Part two of three as we explore John Harkness' article. In his second 'modest proposal', he explores film festivals. My thoughts are at the end.
Three Modest Proposals for the Canadian Film "Industry" By John Harkness, from Take One No. 7, Winter 1995
2. Stop Relying on Film Festivals
The idea has grown that the best way to launch one’s film is to get it properly positioned in a major Canadian film festival. At least two or three times a year, some poor neglected filmmaker complains that the selection committee at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Perspective Canada program has some personal or profound lack of taste that has led them to ignore said filmmaker’s magnum opus. They’ve done you a big favour.
It is actually a terrible idea to launch your film in English Canada at a film festival, for the following reasons:
Film festivals have evolved into a weird, self-contained exhibition circuit. It is almost possible for a filmmaker to spend a year or so trucking around the world, being stroked and interviewed at festivals from Cannes to Ouagadougou to Toronto to Sudbury to Vancouver to Delhi, from Tokyo to Telluride, from Park City in January to Havana in December. And what does the filmmaker get for all this, apart from a lot of frequent flyer miles and a certain exhaustion at the sound of his or her own voice and cosmic jet lag?
Not much – some festivals have a certain cachet in their own market – a prize at Cannes will help a film in Europe, though Jesus of Montreal tanked when it opened in Paris immediately after Cannes. But does a film’s presence in the Toronto festival add to its credibility or salability when it comes to getting into a Cineplex in Windsor? I doubt it, frankly. I suspect people outside the film-festival circuit are far less impressed by film festival honours than people inside the film-festival circuit.
But what about all the publicity? Let me show you that one looks from the point of view of someone who does the interviewing. A film gets launched at Cannes – Atom Egoyan’s The Adjuster, say, or David Wellington’s I Love a Man in Uniform. The Canadian press pays appropriate attention, talks about the film, interviews the filmmakers and/or stars, such as they are, and files stories home to a grateful public. For four months, nothing happens, and the film fades from memory because the public has had, afterall, no chance to see the film that they have heard about.
In September, the film gets a gala spot at Toronto, or a good spot in Perspective Canada, and the dog and pony show starts all over again. At this point, the papers do their profiles, the film has its gala, and then finally, a week, two weeks, three months, six months later, the film finally opens, with a small advertising budget and one screen in Toronto’s Carlton Cinemas or the smallest of the Cumberlands, and we in the press are offered the film one more time, at which point we are heartily sick of it. We are not your publicists. The distributors get shocked when we in the press don’t get all wet at the thought of putting together a big spread on a picture that we’ve already covered, sometimes twice. It has become, before opening, an old movie.
The desire to see one’s film play in a film festivals screws up the release schedules big time, with all the independent distributors trying to get their films out in the three weeks following the Toronto festival, at the exact moment when their natural audience is really tired from two weeks of film festivaling.
Finally, here’s something practical to think about. During the festival, people who really want to see the film will see the film – two shows in 300-seat theatre are 600 tickets, and no one penny of it returns to the film or its distributor. Do you help the film by giving away seats?
Makes sense to me. I've done the festival thing. Rejected by Toronto, but excepted in Montreal...and New York. I was so broke after making my production and going to festivals, that I had to borrow $20.00 for the airport fee in order to get back home. Next time out the gate, my plan is to tour with my next project (and hopefully my cast can come along because they have a stake in this as well). A punk-rock/garage band form of touring combined with the Internet and new media. Fold that in with good old fashioned leg-work will help connect with a Canadian public who has not a sniff about they're helping to finance. Nor getting to see it. If I'm going to go broke doing the festival 'fuck-off', why not do it on my own terms?
While festivals maybe a form of marketing, it's becoming prohibitive, political and inbred. Marketing is the key here, and in Harkness' next modest proposal, perhaps the most controversial of all, he discusses why the Canadian government should get out of funding production and get into helping with marketing.
Very interesting. The Rider game's on in an hour. Beer, football, food. Later.