Geoffrey Gilmore • Tribeca Enterprises
Geoffrey Gilmore has been the director of the Sundance Film Festival for nineteen years. This interview was given during the Berlin Film Festival at the Relaxa Hotel, close to the European Film Market. It was the last day of the festival and Gilmore was about to travel back to the United States. A couple of days later he surprisingly resigned as director of the Sundance Film Festival to join Tribeca Enterprises as chief creative officer to “lead global contain development and expansion of the Tribeca brand”.
He tried to explained the differences between American and European festivals, markets and industries, keeping in mind the financial crisis. In conclusion he claimed the importance of audience-oriented storytelling as the corner stone of this business.
Cineuropa: What is the difference between an American festival and a European festival? Do they have different goals? Do they have a different approach?
Geoffrey Gilmore: I do not know if the distinction is between American and European. It is between different kinds of festivals that have different genders. European and American films obviously have enough distinction that we could say those festivals reflect that, which should be the argument about art versus commerce: American festivals being more commercial and European festivals being more about art. But I think that is too easy to say. I don’t believe that is true; either in terms of American festivals or in terms of European festival. A festival like Berlin, where we are sitting, is enormously interested in the market and particularly interested in trying to figure out ways in which to increase the interconnections between European cultures and countries in terms of media. It is a very good question, but I am not sure I have an answer to it. I would argue generally speaking that the system of American sales and distribution is more sophisticated than what goes on in terms of sales and distribution in Europe. That is reflected in some festivals, but not across the borders. And conversely European television supports production and supports different kinds of distribution, which is very different from American television. So, there are some structural differences in the industry that you might say are reflected in the festivals.
We are in a financial crisis but many people from the industry say audiences remain the same in terms of quantity – people keep going to the theatres or buying DVD’s – since the industry still deliver a product that is really demanded. What is the conclusion of this? What is going to happen?
I do not agree that audiences stay the same, I do not think they stay the same in terms of numbers, I do not think they stay the same in terms of who they are. Festival audiences are different, but if we talk generally about markets, audiences have been changing for a number of years.
If you look at the long-term trend you can see that the audiences have got older; that there has been more an adult audience, that the financial crises has not affected that adult audience, mainly in that the audiences in itself are kind of self-selecting, in the sense that it is an audience that is very focused on going to cinema as their major choice in life to do outside their work and so it stays the same but they do not key prioritise that. It is not that people just decide to go to see a movie for entertainment when they have ten different things to do for entertainment and they do not do it. So you could say that the cultural choice that people make to go the cinema is something that is less affected by the financial crisis.
But I don’t agree that audiences aren’t changing. I think audiences are changing and we will see the effect of that in the next decade. I think the way we talk about how audiences are changing is not just year to year, it is long term. And the decrease in attendance in the United States can maybe not be reflected quite in the same way in Europe…
But do you think it is linked to the financial crisis?
No, not necessarily. I think it is about films, that is the point. People go to see good movies. That is what motivates people to get out of their house, go to see a good movie. And if the financial crisis means that there are less good movies, then there is less of an audience. But if the financial crisis does not mean that then it does not affect audiences… maybe.
Are festivals a good medicine for the industry’s problems?
I do not know if they are a medicine. I think they are more like testing grounds. They are like places where you can where you can try things out, where you can experiment, where you can learn stuff. I do not know if they provide solutions. They are more places where you can learn about how efficient the film could be.
Festivals have become very important in the young culture. And I think film culture has then become a much broader world than what it used to be, and festivals can help disseminate film culture in a really largely way. They can make people more aware, meaning that right now there is a younger generation which is much more sophisticated about cinema than thirty years ago, and that comes from a much more sophisticated film culture. But I am not sure that that audience is aware of that. They don’t care as much, that they do not have the same hurdles. When we [Gilmore’s generation] were getting excited about films coming to town, it was because there was no other real way to see them. Because if I wanted to go to see Spanish cinema, it was coming rarely and it was coming in a programme, focused on it for a week or so, with different directors. We showed a Spanish series, many years ago when I was running the U.C.L.A. film archives, with a whole range of different kinds of Spanish cinema that I thought was fascinating. I learnt tons of things about everybody from Almodóvar to directors on the Spanish civil war. I always say there are three subjects that the Spanish make films about: sex, death and the Spanish civil war… and sometimes all together. But I think that the idea and the importance of festivals are that they help disseminate film culture and maybe that is what you mean by medicine, maybe that is what you mean by helping, helping cure the problem. I am not sure that that is the cure but it is at least a clarification.
I heard something here in Berlin within the context of a conference. A European distributor claimed that we have to stop talking about films and theatres and start thinking about audiovisual works and windows. Do you agree? Is this the future?
I do, I do in terms of the feature. I think that the theatrical world will not exist on its own and that the theatrical film will adopt different forms. The questions are: where are the new forms created? What kinds of stories will be created, right when they can be downloaded as five-minute segments to our I-pods or our phones?
I think there is a feature. What is not clear to me is how much revenue is produced for that feature and if the revenue is very limited, then there is a change in foundation. I think that some of these audiovisual works that people are talking about aren’t particularly commercial. And I think that is one of the things that are going to happen. But do we really find ourselves in the situation, where we are predicting that the kind of revenue that was produced for the theatrical in a very formal way is going to be changed for something else? I am not sure. I can easily see the development of all kinds of forms: comic books instead of novels, different ways of reading magazines and newspapers, that have changed into blogs, in terms of transforming the world of reading, from novels to something else. And I certainly think that media has become a different world that is not just dominated by traditional television and film.
Now the one million euro (or one million dollar) question: What can we Europeans do to have a bigger piece of the cake of the American market?
I believe it is about storytelling, it is about focusing on storytelling, about being worth with audiences. A lot of scripts in Europe are not developed, they are not worth gone the way Americans do. They don’t have that development process which by the way is supposed to be considered help for the development - different people giving feedback on a script, that a studio sends the stuff to different places. Then the issue is what is storytelling. What does it really mean? How do we talk about storytelling? Now there is storytelling in almost everything. There is storytelling in advertising, there is storytelling in the way you talk about sports, there is storytelling about every kind of life experience that we have. So what I really mean by storytelling is the kind of a narrative, is the kind of a way of looking at audiences, and working with an audience, and it is not one form, it is not one formula. But I believe that American films have tried very much to work on that. And conversely I would hope that American films learn visual style and different acting, different performing. The way that the rest of the world has developed performance and the visual style is very different, it gives films some innovation, some kind of originality. It is not just a one way change. But that’s the million dollar question. That’s the question: How much can the storytelling of Europe become effective with audiences to make their films commercial, not a sold out? I think that is very hard.
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