Arts organisations face an uphill battle for economic survival. As our governments in Europe and America slash arts funding, ballet companies, theatres, art galleries, opera companies and film festivals need to think very differently about the economic realities of operating or fail as hundreds have).
Film festivals face an additional hurdle to other types of arts organisations: Netflix and the pre-domination of online movie providers. This means that the traditional ways people access and watch movies has shifted from movie theatres and DVDs to online distribution.
Additionally, film festivals face an uphill battle to secure commercial funding in the form of sponsorship. Here, in my opinion, is how film festivals deal with the dual challenge of finance and relevance.
1. It's about the networking
We may live in a digital world, but there's nothing that filmmakers and film lovers alike more than a good old fashioned chin wag, hopefully over a pint (or three!).
I attended the Rotterdam International Film Festival this year and loved their different networking drinks receptions. Cannes Film Festival of course is basically a 11 day networking opportunity in the south of France.
A festival struggling for survival in today's changing media habits should focus on the fact that people do love to meet each other in the flesh. Down with the virtual pub. Up with a real beer!
2. It's about the filmmakers
Attending a film festival is a costly business. when I traveled with the director and just one of the actors to the Brussels International Fantasy Film Festival I was out nearly a grand after Eurostar from London, two nights in a hotel and meals. So, what to do?
Festivals need to budget for this as they get their event off the ground. Perhaps one way is to offer the filmmaker a share of the box office receipts. Film festival will baulk at this, but is there a better way to get filmmakers to assist in the marketing efforts for their films?
3. It's about distribution
The reason a filmmaker wants their film to screen in a film festival is very simple: They want to get it picked up by a distributor so it gets seen by more people, and so the filmmaker can recoup some or all of their production budget. Film distributors do go to film festivals to look for new films they can acquire.
Film festivals can help by launching their own distribution. Raindance pioneered so-called Date-Day screenings in 2004 with the now defunct internet provider Tiscali. Other festivals like Sundance, Tribecca and SWSX have since followed suit.
A film festival with a loyal band of independent film lovers is in the obvious position to start their own distribution companies championing the new, bold and innovative films they discover in their festival's programme.
4. It's about innovation
If you can't beat 'em join 'em goes the old adage. If movies are now being accessed through the internet, it's time film festivals recognise films (now called content) for the internet. Web fests have sprung up all over since 2011 and Raindance unveils the second edition this autumn's Raindance Web Fest- championing new narrative work for the internet and finishing off with the inaugural British Independent Series Awards on Sunday September 28th.
5. It's about social media
There is no point in skirting the issue: A film festival without a clear social media strategy will open to acres and acres of empty seats and red faces when visiting filmmakers show up for their screenings.
As festivals and social media giants go, I hugely admire the social media strategies of SWSX in Texas and the brilliant social media campaigns of it's norther neighbour: the Toronto International Film Festival.
Anyone struggling with social media, and that could mean a nascent filmmaker would do them selves a great service by peeking in and lurking arounf these two great examples of 'how-to' social media.
6. It's about feeling special
Imagine for a minute that you are a filmmaker with a film screening at a far flung festival. You arrive to be greeted with total silence. Your screening comes and goes without a moment's hoopla. This is likely the scenario at the larger film festivals where hundreds of films are screened. unless you were lucky enough to get a huge star like a Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie in your film, your screen, your film and you yourself will be lost in the noise and clamour surrounding this huge films.
This is probably where smaller film festivals come in. It's at these smaller film festivals that the organisers and the audiences are thrilled to meet and greet a filmmaker and make them feel special.
Let's never forget the difference between at the role of a film festival and the role of a filmmaker:
A filmmaker's role is to produce an entertaining and thought engaging film. A film festival's role is to deliver to the filmmaker a roomful of people ready to appreciate their hard work and to engage in conversation.