« Listen in for a Doc Conversation on KPCC's FilmWeek Friday | Main | About A Son Premieres Tonight on Sundance Channel »

June 05, 2008


James M. Johnston

I'm repeating myself from a comment on Sujewa's blog but I want to weigh in as a filmmaker as much as possible:
One of the greatest things about the current model of festivals is they can program films based purely on their artistic merit, which to me is a VERY GOOD thing. If we start trying to force festivals into the same profit models that theaters follow then we’ll end up with a bunch of festivals playing films based on projected ticket sales instead of ARTISTIC MERIT.

In my mind the most important thing a festival can offer a filmmaker is the ability to showcase his/her art to an audience they would never have a chance to reach on his/her own. We all know that festivals play an immensely important role in helping launch film careers. We should encourage a continuation of this. Filmmakers and film festivals are partners in the exhibition of independent films that a lot of times have little chance of making it in the economically driven world of distribution.

In my mind it is very important to protect film festivals from matters of economics. I equate it to collegiate and non-professional sports. If you start trying to pay people, everything will change. If anything, filmmakers could consider the programming of their film a donation of goods and services to the festival and maybe the fest can issue a receipt to be used for tax deduction by the filmmaker.

As a filmmaker just getting started I have way more interest in getting my film seen by anybody anywhere than making a few bucks from a non-profit arts organization.


If you really think that festivals don't already operate on a for profit model, you're completely fooling yourselves. As someone who used to work for non-profit festivals, and continues to program for one, I can attest that selection process includes a fine balance of films with artistic merit and films that will bring in the money. Ask yourselves, why would a festival, like Seattle for example (cited by Marlow) screen a film like Kung-Fu Panda in their line-up?

What Marlow is arguing is simply that if the festivals mission is to continue to help bring great works of art to their communities, then its also their responsibility to help fund that art] through nominal, that is maybe even just $100 screening fees. That might mean a few thousand less in profit for the non-profit festival, but it wouldn't mean putting them out of business. Having worked at numerous festivals, I know that there is almost always a surplus at the bottom line. Why not share that with those whose work is providing the content to fill the screens? It's not that much to ask really.

I often find myself asking the question, what is the importance of a film festival? What is our purpose in the ecology of film? If it is indeed trying to present work that would otherwise not be seen, give a leg up to films that really need the exposure, why not screen that kind of content exclusively, and why not help the filmmakers get that much closer to providing us with a more of it?

James M. Johnston

I still think this emphasis on economic reimbursement by paying out cash is ignoring all the immense benefits that filmmakers receive by going to festivals. It's not like we're showing up and getting nothing from a festival. Sometimes they fly you in and/or put you up in a hotel. They feed you. They drive you around. They have dedicated lounges just for filmmakers. There are tons of benefits offered to you as a guest of the festival. On top of all that the exposure you gain for your film and the amount of connections you make either in gaining new friends or movement towards your next project has been the greatest benefit I've seen by most filmmakers.

Steve Hyde

Call me a communist - but I think local government needs to play a bigger financial role in funding film festivals. Why? Because the economic benefits fall on local businesses when film festivals show case the work of filmmakers. Local governments need to work out a tax program that funds local arts organizations of all kinds (including film festivals) because art is good for local economies.

I've been programmed in more than 20 festivals since my premiere at True/False. And only one festival has paid me a screening fee: Dawson City Short Film Festival in the Yukon Territories! Yes they still pan for gold there! That fest is the real thing.

We need more economic impact studies being done that illustrate the vast multiplier effects that film festivals have on local economies. Then we need to use such reports to get local governments to invest more in local film festivals. Funding should include screening fees.

Sujewa Ekanayake

For anyone who has not seen it yet (& are interested in this topic), my response to Bob Alexander's post (& comments re: it):


- Sujewa

Arne Johnson

I've worked at film festivals and had our film at them, and I know full well that if most festivals really want a film (ie, think it will sell tickets) then they will do whatever it takes to get it there, and if they are merely choosing your film on artistic merit then you'll be harder pressed to get financial benefits, whether it be flights/fees/food/housing. It's pretty exaggerated to make it sound like all festivals go to great lengths for the filmmakers. Actually, Sundance rarely gives anyone anything, and as festivals move down in prominence they tend to give you more to get your film there. There's also the matter of good screening slots and more. For instance, a movie with a b-list star is far more likely to be the opening night film at a festival than the latest Swanberg film or an indie documentary. None of this is new news, but I say it merely to re-iterate the point that festivals' relationship to satisfying your needs is directly related to their ability to not have to satisfy those needs. As a filmmaker, I've been on both sides of the coin, been the desired film that got a great slot and all the bennies, and also stood in a theater and wondered what the hell I was doing at this festival. And as a festival worker I've seen the scramble to do anything to appease a distributor with a film that has even a smidge of glamour attached while truly great and challenging films are scheduled for noon on Wednesday. I personally love film festivals and will continue to attend them as an audience member and a filmmaker (now in the midst of a theatrical release, I miss the audience interactions of the fests), but I think it's still important to be realistic about the many concerns of a festival--tickets sales, premiere prominence, happy sponsors, artistic diversity, etc--that will often supersede concern for the filmmaker's and even audience's well-being. There is definitely room for improvement.

Chris Holland

I'm really enjoying the level of discussion Marlow's original post has engendered, but I wonder if anyone who doesn't work at a film festival is reading any of it. Are we all just choir members, preaching to one another? Here's yet another response: http://snipurl.com/distrib

The comments to this entry are closed.

October 2011

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          


Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2005