergies between their geographical location and cultural event and to take the collection of data seriously, using it to inform funders and government about the potential economic rewards of investing in film festivals.