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Ted Hope Says To Best Serve Audiences, Film Festivals Need A Reboot

By Ted Hope | Indiewire December 3, 2012 at 1:56PM

At this weekend's International Film Festival Summit in Austin, keynote speaker and San Francisco Film Society executive director Ted Hope told his fellow festival organizers that they have a chance to be at the forefront of change in an industry that's been curiously slow to embrace it. While the film industry as a whole has yet to make wholesale changes that respond to a world that's consumed by infinite choices in entertainment, film festivals have a particular opportunity. 
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We are shifting from a business model structured around starting over again and again with each new film and moving to one based on forging an ongoing relationship with fans, audiences, and communities, one no longer dominated exclusively by the feature film form. When it is not about the individual movie, but about an overall relationship between creators and appreciators, what is the festival’s role?

Recognizing these profound changes, we must ask: “How are we in film-festival land affected by this total paradigm shift?” If we truly recognize where we are standing, we might only then know where we can lead.

The San Francisco International Film Festival is the longest-running film festival in America. Fifty-six years! Back in 1957, you could not yet see international film virtually everywhere in the United States. Yet 25 years ago, when I moved to NYC, I did find it easy to enjoy a steady of diet of uniquely seasoned foreign film offerings. Nonetheless, a buffet like a film festival was still a time to feast and celebrate. There was no question why film festivals mattered or what they needed to become.

Seven years ago, the biggest film festival in the world launched, offering the greatest degree of community participation and media democracy yet implemented:YouTube. Four billion videos per day are streamed. Quality may be an issue, but they filled a need we seemingly missed. Five years ago, cable VOD platforms offered 50 or so new films a month; today we get thousands. And still 27 films a week still open in NYC. San Francisco and the Bay Area now host over 80 film festivals throughout the year. How do we ensure that film festivals truly matter in this over-saturated environment of infinite options?

We all know that movies matter. We have given our labor to the only art form that brings people together, inspires, educates and challenges them. Movies build bridges of empathy across vast divides of difference. Movies make the world a better place. By choosing to run film festivals, we have acknowledged firsthand the importance of cinema, but are we contributing enough to save it, to push it forward? Are we on the bus or are we part of the problem?

How do we ensure that film festivals truly matter in this over-saturated environment of infinite options?

I was asked to come speak to you today about where we can take festivals, what are the boundaries and how far can we go, but to begin to answer that, we have to look first at ourselves. And I too have to look directly at myself and my behavior.

I have a HD projector in my home. I have streaming galore. I realized over a year ago that I have already pre-selected everything I want to watch not just in the near future, but so far beyond that if I am able to maintain my maximum rate of consumption every year for the rest of my life, my bucket list of movies carries me almost to 10 years past the date of my life expectancy. I am living in the middle of a glorious, self-programmed nonstop film festival. Just like anyone else who wants to can be. Is this even a good thing? Is cinema about watching alone or even with just a few? I know you don’t need the answer on this one.

Three months ago, after producing close to 70 films that generally dared to take real chances and reach high, I decided I could do more to help the culture I love by stepping out of my producer shoes and sitting down around the table with all of you. Film festivals gather all the people who care about films, who absolutely adore the cinema experience, together. That is an untapped power. Film festivals are an incredible opportunity to engage with all of our culture’s stakeholders and to ask “What do we want film festivals to be?” and “What do we need film festivals to be?”.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Festivals