Regional Film Festival Faces Crisis in 2022: Here’s How to Help

Sundance isn’t the only cinematic entity facing pandemic-era problems. Here’s what to do about it.

There’s a problem in Park City, with a capital T and rhyme with C and short for COVID. (Sorry, but I just want to see New “Music Man” on Broadway.) Directly cancel this year Sundance The film festival has created a lot of headaches – the hassle of non-refundable apartments and lots of tickets – but in its shadow lies another, much larger disappointment that is likely to undermine regional cinema festival and the organizations that support them.

Under the management of the federal government American rescue plan To assist with the post-pandemic economic recovery, the National Endowment for the Arts has received grants for grants to support operating costs at arts institutions. Nearly 600 film festivals and organizations have applied for competitive funding, offered in $50,000, $100,000, and $150,000. This week, rejection letters started coming in.

I don’t expect Netflix to lose sleep as crews run local festivals from Seattle to Philadelphia, where nonprofits struggle to make rents and retain their employees. However, audiences who want entertainment options that go beyond the algorithm should take note. Community and quality are difficult to quantify in the world of cinema and require sharp programming instincts to serve. If you’re fed up with the most obvious home viewing options, the local festival has your back. Smart, moviegoers rely as much on small-scale festivals as the heavyweights.

And the government cannot help them all. As NEAThe application form of the letter noted, only seven percent of the more than 7,500 applicants scored sponsored. The NEA requires funded organizations not to disclose their status until a later date; A government agency representative said recipients would be notified “later this month.”

“We understand this is disappointing news, especially given the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose to the nation’s arts community,” the NEA wrote to applicants. “We recognize that a lot of effort is invested in each app, and your organization and many others are working diligently to keep employees and artists paid, open doors and the arts. is central to our daily lives.”

The grants offered don’t sound like life-changing ones – they range from $50,000 to $150,000 – but we’re talking nonprofits where one initiative programming them to lose several thousand dollars is a winning case study. Meanwhile, the Art House Convergence – the annual gathering of independent exhibitors that meet in the run-up to Sundance – has been postponed for the second year in a row as its besieged institution aims for a ambitious reboot by the end of 2022.

Like the petty artists these organizations curate, these lo-fi entities thrive in survival mode. The current situation is much closer to a crisis. American for the Arts reports that pandemic-related layoffs and closures cost the arts industry nearly $14 billion in 2020. Virtual events have drawn large crowds to quarantined theaters. , but that effect has begun to fade. At the recent online FilmEx conference last week, a number of regional film festival leaders observed a dwindling interest in virtual screenings and events – not that they brought much benefit. profit from the start.

Most nonprofit film organizations don’t consider money the primary metric; they measure success by their ability to create and curate programming that appeals to a local audience. It’s a business model that doesn’t work on the same scale as Sundance’s multi-million dollar deals, but without the support of those humble organizations, it’s hard to imagine a future. hybrid for movies beyond tents.

Among those who did not make NEA cuts were Film Pittsburgh; Katherine chief executive officer Spitz Cohan said it plans to use the funding for two of its film programs: “Teen Screen,” a free educational tour program for middle and high school students. communication, and ReelAbilities Pittsburgh, a film festival focused on people with disabilities.

“We hope to still show both shows,” she said. “They are unique and well received in our region. We are able to do so because we have long and generous support from a number of funds here in Pittsburgh. ” She added that the NEA has supported the organization through additional arts funding to the Pennsylvania Arts Council.

Another disappointing side is Theater Luminal, a nomadic programming organization in charge of the Black Cinema for year-round off-program festivals around the country. Curtis John Curtis said: “While we were denied an ARP grant, which was very burdensome, the NEA treated us well as a prior grant and the management of all of them. chief. “We’re still planning for ’22’.”

He plans to host the Caribbean Film Series in person at BAM in February, but said the funding rejection made “even half-dreaming planning impossible”. He saw some success curating virtual shorts programs last year, but less so in terms of features. “For first time movies, our friends in the industry have higher marketing budgets and sometimes larger mailing lists, so they have more success than we do,” says John. me with those movies.

In December 2021, Sundance quietly agreed to be the financial sponsor of AHC for the next year. Emails circulated this week among members of the “Art House Convergence Transition Working Group” about the creation of a governing board that will be tasked with bringing the organization together as a 501c3 organization, apart separate from Sundance.

“We are working to develop an ecosystem that will honor and elevate films that tell the stories of those with untold stories,” said AHC transition committee member Camille Blake Fall, who also serves on the board of Maryland Film, said Festival. “It will now work through the lens of equity, inclusion, diversity and will try to help urban streets truly center underserved voices.”

Presentation at Art House Convergence 2018

For a few years, I attended the Maryland Film Festival’s day-long “Responsible Filmmakers” event, an engaging off-profile gathering for filmmakers primarily working outside of the country. outside the studio system to exchange information. Filmmakers looking for a foothold beyond the hope of selling a movie for millions of dollars at Sundance and striking a deal with a studio need more opportunities like this. In the process, audiences wanting more of the biggest blockbusters will look to local festivals for guidance. These viewers don’t have to count the millions to make a difference.

This nuance – how small, engaged and supportive the local audience is for the future of cinema – gets lost in broader conversations about how the film resonates in the market.

In last week’s column, I argue that VOD is an important factor in maintaining unique movies; Several industry readers have raised the issue. “Outside of the awards hunt, the big SVODs seem to be turning away from true indie films,” one particular distributor wrote to me. He notes that the weekly VOD viewing charts illustrate how “large SVOD players often retreat from small companies after flirting with them when they are building viewership and scaling.”

Fair enough. However, those numbers only tell part of the story of what an artsy audience will look like in 2022. Sundance’s 80-slot show is small-scale and exclusive. ; Where are the countless other movies going and audiences yearning to see more? Watching a FilmEx workshop on virtual marketing, I was struck by the comment of Mel Rodriguez, who runs the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival supported by the San Diego Media Arts Center. “What do we offer that Netflix doesn’t?” he asks. “We needed some elements of this to be exclusive and some of it to be an event as well as a bit of flexibility because people at home don’t watch movies the same way they do in the cinema.”

Much of the tone at FilmEx is the kind of community rah-rah celebration that nonprofits tend to tout in protection mode. Sponsor FilmEx Eventive, used by many regional film festivals as a platform to show virtual shows, served more than 3.5 million visitors last year. Eventive co-founder Iddo Patt said: “The hunger for community is growing as we enter the new normal of mixed festivals, virtual events, pulling these things together.”

That hunger could also fade in the face of pandemic fatigue and millions of streaming options. Major streamers like Netflix and Amazon have supported Sundance, Toronto, and Telluride, but the real support for indie film culture comes from individual involvement. Even Netflix and its ilk benefit from discovering unique work that has far-reaching potential. Donors can consider how a modest donation can go a long way in supporting the needs of small festivals.

I’m reminded of the grassroots activism of an election year, when even the smallest commitment is made – in this case, participating in a series of local screenings, one by one, or even just signing up to receive film association newsletter – also makes a difference. This niche organization promotes micro-budget filmmaking and challenging visions. Time to step up, filmmakers: What are you doing to support your local film program? The answer to that question is more important than you think.

Of course, I could fall into the same nave trap of any organization that places too much emphasis on community involvement in more precise business solutions to its problems. As always, I encourage readers to reach out for feedback, to correct their profile or suggest other strategies… or call me an idiot, as long as you can back it up: eric@indiewire.com

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/01/regional-film-festivals-crisis-2022-1234690580/ Regional Film Festival Faces Crisis in 2022: Here’s How to Help


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