Film Hub North bursary recipient, Martin Grund from Leeds Young Film, sends us a report from his trip to ICO's Developing Your Film Festival course at Motovun Film Festival 2014.
Motovun is an unlikely location for a film festival. Most of the year it is a sleepy little village with 500 residents, renown mostly for its truffles and health spa. Once a year however it is transformed into the host for one of the most respected film festivals in Europe with stunning outdoor screens, A-list celebrities and a strong film programme. It's not easy to get to but the travelling is most definitely worthwhile and it's an inspired choice for the location of the ICO's Developing Your Film Festival course.
Having settled in at the hotel (only one hair dryer shared between all the guests - you have been warned) we were bussed to the town itself where the ICO had organised a drinks reception the night before the course started, which was a great way to informally meet the other participants and, after some hesitant introductions (a bit like your first day at school), the group soon bonded and tentative friendships were made.
The course started properly the following morning and it soon became apparent that there was going to be a lot to cover over the next three days. Each participant introduced their festival and identified what they wanted to get out of the course - the presentations were very varied but it was clear that everyone had a real passion for what they do. Although we were all from different countries, with festivals of different sizes and themes, it was clear that we all faced similar issues; these were noted and put aside to revisit at the end of the course. The rest of the day was dedicated to strategy and strengthening your festival's business model with some inspiring (and controversial) statements from Geoff Gilmore from TriBeCa Film Festival about the future of the sector as well as some very interesting facts about Göteborg International Film Festival from its CEO, Mikael Fellenius. Apparently the future is online screenings, but many of the course (myself included) are still sceptical about this!
Following a course dinner on Wednesday night, where everyone really began to bond and share their favourite film festival anecdotes, Thursday's itinerary was all about building audiences. This for me was the most inspirational day with some really useful suggestions from Sarah Boiling at The Audience Agency about how to conduct robust, meaningful audience research and some exciting ideas around maximising the use of social media tools. Both Åsa Garnert and Domenico La Porta gave good advice about communications strategy, with the latter's presentation about creating viral strategies really making people sit up and take notice - I think everyone was planning on going away and rethinking their entire social media approach after that one! We all got to put our new knowledge to the test in a group exercise at the end of the day which allowed us to reflect on what we had learned and share ideas. We had the evening to ourselves and after a quick trip back to the hotel and a swim in the open air pool, it was back to Motovun for food, drink and more bonding.
The final day was aimed at maximising professional relationships with two very different, but equally inspiring and entertaining presentations about working with corporate sponsors from Mindaugas Morkunas from Vilnius International Film Festival and Louis Savy from Sci-Fi London. Louis' mantra of "if you can't get cash, get something" will be adopted by everyone on the course, I'm sure. I don't think I'll be resorting to running a costume competition for dogs just yet, but it demonstrated what you can do to get press attention. I think Mindaugas' advice of not selling your festival to sponsors too cheaply resonated with most people on the course and I, for one, will be revisiting my sponsorship strategy. The afternoon saw a short introduction from the director of Motovun Film Festival who had taken time out of his busy schedule turning the quiet hilltop town into a party resort for the duration of the festival to talk to us about its history and ethos. The final session was spent speaking to two sales agents, who got a grilling from the group about film availability, film fees and the hierarchy of festivals and while there was no clear solution identified, it was at least good to talk and see things from a different perspective. The day finished with a review of all the issues the participants identified on day one and looking at whether they had been addressed during the course. Nearly all of them had been and everyone agreed that they were leaving the course with lots of great ideas to take back to their festivals.
Overall the course was a great experience and I'd recommend it to anyone who is running a film festival. The speakers were inspirational, the ICO's organisation was excellent and the festival itself was hugely enjoyable. Most of the participants have stayed in touch through social media and are already sharing ideas and giving advice on a number of different topics. I'm already looking forward to visiting some of the other participants' festivals next year and seeing how we can work together going forward.