Wednesday, October 19, 2011

HOW TO BUILD A BETTER FILM FESTIVAL


This year’s Chicago International Film Festival will end tomorrow and from what I saw it was quite a success. Per usual, there was an excellent array of films, from all sorts of genres, from all sorts of countries. And the attendance was strong considering this economy, and enthusiastic too, considering it’s a rather tepid year at the movies so far. The CIFF may not be as big or as attention-getting as some other festivals out there, but for 47 years now it has flourished, all the while maintaining its sterling reputation.

That being said, I think there is some room for improvement. Some of the policies and practices don’t benefit the general public as much as they could. And even for critics like myself there were a number of closed doors that caused frustration. (This was the first festival I attended as one of the movie critics for the Chicago Examiner.) The good news is that they’re easily correctable. And the problems of the CIFF are the same problems that many film festivals have. So, here then are 10 suggestions I’ll offer to the CIFF, and any other festival, that I believe would make them all that much better:
The poster for A DANGEROUS METHOD, one of the more popular films at festivals this year.
Show more screenings of the movies that people want to see.
Too many movies, like A DANGEROUS METHOD, did not have enough tickets available to the general public at the CIFF. (Heck, I couldn’t get in and I was considered press!) Thus, have more screenings of such popular fare. Surely the CIFF knew that this was going to be one that hordes wanted to see after the buzz it got at the Venice and Toronto festivals. So why not show multiple screenings, in the biggest theaters possible?

Add showings of films that prove popular during the festival.
The CIFF is excellent about adding screenings of such fare. Not all are. And this kind of policy should be the rule, frankly, not the exception.

Guarantee tickets for pre-paying members.
The Toronto Film Festival tries to guarantee tix to those who sign up early and buy a package. Tries. But that doesn’t mean they’ll deliver 100% of the time. That’s not a very good way to treat those who plunk down their cash months before anyone else, is it?
THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, one of the horror movies making the festival rounds this year.
Stop showing horror movies at ungodly hours.
As a horror fan, I love the appropriateness of a ‘midnight madness’ screening as much as the next fan boy, but show times that start past 11 PM on a school night are discouraging to most boys and ghouls. 

Stop coddling Hollywood PR flacks and studio wonks.
Sure, the studio folks want to see how their babies play in front of an audience, but does that mean that so many tickets should be set aside for the suits? This is one of the most frustrating things about festivals today. Toronto, like the San Diego Comic Con, has gotten a lot of flack for catering too much to Tinseltown executives, and not enough to the average patrons. And it's a growing problem at all fests too.

Put the movies all in the same area as much as you can.
The CIFF had almost all of their movies this year in one venue - at the large, stadium seating AMC River East 21. That made getting to the fest and even seeing multiple screenings in one day very easy. I realize that it’s not always possible in places like Toronto where there is so much to screen. But it is ideal. 

Eleni's in New York puts Best Actor and Actress nominees on cookies each Oscar season.
What about some special snacks?
Cineplexes make a lot of money off of their concessions. Why not add a slew of special items during a festival? I’d pay extra for cupcakes with Keira Knightley’s or George Clooney's face on it. And they'd make excellent collectors' items too? How about a partnership with the wonderfully pop culture savvy bakers at Eleni's in New York? (http://www.elenis.com)

Sell tickets online that are priced fairly.
Gouging isn’t even a good enough word to describe the egregious doubling of ticket prices if you go through an online broker. That practice shows a tin ear for these recessionary times. And it reflects badly on festivals as well.

Why aren't there more summer festivals?
I know everyone gets serious about films in the fall, but everyone is back to school then too. It’s also the busiest season for many businesses. And the new fall TV season is in full swing. That’s an awful lot of competition for a festival to face. Plus, it’s harder to get to an autumnal festival if the weather is windy and cold. (That’s always a problem in Chicago this time of year!)
A bit of a tease of two of Skrebneski's brilliant photography posters for the Chicago International Film Festival.

New Victor Skrebneski posters for the CIFF, please!
Call me old school, but one of the iconic parts of the Chicago Film Festival has always been its brilliantly cheeky posters (literally, and figuratively) done by the legendary photographer Victor Skrebneski. You can still see and buy his older stuff at the fest, but I wish he’d do a new poster every year. 

All in all, film festivals bring hundreds of movies to the public that they’d never otherwise get a chance to see. And they’re strongly thriving, even in these trying times. All they need are a few improvements and they’ll be even better.




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