The Memory of Film Festivals
An advocacy for a curated database as source of archiving film festival experiences
Peter Bosma – February 2018 - circa 2,700 words
The subject of this proposal is how to archive festival programmes and also possibly upgrade the quality of the film festival experience of visitors by creating a curated database online. This database should contain selected high quality open source documentation and give access to it in a user-friendly way. It should also give an opportunity to cherish memories and get lost in reveries. Voices from the past have a meaning today.
Let me introduce myself
My name is Peter Bosma, independent researcher and film programmer. My first visit to a film festival was in 1981, as a volunteer at the 10th edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam (then known as Film International). This total immersion in the world of international quality cinema was a fascinating experience. I became a film professional and visited the Rotterdam festival almost every year and did have an incidental peek at other European international filmfestivals. I am eager to continue my sensation of wonder and excitement. Online I am feeling at home at spaces like festivalscope.com and mubi.com, and a site like imdb.com is a handy tool. But still, I am looking for more depth and detail. What do I mean by this? I’ll try to explain.
The urgency of my proposal
Film festivals are trendsetters in film culture. The festival programme demonstrates a coherent and transparent artistic vision, a clearly visible strategy in the selection of films. In this way, every film festival tells a compelling story of the current edition, but at the same time also tells the story of all editions of the festival as a whole. Each edition is new and surprising, but yet will also have to have a certain degree of recognizability. In addition to the ambition of innovation, there is also the need for continuity.
Staff members of film festivals send promotional information about what inspires them. They express their artistic vision and promote most eloquently the need to visit the current edition of their festival. They address a diverse audience consisting of professionals, frequent and occasional festival visitors. The result of the festival staff’s effort is a broad offer of information about selected films and filmers, largely temporary in nature and presented in a disordered form without systematic archiving. This existing content will partly vanish, partly gather dust in archives, or spread across the Internet in bits and pieces.
Much valuable information about the context of the film and interpretations of professionals is lost in this way. In my view, this information can enrich both the anticipation and the afterglow of the viewing experience of all festival visitors.
Who would be interested in additional information?
In my view the option of digitally available information about festival films has a wide potential audience, a user group that can be divided in two groups. The first user group consists of festival visitors, both frequent and occasional visitors, and customers of the various Video-on-Demand sites curated by film festivals. Second, it is possible to distinguish user groups of professionals with variousinterests, from the film industry and the field of education.
Visitors and their needs, summarized in a schedule:
Frequent festival visitors
- They return each year and see more movies per day.
- They have a connection with the festival.
- They are enthusiastic and willing to immerse themselve in the programme offered.
- They have clear anticipations based on previous experiences
- They are characterized by an active curiosity.
Occasional festival visitors
- They come for the first time at the festival or they skip some editions.
- They limit themselves to a small number of films and a limited number of days.
- They need assistance with their film choices.
Film Industry professionals
- Festival staff. Optimization of their external communications.
- Film journalists, support in making reviews or blog posts.
- Film lecturers, preparing video lectures.
- Film distributors, documentation for the output of festival films.
- Film programmers, support in the selection of festival films.
- Film archivists, storing expressions of film culture.
- Film makers, inspiration by knowledge about works of other filmmakers.
- Film policymakers, knowledge of the international film festival circuit.
- Film teachers, documentation for their courses (media studies, film academies).
- Film students in higher education, documentation for theses and assignments.
- Film researchers, documentation for analysis of film culture.
- Information scientists and website designers, case study for development of dashboards and databases.
2. The flow of information and film festivals
Film festivals are a challenging testing ground for research into the added value of information dissemination. In my view, the curated content of film festivals also requires a curated database, offering relevant information that is filtered and interconnected. The envisioned curated database is not dependant on algorithmic processes and automated systems. In this way, the information interface offers an escape from filter bubbles and echo chambers.
A film festival is characterized as an exiting event, offering a temporary explosion of film screenings and connected fringe programme. The distinctive characteristic of film festivals can be described as to present a large amount of carefully selected films in a short period of time, on the big screen. Putting together a festival can be regarded as organizing a unique gathering of films.
The festival programme consists partly of exclusive screenings of temporarally imported films and partly of showcases for films that will be released after the festival. Most of the festival films however circulate outside the normal commercial channels of the film industry. Therefore it is a challenge to inform the public adequatly about the films presented at the film festival.
The premise of my research proposal can be summarized in the following propositions:
- Impact on the festival experience
The availability of both historical and current documentation regarding festival films and filmers enriches everyone's viewing experience. It supports an active involvement with the festival films, both among professionals and passionate film lovers.
Making the available references more accessible should be the inspiration for an increase of a specific kind of co-creation by users: they should actively share and complement the available data on blogs and social media. Instead of piling up a series of user comments, the aim is tapping into the wisdom of the crowd in a specific way by asking festival fans to select existing high quality reviews, essays, blog texts, audiovisual lectures, interviews, and registrations of Q&A’s.
The added value of disseminating historical and current curated information about festival films lies in creating a larger audience outreach and a higher customer satisfaction. The harvest of interviews, Q & A’s, reviews and blog posts stimulates conversation and interaction among festival visitors on the festival grounds or elsewhere. The festival experience gains in intensity.
