Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Ted Hope
December 3, 2012 1:56 PM
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Ted Hope Says To Best Serve Audiences, Film Festivals Need A Reboot

Thankfully, there is no correct single answer to that question. I enjoyed a pretty nice track record producing movies. There’s no simple answer as to why I had that success either, but a lot comes down to the fact that I never believed there was a template for creating art. Each film needed to be its own unique construction and I suspect that is true for film festivals -- truer today probably, than ever before.

Audiences, artists, art and technology evolve far faster than markets, business, or infrastructure. In this era of infinite reproduction, audiences crave authenticity and customization. When people don’t get what they want, they move on. Film attendance has been dropping in this country on a regular basis; box office is maintained by price increases. The behavior patterns of our youth influence all we do going forward. My 12-year-old son has said he doesn’t like movies, although he loves most that he’s ever seen. He doesn’t see cinema as speaking to him – and if that doesn’t change, the audience and community he is part of will be lost to us forever.

In my first year at the San Francisco Film Society, my top goal is to learn who my audiences are and help them get to where they want to go.
We need to find our unique stamp at every festival, and it won’t come from a top-down approach but from the crowd itself. Have we all utilized the tools we have to really listen, to evaluate and analyze? To tell you the truth, I don’t know what these tools are, but in my first year at the San Francisco Film Society, my top goal is to learn who my audiences are, and help them get to where they want to go. We should not contain our audience by the structure we have, but instead build the structures that carry them further. Isn’t that part of the definition of community building?

When I look at the power of film, and the total appeal of film festivals, it is film’s strength at bringing people together, in a really deep way, that I find its most unique attribute. Frankly, I think we all tend to take this for granted and in the process diminish it. Have we embraced cinema’s power as a community organizing tool, to help people address what they otherwise have difficulty in discussing or embracing? I think we need to build our house around this energy; it will allow us to expand in new ways than previously conceived.

We know we all want to ENGAGE audiences and we all know how to use social media now (or at least we have someone on our team that does!). I love social media; it has changed my life and expanded my horizons, but it is not deep engagement. A well-curated Facebook page or Twitter stream will never replace festivals for real engagement. But as wonderful as it is to hear a filmmaker discuss their work with an audience, it is still only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to erasing the barriers between audience and artist. What more can we do? We need to reach higher.

Film festivals are also a community unto themselves, but have we ever unleashed their combined power? As much as we share and inform, in terms of the films we present, do we just compete and cannibalize? We are the pinnacle where cinema is both appreciated and celebrated at its highest level, but have we taken it for granted that that is sufficient? Can we take it further? 

To help us all move forward, I have used these questions I am raising here, to spur me on to a new set of questions, totaling 12 (granted, with some subsets & subquestions) – questions that I will use to guide me this next year at the San Francisco Film Society.

Those questions are provided in part two of this post at Truly Free Film.

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  • Alexia Anastasio | December 7, 2012 2:38 PMReply

    My favorite film festival that I went to with my film, Adventures in Plymptoons! by far was Flyway Film Festival in Pepin and Stockholm, WI, education, time for the filmmakers to have a roundtable discussion and workshop their projects and goals of their projects with others and a heart felt community. I wish all film festivals could be as awesome as Flyway, Note: I do put Boulder and Sarasota as close seconds. Now you can see my film on the film festival that is HULU and Amazon.

  • Patryk Rebisz | December 5, 2012 9:41 PMReply

    With prevalence of content it's easier to decipher patterns - so you had a whole army of indie filmmakers who looked at the patterns and said "I should do it like that too if i want to succeed!" - even though they should say "this is what i should NOT do." Madness. And thus you end up with cookie-cutter films that even the 12 year old can't enjoy... Which they shouldn't. The world is more complex then it has ever been if the filmmakers understood that and thus made films that reflects our current reality (as my starts up production company is trying to do) then the non-12-year-old would still enjoy watching film. Smart films will find audiences, if for no other reason that by not trying to cutter to the imbeciles in the audience they would be original.

  • Tyler | December 3, 2012 6:43 PMReply

    Just this weekend I saw a small film festival that showed signs of igniting this reboot. The Unofficial Google+ Film Festival (www.ugpff.com) brought the film festival experience to a worldwide online audience complete with live-streamed shorts, webseries, filmmaker panels, etc. The festival obviously has a long way to go before entering the mainstream, but shows extreme potential for breaking the mold of the festival experience.

  • Grace | December 3, 2012 4:37 PMReply

    I'm a mfa film school grad from NYU, and I don't like movies anymore - they don't speak to me - let along a 12 year old. Maybe if the industry isn't reaching 12 year olds, it could focus on speaking to once upon a time film lovers. Twitter, technology et.al. none of these things seem to bring people closer or help to make better movies.... maybe if the business of show wasn't so costly - or if business wasn't dominating the show.... I always think of Robert Evans - what did he know about running a studio - nothing - that's maybe why Paramount "produced" so many legendary films. I say throw all the bums out - it doesn't seem to me that festivals have shown any more equality than big business. Everyone talks about how great it is that people can make movies alone in their bedrooms - you could have fooled me - I don't know who dreams of being a filmmaker anymore - I certainly don't...a lot of fuss for nothing it seems as they don't reflect a world in which I'm interested. My imagination is free. I remember thinking everything I knew about love and madness and the intricacies of other lives, I learned from the movies. Deer Hunter, Woman Under the Influence, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Conformist, Godard's, Breathless, The Godfather, Chinatown; the list is endless. Can you imagine if this was what kids growing up now say looking back .... good on a 12 year old for knowing that he ain't going to learn it at the movies today.

  • Tabitha C. | December 3, 2012 3:54 PMReply

    I wonder about this myself. I think it's interesting that you call Youtube the largest film festival - I can certainly see that. So many of the film festivals I have participated in as an Indie actor have been screened through youtube, though certainly not all. Some are encased totally in the site.

    An example - in two weekends, I'm going to be a part of 48 Go Green (http://48gogreen.com). This is a great little film festival for those of us who are trying to get a portfolio together, because at the very least we leave with that much. We've got chances for more - it's a competition not only a festival. This is a unique approach to the open source market - trying to bring in amateurs in a world where competing in Hollywood is just so hard. And so many of us just want to share our story, you know? Doing something like that that focuses on ecology and gives you a chance to get your face out there - well, like I said, it's just the example I can use this week! :)

    The old paradigm is changing, that's for sure, and we're on the cusp.