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DISPATCH FROM LAS VEGAS: Commiserating and Taking up the Slack in Distribution, International Film F

DISPATCH FROM LAS VEGAS: Commiserating and Taking up the Slack in Distribution, International Film F

With about twenty panels and organized chats over two-and-a-half days in the convention center at the Las Vegas Luxor Hotel, starting in the mornings and running through early evenings — in addition to a select group of vendors pushing their products — impromptu meetings between festival organizers and plentiful weak coffee provided by the hotel, the International Film Festival Summit, which ended Tuesday night, may have had some of the familiar trappings of the Men’s Warehouse convention taking place in rooms down the hall, but for attendees who are in the business of creating events, the IFFS went down successfully. Or at least according to casual discussion with a group of festival organizers who attended the third IFFS December 3-5.

“We want [IFFS] to be the annual conference and trade show for the film festival industry,” commented IFFS organizer and co-founder Waco Hoover in a conversation with indieWIRE on Tuesday. “The event is successful if we address the needs of the [film festival] industry. I hope they’re able to leave with new ideas and tools to implement into their [events] and to network and share new ideas.”

Commiseration among festival organizers seemed to be a welcome part of the IFFS, as programmers and fest heads scurried to panel discussions ranging from “Sponsorship: New Opportunity; More Challenge,” “Filemaker: Be Your Own ‘Indie’ Data Manager,'” “Sizzle vs. Soul: The Fine Art of Programming,” and “Acquisition & Distribution Trends in Independent Film and the Role Film Festivals Play Today and in the Future” just to name a few.

“[It was my] first time and didn’t know what to expect,” said Tallgrass Film Festival producer and senior programmer Eric Moore (who also works with the Seattle and Palm Springs fests), in a chat with indieWIRE. “It’s been a good dose of film festival organizer therapy.”

“We were able to get ideas from similar-sized festivals, [though we would] be interested in hearing more from regional festivals,” added Tallgrass festival director Lela Meadow. Tallgrass, which will take place October 19 – 21 in 2007, showcased 15 features and about 50 shorts at their festival earlier this year in Wichita, Kansas.

Even keynote speaker, Darryl Macdonald, who has had his hat at the Seattle International Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival and is current director of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, touched on the common ground for organizers to compare notes, challenges and insights in producing their annual fests saying, “Running a film festival is like a can-do childbirth. It’s painful, but when it’s all over, you only remember the good things.”

Macdonald and many other IFFS speakers consistently referenced the spectacular rise of festivals in the last 20 – 30 years, and wondered aloud about the reasons for their proliferation. “When I first started SIFF, there was no Sundance or Toronto and film festivals only revolved around films, filmmakers and audiences — no sales agents, no DVDs to watch [for programming] and no email. There was also little competition for films or press.”

“The distribution system is dysfunctional, so the rise of festivals is a fact. Distributors are not serving the public,” commented Film Finders EVP Peter Belsito who moderated the acquisition and distribution trends panel Monday. Belsito compared the relatively large availability of foreign films on offer when he was growing up in the ’60s to today, and sees film festivals in the U.S. as a primary outlet for titles that would otherwise not show up on an American screen. “The companies have failed and the Time Warners that took over have another vision for how to make money. Even New York only has about eight screens devoted to foreign films, and that’s the biggest market.”

Distribution crises in America aside, IFFS seems to have gained a foothold in the “film festival circuit,” at least amongst a chunk of festival organizers, even for at least some who were initially resistant. “I shied away at the beginning, but I was glad I came this year,” said outgoing Hamptons International Film Festival executive director Denise Kasell as the final round of panels were taking place.

“The logistics were well thought out,” Kasell said, “I’m not crazy about Las Vegas myself, but it’s central and in one hotel. [Overall], it’s very well planned.” Next year’s IFFS takes place December 2-4, 2007 in Las Vegas, while the inaugural International Film Festival Summit Europe will take place April 17-18 in London.

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