Love is not all you need while Developing Your Film Festival
by Marta Bałaga
- Another edition of the Creative Europe-funded training course for film-festival professionals took place during the 19th edition of Poland’s New Horizons International Film Festival
Taught by experts from the UK-based Independent Cinema Office, as well as speakers from some of the most renowned festivals from all over the world, this year’s edition of Developing Your Film Festival saw the likes of Il Cinema Ritrovato’s Guy Borlée, Goteborg Film Festival’s Olle Agebro, head of Sponsorship and Development at MO Museum Mindaugas Morkunas, Jennifer Frees of the Toronto International Film Festival, journalist and film festival consultant Wendy Mitchell, executive director of the Vilnius International Film Festival Algirdas Ramaska, consultants Sarah Boiling and Clare Wilford, marketing and communications manager for Rotterdam Jodie de Groot, and administrative director of Kurzfilm Festival Hamburg Sven Schwarz, all suggesting precise strategies and ideas, concerning everything from sponsorship and partnerships to audience development. The event took place during the 19th edition of Poland’s New Horizons International Film Festival.
“People often decide to work for film festivals because they love films. But it’s not enough!” underlines ICO’s Catherine Des Forges, who started the course nine years ago. “Raising money through sponsorships or thinking about marketing can be difficult if you have never done it before. When we started, there was no training at all. One of the courses we delivered was for UK film festivals but we had a number of international applications, which led us to apply to Creative Europe for funding,” she explains. “What has changed is that the film-festival sector has become more important for the distribution and exhibition of non-Hollywood films. In some countries, festivals are the distribution.” The other thing, it turns out, is that there are simply more and more festivals. “Not all of them are sustainable, but many grow into events transforming entire cities. When people are there, like now in Wrocław, something happens that can’t be replicated by watching films online. It’s about a community coming together.”
This doesn’t apply just during the actual event, but throughout the entire year: “You need to turn your audience into year-round fans,” stresses Olle Agebro. “By creating our VoD platform Draken Film, we keep in touch with them every day, getting insight that wasn’t available before. It helps us provide a better VoD experience and develop an even better festival,” he says, while also admitting that even the most celebrated festivals have trouble reaching audiences through new channels. “We are not competing with each other – our real competitor is social media. Festivals need to learn from and adapt to the same data-driven, interactive mindset that drives companies like Facebook and Netflix.” At the same time, it is important for festivals to understand what the core of their business is all about. “And what makes for a great cinema-going experience! Whether it’s the programmer’s personality, your location, or weird event screenings.”
Still, as pointed out by Jennifer Frees, vice-president of partnerships at Toronto, it’s still the audience that always needs to come first. “Don’t programme for yourself: take time to listen to your audiences, survey them and then build all the pieces around that information. Festivals should think about what they can offer that the audience can’t get at home on their couches or watching from their mobile devices.” They should also think about how to enhance the comfort of the audience with the help of the right partnerships. “Coming from my very specific lens, sponsorships and partnerships can really make or break the festival experience. When activated correctly, these can do fabulous work,” Frees says, while stressing the importance of considering current and future financial sustainability. “No matter where you are, and no matter how stable your situation may seem, you need to ensure that you are seeking diverse forms of revenue so that if one leg of financing has a challenging year, you are not overall at-risk. Festivals need to ask themselves why they need to exist and what gap they are filling in the marketplace.”
Sven Schwarz, in town to discuss festival strategy, seems to agree. “The most crucial thing is staying true to the core. What is the vision you are following?” he asks. “If your festival has been started by left-leaning punks, it needs to keep that vibe. Otherwise it will lose its credibility. Also, make it an enjoyable experience for audiences and guests alike: add interesting panels, workshops, have an outstanding programme. And, of course, have some amazing parties!” While well-planned media groundwork is necessary, argues Schwarz, if the budget allows it, a social media manager should be on your team. “Through this, you can set up stable connections with partners that don’t come just from the film-festival scene. The average industry representative visits around five festivals a year, so make sure yours is the one they want to be at. Which brings me back to what I said before: Have some amazing parties!”
The course took place from 22-28 July 2019.
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