Film festival directors all have stories about what it’s like to be in the trenches of the film festival industry. That time the perfect film arrived a week after the submission deadline; the most original promotion idea for a film; the director who shows up for their own screening/Q&A session 45 minutes late. But these festival head honchos have more to share then just horror stories.
That’s the idea behind the International Film Festival Summit (IFFS). The IFFS provides opportunities for film festival staff members to share knowledge on what works and what doesn’t on today’s festival circuit, and keep up to date on developments changing the film festival industry. After all, festivals are more than just places to go to see a film. They’re networking opportunities and an essential part of any indie moviemaker’s post-production process.
Matthew Raynor of the IFFS took the time to answer our questions on why the service provided by the IFFS is essential.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): When and why did the International Film Festival Summit start up? What did you see lacking in the film festival community that made you decide to create this sort of event?
Matthew Raynor (MR): The IFFS was co-founded by Waco Hoover and Todd Brockman in 2004. The idea initially came to us out of a panel discussion hosted at the Berlinale Talent Campus centered around festivals and their relationship with filmmakers. At the time there was very little formal collaboration that existed between festivals in the community. Virtually every industry has its own annual meeting that brings together professionals to address current and changing industry trends and best practices. With the critical role film festivals play in independent film and distribution, why should they be any different? The IFFS was born to meet this need and foster collaboration across the film festival community for all relevant stakeholders.
MM: How have film festivals in general changed as a result of evolving technology in the film industry, like the increasing power of the Internet? How do you see film festivals changing in coming years?
MR: Festivals, like all organizations, now have tools that allow them to stay connected with their attendees, filmmakers, supporters and other constituents throughout the year. Tools like social media and online video allow festivals to extend their reach beyond the actual festival. By leveraging new technologies, festivals can promote and market their festival’s films and other year-round programs in a way that previously did not exist. We now see festivals like SXSW doing same-day screenings of films from IFC on video on demand. New technologies will enable festivals to reach new audiences and evolve existing festival models that serve as a powerful mechanism to distinguish themselves from other programs out there.
MM: Of the many types of film-related organizations, film festivals really seem to be the least competitive; many festival directors are happy to share their war stories and advice with up-and-coming events. Why do you think this is the case? How does that sense of community among festivals play into what you guys do?
MR: While festival directors are happy to share war stories, many festivals are still very competitive. After all, many festivals compete for the same content and premieres. Sharing advice is a critical part of what makes the festival community thrive. The IFFS provides a platform for festival executives to come together and do this in a more structured environment. Oftentimes, festival professionals have the opportunity to connect at other festivals but the IFFS is different because this is a dedicated time to focus on the craft of producing world-class film festivals that make a significant impact on their local communities and the filmmakers who attend. The film industry is not static and festivals, like most organizations, must continue to adapt and evolve to industry forces.
MM: What’s the most common blunder people tend to make when it comes to running a film festival, and what is some advice you would give to help festival organizers avoid it?
MR: Managing expectations! It doesn’t matter if you’re a large festival or brand-new fest fresh on the scene, managing stakeholder expectations is critical. Filmmakers, sponsors, attendees and other festival constituents will in large part base their experience on the expectation a festival creates. This means under-promise and over-deliver whenever possible. Rely on your organization’s strengths and the things that make your festival unique to leave a lasting impact and valuable experience.
MM: The next IFFS is happening in Las Vegas December 5th through 7th. Is there a particular speaker or workshop that comes to mind as being especially helpful to film festival organizers?
MR: That’s a hard question because there are so many amazing topics being addressed at the 2010 edition. Two things that stand out are the “Anatomy of a Festival” and “Festivals Impact on Social Change and Culture” panels. The Anatomy panel will discuss critical areas such as programming, corporate sponsorship, membership, filmmaker services and more. Attendees will learn how each department effectively works together, providing the best experience for filmmakers and audiences. The social change panel will be equally exciting because film is such a powerful communication medium. The session will discuss how the film industry is using film festivals to effect social change. Presenters at this year’s program include helmers from Emerging Pictures, AFI Fest, San Francisco Film Society, Mill Valley International Film Festival, Film Finders, Austin Film Festival and more.
IFFS Last Vegas takes place from December 5th through the 7th, 2010. For more information visit www.filmfestivalsummit.com.