Who Can Really Help Indie Film? #3: Small Film Festivals

Today's post is a guest post from Mathew Seig of New York Foundation For The Arts.  We are thankful he's picked up on this question and hope many of you also offer up suggestions.

Small film festivals, but they need help from larger ones.

Assuming that we care about films playing to a live audience in a dark theater, film festivals are the most likely venue that most independent filmmakers are going to have. For that purpose, the thousand or two thousand small U.S. festivals are as important as the largest. So instead of focusing solely on the large festivals that usually dominate our attention, let’s consider the small local and regional film festivals where independent films get most of their exposure. Large or small, film festivals have an important place in the changing world of independent film discussed by Ted Hope (“The New Model For Indie Film: The Ongoing Conversation”) at New York Foundation for the Arts on May 28, 2009 and then posted on TrulyFreeFilm.

As with so many of the independent films that they show, small festivals (and community micro-cinemas and similar venues) exist thanks to the largely unpaid efforts of serious film lovers. They don’t offer premiers of star-driven films or attract distribution representatives, but we increasingly rely on small festivals to nurture artists and audiences, and to bring personal and specialized cinema of all kinds to out-of-the-way communities. Yet small festivals share with filmmakers an urgent need to adapt to the changing circumstances of the entire business. Unlike the concern we regularly hear for filmmakers, distributors and theaters, there isn’t much hand-wringing about the fate of small festivals, or their quality, or much information about how they can keep up with the times, grow and improve.

Small festivals are largely staffed by people with a strong love of film but often without much knowledge of exhibition. To survive, prosper and grow, they need information, support, encouragement and useful criticism. The people who can best help them are those who have experience managing successful festivals, and who know how to develop relationships with audiences, sponsors, distributors and filmmakers.

Large festivals are some of the most logical places to institute this process. They provide important access to films, filmmakers and distributors, so they are already attended by representatives from smaller festivals. Adding educational programs, festival labs, and networking opportunities for their smaller cousins and for people entering the business would strengthen the entire community. A thousand healthy film festivals will help many thousands of filmmakers.

Matthew Seig
New York Foundation for the Arts