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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. 

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.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Festivals

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