Given the unusual circumstances of 2020, IFFR thought it was an opportunity to use the brand of its annual deep-dive conference Reality Check to host a series of private roundtable discussions about pressing issues for the film industry and the world of film festivals.
From August to October 2020, IFFR hosted three online, closed debates that each tackled a different theme:
- How can film festivals evolve to best serve the industry?
- How can film festivals evolve to best serve filmmakers?
- How can film festivals evolve to best serve the audience?
Each discussion welcomed about 30 participants from around the globe, who spoke freely and confidentially. Just a few examples of the participants included Dutch filmmaker Nanouk Leopold, UK producer and London Film School lecturer Victoria Thomas; French producer Didar Domehri; British Film Institute Senior Production and Development Executive Lizzie Francke; producer Isabelle Glachant of Chinese Shadows; Swedish Film Institute CEO Anna Serner; Frontieres Market Director Annick Mahnert; UK distributor Eve Gabereau of Modern Films; XR expert Ingrid Kopp of Electric South; and Elad Samorzik, Artistic Director of the Jerusalem Film Festival. XR expert Ingrid Kopp of Electric South; Smriti Kiran, Artistic Director of the Mumbai Film Festival; Elad Samorzik, Artistic Director of the Jerusalem Film Festival; Gianluca Chakra of Middle East distributor Front Row; Tine Fischer, CEO of CPH:DOX; Akua Gyamfi, Founder of the British Blacklist; Dutch producer Marleen Slot of Viking Film; SEAFIC founder Raymond Phathanavirangoon and US producer Mollye Asher.
Participants reflected on the changes they have experienced in 2020 as well as brainstorming new ideas for 2021 and beyond.
Looking at film festivals that have moved online only, experts pointed to some positives of virtual events, such as reaching audiences who can’t usually attend their festival because of geography or other access issues; encouraging more global interaction; the emergence of new collaborations between festivals, and of course becoming more environmentally responsible with less international travel.
On the flip side, online festivals can feel just like a VOD platform without the audience engagement and excitement that a festival audience is accustomed to; filmmakers and audiences can feel less connected to each other; can be harder to cut through all the digital options (including non-film-related offerings) for audiences; audiences don’t pay as close attention to films and disconnect at home; there aren’t the same serendipitous moments online; and smaller films might lose out if festivals show fewer films online.
The roundtable participants also shared sharpened ideas about festivals reaching audiences. Partners in the community are crucial, as is going to where your audience is rather than expecting the audience to come to you. Festivals can also take advantage of audiences’ loyalty to local businesses like cinemas. Reaching audiences by social media is key, but only when festivals understand the language of each social media platform and try to engage, not just promote. Experts also noted that to reach inclusive audiences, festivals need to have inclusive staff.
Looking at new ways of thinking and working, the roundtable experts said every festival should have a clear personality and communicate that well. Some questions posed include, What activities can festivals do more year round? How can festivals best work with gaming and XR? How can festivals foster more contact between filmmakers and audiences, beyond a simple Q&A after each film?
Industry participants also suggested that film festivals should go out in the world and actively search for new voices and new films. Also, festivals should not just spotlight directors, also producers and other members of the creative team.
Reality Check, likened to the R&D arm of IFFR Pro, typically runs as a one-day, in-person conference and brainstorming session during the festival in January. In its inaugural year of 2018, Reality Check examined distribution. In 2019, Reality Check analyzed the development process, and in 2020, Reality Check explored the concept of originality.
Reality Check sessions will continue online during IFFR Pro days in February and in sessions between February and the festival celebration in June 2021.