Photo courtesy of Snap'd Hamilton.
L-R: Daniel Baldwin and Nathan Fleet, Audience members, the sold-out Zoetic Theatre during a screening
I want to start this off by saying it is not the responsibility of the general public to support a film festival. It's the festival's job to create an event the public can't stay away from! I start every year with that thought in mind. The list below is for filmmakers and audience members.
Full disclosure, I run a film festival. I should also mention that the festival I run (The Hamilton Film Festival) is my small business and runs outside of the traditional Not-For-Profit festival model which means I can't get local, regional or national governement grants. It means that the money has to be made through fees, sponsors and ticket sales. Why would I bother telling you that? Because it takes year-round work to make a festival tick and I wouldn't bother doing it if I didn't think it was important.
Many people that say they want to go to the cinema to see indie films, which is great, but on the flip side, social posts are filled with statements like "I just binge-watched a whole season onNetflix!" People can pretty much watch what they want, when they want, without leaving the comforts of their dwelling. What can a film festival offer that you can't already get? In 2016 the Hamilton Film Festival screened about 175 movies that were, for the most part, exclusive to the film festival circuit at that time, and from countries around the world. For true cinephiles, this kind of stuff is cinematic heaven. But you can't maintain a festival with that alone. Where does the filmmaker and general public fit in? The experience. This experience differs quite a bit from going to the local multi-plex or watching from the comforts of your home. Here's how in a Top 10 list.
1. Pure cinema
Festival films are, usually, not yet rated so you will see a film that is in it's purest form. Not edited for television, cinemas or content. Viewer discretion is often advised but you don't get watered down versions of anything. They also often take more narrative risks than mainstream films. A film festival will find these and often create special programs around themes or genres.
2. Meet the maker or an on-screen personality
The person or people who made it will likely be sitting next to you. Filmmakers want to network as much as possible and want to get their message out. They don't have the backing of a major company so they must be their own travelling publicity team, and they will be more than happy to chat with you over a brew or coffee. Almost every festival has had that "special guest" show up to represent a film they were a part of. Even if you aren't star-struck, you can have some incredible conversations with some of these name stars who are always good for a story or two!
You will have the bragging rights to tell all your friends about the movie you saw FIRST that no one may ever see. You wont know it at the time but you could be watching a future hit or the birth of someone's great career!
4. Your film has a home
If you are an independent filmmaker thousands of miles away, it would be very difficult for you to rent a theatre to show your movie, advertise for it and bring the crowds. This would cost hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars to do. A festival takes care of that for you and will draw attention to the collection of films that you will be a part of. If you are lucky you may get a nomination, award and/or a mention in the press. This can go a long way as you will see in #5
I've heard it before and I heard it again on a distribution panel last year. Distributors suggest getting your film into a festival. They want to know that your movie has been "filtered" and they are paying attention. Getting reviews, laurels or awards go a long way in the marketing and release of a film once you get a distributor(s) on board. As much as some filmmakers want to dispute this fact, your film on a digital platform with no reviews / laurels, next to a film that has it's poster full of them, will often get passed over. Several distributors are also content creators and you will see them out there on the circuit as well. That should tell you something.
6. Captive Audience
A film festival is so unique in that you have a captive audience, no distractions in a dark room for almost 2 hours. The audience is watching and listening!
Very simple, if you don't like the film you are watching, wait 5 minutes. Film festivals are the best, and likely the only place, to watch short works on a big screen.
Do you even know what an experimental film is? Good chance your local film festival is screening one. These are often my favourites as they really cleanse the cinema pallate and can be very inspiring and/or mind-bending. Enter with an open mind and I guarantee you will leave with questions and conversations.
9. We are there together
When you are sitting in a room full of people, all watching the same movie, laughing together, gasping together, it's like an instant "share" button except that everybody gets it at the exact moment you do. It's a great feeling.
10. Bucket List
I have heard many people talk about taking a chance and buying a ticket to their local film festival. This is a great experience that will help you tick one item from that list...and you might just make some new friends who you will see again when you return the next year!
What are you waiting for!? Google "name of your city" + "film festival" and make your way to the local cinema!