This past Sunday, I headed out to Las Vegas for a fast and furious 36-hour stay at the Las Vegas Hilton. I was invited by the good folks at the International Film Festival Summit (IFFS) to speak on a panel about the ways in which film festivals might serve as a way to evolve or revolutionize film distribution. In the past, I have made my opinions on the issue relatively clear on the blog (at least I hope so), so given the general industry-wide enthusiasm for “new revenue streams”, I was a little surprised (but deeply flattered) to be on this panel with Chris Hyams of b-side films and the esteemed Richard Lorber of Koch Lorber Films, who has been as passionate an advocate as we have for international film in this country. Mike Jones of Variety was our moderator, and he did a great job making us comfortable and keeping the conversation moving.
Looking around the room, I was instantly embarassed to be on the podium; There was Gary Meyer from Telluride, Graham Leggat from The San Francisco Film Society, Christian Gaines from withoutabox, the wonderful Janet Pierson of SXSW– the people in the audience had far more experience than I did in discussing these issue and offering solutions. But when has that ever stopped me from opening my big mouth? I think the panel went really well and we all had an open and honest discussion about the way in which we see ourselves as film exhibitors, the emerging financial burden that is being placed on festivals by the industry and the financial issues facing distributors of all stripes. I was glad to have been there, and the discussion opened up a conversation that lasted the rest of my time at the IFFS.
I was deeply impressed by how effective this conference was, not just in the overall organization and execution (although things could use a bit of organizational polish to be sure), but in the willingness of film festival workers to get together and collaborate to solve our common problems. I got to talk to a ton of people and make some new friends, and there were some initial discussions about establishing some collective action in the coming year in order to help eliminate some of the misconceptions and problems we face as a non-profits. The overall sense I got from many of my colleagues is that we are fed up with some of the current limitations and expectations we face in the industry and that, perhaps by working more closely together, we can make a more powerful case for our own models. One of my colleagues made a specific proposal over dinner that opened up a lot of possibility for several specific programming changes; Stay tuned for more on that, because it really lit a fire under me and I plan on working diligently to make some of this happen. An American Film Festival Union anyone?; I grew up with the power of collective bargaining, and maybe if we can put our significant mutual interests ahead of our minor competitive need to garner attention for our festivals, we could change the way the process works.
I also had a few excellent meetings with distributors and vendors that have given shape to a new set of exciting possibilities for my festival this year. I really wasn’t sure what to expect out of a 36 hour trip, but I left the IFFS wishing I could stay and do more. I have already made plans to attend in 2009 and would recommend the experience to any film festival worker; It is a terrific opportunity to talk about nuts and bolts away from the pressure of film markets and festival screening schedules. It also didn’t hurt that I came out ahead at the casino as well (hubba hubba). Thank you so much to Waco Hoover, Lori Douglass and the entire IFFS for having me. I am already looking forward to next year…