Film festivals are so numerous these days that counting them is tantamount to tracking migratory birds. The hard number of events grows annually—more new festivals flutter in each year than fall dead from the sky—but the figure is constantly fluctuating; and it’s huge! I’m preaching to the choir if you’re a filmmaker who’s tried, recently, to weed through Withoutabox.com’s list. The website boasts that you can submit to more than 5,000 festivals and contests through their database, but that 5,000 doesn’t include, say, SXSW.
So, how should an overwhelmed moviemaker approach the incessant festival season? How do you separate the sick from the healthy, and the efficacious from the exploitative? Conversely, if you’re a festival upstart, how can you bring your event national (or even international) awareness?
This is where the International Film Festival Summit comes to the rescue.
Twice a year—once in Paris and once in Austin—IFFS convenes its Festival Summit, allowing festival directors and filmmakers to network in the same hallowed halls. This Saturday, December 2, the stateside conference kicks off at the Hyatt Regency Austin, and continues through to Monday, December 4.
MovieMaker sat down with IFFS speaker Paul Cohen to chat about this season’s Summit. Mr. Cohen is a staple of the FSU College Motion Picture Arts Torchlight Program, and is the President of Red Hills Releasing.
MovieMaker (MM): How did you get involved with IFFS?
Paul Cohen (PC): Approximately three years ago I was contacted to participate in the conference as a Keynote speaker. Once I reviewed the website and noticed so many familiar industry faces and film festivals, I accepted. And I’ve been thrilled to continue my relationship with the organization ever since.
MM: IFFS is unique in that their aim isn’t to screen films, but to stress the importance of festivals on the independent film industry. What valuable information do you provide to help new festivals sustain themselves?
PC: It’s my intention to continue to provide insight from my three decades as an independent motion picture distributor, contributing my experience both in acquiring films and presenting films in hundreds of film festivals. I believe that my the hands-on knowledge—gained from attending established and newly formed film festivals—contributes to my ability to listen to issues facing new festivals and respond with examples from positive past experiences. Additionally, my role as an academic with film students whose films are traveling the film circuits allows me to offer additional suggestions to young filmmakers at the conference whose work will be the future content of many of the festivals participating in IFFS.
MM: How can attending IFFS benefit emerging and continuing film festivals?
PC: One of IFFS’s greatest attributes is that it brings so many talented, successful and visionary film festival directors and industry leaders together in a congenial environment. Networking at IFFS is a lot more intimate and focused than trying to take meetings at Cannes, Sundance or Toronto. The Summit allows directors to share their successes and concerns with one another, and it allows new members of the film festival community to gain information and contacts they might not otherwise be able to access. The climate of independent motion picture distribution and exhibition is rapidly changing, and IFFS provides an invaluable opportunity for members of the festival community to see how the industry as a whole is reacting to emerging trends.
MM: What are some of the panels at this year’s event?
PC: All of the cool panels are listed on the IFFS website, however I recommend “Distribution, Festival Incentives and All the Stuff that Keeps You Up at Night.” I’m speaking on that panel, but since distribution is the goal of all filmmakers circumnavigating the festival circuit, it’s a really good one to attend.
That said, all of this year’s panels have terrific, knowledgeable panelists and moderators. As always, though, the audience serves itself best when they ask good questions!
MM: If you’re a filmmaker—not a festival director—what can you gain from attending IFFS?
PC: Filmmakers can meet more festival directors under our roof than any other place on the planet. What better way to be in a position to submit a new film than to have met and shared time with the director of a festival you, as a filmmaker, would hope to submit to? Additionally, by taking part in IFFS, filmmakers can learn how to focus on the festivals that are the best fit for their newest production. Come to the Summit, and we’ll demystify the film festival mystique!
IFFS Austin 2012 starts this Saturday, December 2, at the Hyatt Regency Austin. Tickets and lodging information are available at www.filmfestivalsummit.com/austin.