Anyone who has ever worked at a Film Festival at any level knows the huge emotional depths and soaring emotional highs involved; in addition to the hard work of weeks and months of preparation, the daily execution of films and events can take a massive physical toll. But despite the generally seasonal and fleetingly temporal nature of a festival, many hard working, incredibly gifted people return time and again, year after year, to give of themselves for the cause of making a something great, of doing something collaboratively. It is hard, demanding work but, like so much of that kind of work, it can be tremendously rewarding and a strong emotional bond can be formed between the work, the people who do it, and the events that result from their collective efforts.
So, when a friend pointed me in the direction of a YouTube video from Telluride Film Festival Production Manager Jennifer Ammann, wherein she publicly quits her job, I was pretty moved by it:
This isn’t just a “grab a beer and hit the evacuation slide” style quitting; I think Jennifer (who I’ve never met) makes some very interesting points about what is currently a very, very tough time for film festivals. Her comparison between festival directors flying business class while they have cut staff breakfast comes about as close as anything I’ve seen to a real behind-the-curtain look at the dilemmas of festival management (whether or not it’s true? I have no idea. Also, not a fan of the gnome bit, but it’s the other stuff that is fascinating…)
A quick note: I’ve never been to Telluride, but my wife goes every year (it’s her weekend for herself) and I have many friends who work or have worked there over the years. So, I don’t know much more than everyone else about the festival; it’s beautiful, it builds community, they do a great job making it a very special event for both the patrons and the staff and that many, my wife included, think it is the best film festival in the world because of its intimacy and its commitment to film over celebrity and parties. This post is not meant to pile on; I wish The Telluride Film Festival all the best. But I do know from personal experience that cutbacks to festival budgets are an absolute reality right now, and that one of the main issues facing any non-profit at this time is setting new, adjusted priorities and getting organizational buy-in for those changes. I don’t think there is anyone working at festival today, from a Board President to a volunteer, who has faced down a change to the landscape and hasn’t thought to themselves “This is the last straw.” I know I have, I know everyone has; it’s all part of being under-paid, over-worked and deeply passionate about the integrity of the event you’re putting on. All I can say about it is that I both completely understand Jennifer’s frustration and I also know that, given the economic times we’re in, very difficult decisions are being made at non-profits all over the nation. It’s really tough out there for everyone; I find it heartening to know that others are facing these dilemmas because working at a film festival can be a bit isolating and very, very frustrating for everyone. We all want the best, we all want our visions realized and sometimes, the organization comes up short through no real fault of its own.
I do wish all involved here the best of luck, both Jennifer in her work and the Telluride FF with their upcoming festival. As I begin the run-up for my own work on the Sarasota FF and newportFILM in the coming weeks, I will think of both of you often.