Film festival seeks out screens nearer you

With recent volcanic activity reminding us of how much we take air travel for granted, cineastes trying to reduce their carbon footprint may be cheered by the Tribeca film festival’s determination to extend its audience reach through Video on Demand.   The much-loved festival was founded in 2002 (by Robert De Niro amongst others) as a cultural riposte to 9/11 and is now launching an online presence which offers not just clips, comments, reviews and bookings but a dozen full-length films simultaneous with their festival premiere .  Reaching potentially 40 million cable-TV homes courtesy of deals with the likes of Time Warner and Comcast, the Festival aims to extend its brand into online, DVD and theatrical distribution.

Beyond the festival box office

The Tribeca move reflects the upheaval in film distribution generally and its impact on festivals in particular.  Feeling the squeeze of declining sponsorship and public funds, an ever more crowded festival calendar, new platforms to profile films before they are picked up by distributors and, at the same time, new opportunities to  reach audiences hundreds if not thousands of miles and not a few dollars away from a festival, taking the festival to those eyeballs and leveraging its hit-picking expertise down thevalue chain to distribution and sales is rapidly becoming the festival survival strategy of choice.

Edinburgh – the moving image centre of the north?

Where does this leave our own and the word’s longest continuously running film festival?  Well that’s a question which will no doubt be put later this month to the candidates for the newly created post of CEO of the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI).  The CMI brings together the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Filmhouse in a new corporate entity with designs on exhibition, education, incubation and possibly a great deal more.  Bulging at the seams of its Lothian Road premises the desire to find a new, bigger and better base has been around for some years but extending the Festival/Filmhouse brand into virtual space is likely to feature strongly as well.

EIFF faces some very significant challenges in the coming year – not the least being the end of a very substantial three year uplift in funding from the UK Film Council.  The £1.9 million over three years that the UKFC awarded the Festival in 2008 runs out this year and there is virtually no prospect of a remotely similar sum becoming available again – not the least because the UKFC has been told by the Government to lose £25m from its budget over three years to divert to the Olympics.  In an effort to protect production investment the Council, says CEO John Woodward in Screen International got rid of a number of things which were nice to do but in the cold hard reality of having less money, we just couldn’t do any more.”  And amongst those “there was a big festival fund and a digital archive fund which have both gone.”  That leaves the EIFF with a drop in income of around £600K a year – not much fun for Artistic Director Hannah McGill or the incoming uber-CEO at precisely the time when raising its game and expanding its reach in time and space  is absolutely imperative.  Likewise a bigger, better building with the potential to add a third dimension to EIFF and Filmhouse is a critical component in any development plan but would seem to be as far away as ever.

Will Creative Scotland and its new CEO Andrew Dixon play a (benign) deus ex machina in this local staging of a global drama?  Not to the tune of £600k a year one has to wager but some serious investment allied to a far-sighted vision and coherent strategy on the part of both CMI and Creative Scotland is clearly required if the twin stars of EIFF and Filmhouse are to shine brighter in these occluded times (and that’s not a reference to the Icelandic ash cloud which not surprisingly has been a headache for film festivals as well).

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