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June 4, 2001 2:00 AM
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BIZ: Film Festivals Face Economy's Crunch

BIZ: Film Festivals Face Economy's Crunch

by Anthony Kaufman/indieWIRE




(indieWIRE/06.04.01) -- The Sparks, Los Angeles' professional women's basketball team, may not be the most obvious choice to sponsor this year's Outfest: the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, but then again, with a little creative thinking, the fit makes sense. "There's a huge overlap in our audiences," says Outfest's Executive Director Stephen Gutwillig. "The WNBA has recently come out of the closet about lesbian support of woman's professional basketball, so we have developed a partnership that we think is going to be great for both organizations."


It's this kind of inventive sponsorship that many of the country's regional festivals have been forced to seek during the current U.S. economic slowdown. Summer is here, and so are its myriad domestic film festivals, but who is footing the bill when corporate layoffs and dotcom deaths are daily news?


"It has been a softer year for us in terms of corporate sponsorships," continues Outfest's Gutwillig. "Studios and talent agencies retrenched in anticipation of what they would need to do to weather the strikes," explains Gutwillig. Strike fears were at their highest in Los Angeles, he notes, and even though the WGA strikes were averted, the timing -- so near their sponsorship deadlines -- affected Outfest's abilities to raise cash.


"We've had to be a little more creative in bringing on different kinds of sponsors and generating visibility and money in different ways," says Gutwillig. Outfest has shifted some of their focus to admissions revenue and membership development for their year-round programs. "We knew we were going to take a hit this year in sponsorship, so we made plans for that," he adds.


Another obvious example of funding challenges for festivals this season is that Outfest's premier presenting sponsor last yearIFILM, "The Internet Movie Guide," is nowhere to be seen, replaced this year by HBO, together with Absolut Vodka. If you look at the litany of sponsors for this summer's events (and this reporter usually avoids taking note of such corporate inroads), it's no surprise to find not a dotcom among them (unless you count AOL, which you really can't do anymore). Most prevalent are HBO and other cable channels like Showtime, Sundance and IFC, print publications like The New York Times and local magazines, liquor and travel companies, and filmmaker services like Kodak and AVID.


"Last year, it was easier to get money, because you had the dotcoms," says Calixto Chinchilla, Executive Director of the New York International Latino Film Festival. "Hopefully, it won't be this bad next year. I pray it won't. We were in our second year last year and we were set. But now," he laughs, "it's like I'm pimping myself. It's worse than being on Hunt's Point."


The dotcom decline most notably affected this Spring's scheduled Yahoo! Internet Life Online Film Festival, which disappeared without a trace in what would have been its second year. The reasons: "The recent downturn in the economy, an impending writers' and actors' strike, and the limited availability of sponsorship dollars," stated a press release sent out just three weeks before it was to open.


"We did lose some dotcom money," admits Nancy Donahoe, Festival Director of the Newport International Film Festival. "It just became a matter of going somewhere else." Donahoe and crew found themselves "more frugal" in their 4th outing. "Our revenue didn

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