The database addresses people who are curious and, moreover, also be willing to invest time and effort to follow their curiosity. A database with relevant information tailored to the needs of the festival visitors will be helpful to enjoy and appreciate the festival visit.
Additional information will set the festival experience of all festival visitors in context and offer help for selecting screenings. Offering additional information online will give them the opportunity to deepen their viewing experience by sharing relevant data and texts. This is also valid for their viewing experiences outside the festival. Providing relevant information stimulates them to watch (more) festival movies when they are released in cinemas or made available through a VoD channel.
- Selling the film festival
Personal data of the behaviour and preferences of the visitors of the database will be relevant to the marketing of the film festival. Analytics of the database can provide a supplement to the analytics of the festival website. In this way, it is possible to attract more visitors to the festival screenings. In addition, the positioning of a film festival and their VoD channel can be strengthened, possibly with an increase in sales and exposure as a result.
- Evaluation of the festival
An inventory of festival data supports the possibility of mapping the artistic direction of the festival. This research can strengthen the brand value of the film festival. Instead of ventilating loose ad hoc critical impressions, there is now an opportunity for producing a robust long-term evaluation, based upon data.
Providing access to historical documentation has an added value. It increases knowledge of the international film culture and offers more insight in the reception of festival films and developments in the artistic direction of the film festival over the years. Historical texts contains valuable background information, they provide insights into current festival films and filmers.
- Inventory of the festival context
A diverse film culture is characterized by both a high diversity of films on offer and by an equal variety of film reviews and essays. The strengthening of the collective memory regarding film festivals and film culture in general has an added social value. The unobstructed provision of relevant information determines the social significance of film festivals in the present and the future.
In order to check the above mentioned assumptions about viewing behaviour and festival experience it is necessary to do a survey of the information needs of all envisioned user groups.
3. The reach of investigation
A general search engine like Google lacks filtering and therefore contains too much distraction. A database such as imdb.com provides excellent basic information and a good start of references to reviews, but many relevant sources still remain excluded. And even on this specialised site disparate information is compiled unsorted together. This goes more or less in the same degree for sites such as letterboxd.com or coollector.com or flixster.com. As mentioned, the best practices are given by mubi.com and festivalscope.com, but even they are not to be considered as the end of the line. Crowdsourced sites such as Wikimedia or Wikipedia are interesting platforms to gather and spread information. However, there is still a big difference of level and style between entries and there is also a language problem. For information about a German film for isntance, the German Wikipedia lemma is more useful than versions in other languages. In each language the effort to offer a complete encyclopedia is repeated, with different results.
A customized and curated database creates an incentive of a robust reflection on the making of meaning and the experience of wonder during a screening. The dissemination of information provides curious moviegoers the possibility to broaden their horizon and encourages them to share their expectations and evaluations.
My proposal focuses on the development of possible solutions to the following two objectives:
- To make the desired information on festival films and festival directors findable, accessible and usable for film fans in a convenient way.
- To make meaningful interconnections possible between data within the database and beyond, to secure that the information is interoperable and re-usable.
The ambition is to give historical documentation of the recent past a contemporary relevance by establishing a connection between the texts of previous festival editions and the conversation around current festival screenings. The scope of application will also extend to the field of video on demand channels of film festivals and screenings of festival films by public broadcast.
Film fans can check in advance relevant information to support their choices and they can collect afterwards documentation in order to upgrade their viewing experience. The aim is to reach a new audience for the festival films and to reach the existing audience in a new way, by using high quality relevant information that is made available with digital technology.
The proposed database would have to have at least four search options:
1. What? - Search by film title (and country of production)
2. Who? - Search by name director (and other crew & cast)
3. Where? - Find a film festival
4. When? - Find a festival edition (and specifications by programme label)
Some possible queries:
- Which festival films were shown where and when?
- Which festival films were audience favorites?
- Which festival films got which awards?
- What development does have the number of avant-premières at the film festival?
- What development does have the showing of film heritage (restored classic films, retrospectives) at the festival?
- Which themes were highlighted in side bar programmes?
- What national cinema dominated the festival programme?
- How did public and press in the past react to earlier films by a director who is presenting his latest film at the current edition of the festival?
Key Performance Indicators (KPI) of the database
- Compatible with existing film festival databases, film databases and library databases
- Number of files (size of the database)
- Relevance of the data to user groups
- Number of unique visitors to the database and repeat visits (public outreach)
- Duration of visit (intensity of use)
- Variation in visitor profiles (diversity)
- Number of likes shares user comments (involvement)
- Number of references in external texts to the database (connections)
- Number of visitors of a festival screening or VoD customers (impact)
The ambition of this research would be to have an international scope through connections with other international film festivals in Europe and the rest of the world. International cooperation should focus on data exchange, consultations on standard metadata and refinement of the analysis. The available data may have a hidden value. Using Big Data Mining as a tool it is possible to test preconceptions and refine global insights and possible to make predictions.
Some opportunities in using big data analysis:
- Comparing results of audience survey with ticket sales;
- Comparing box office results of releases with festival ticket sales of these films;
- Comparing the analytics of the database with the analytics of the festival website and VoD website;
- Comparing local data with international (European) data.
4. Possible follow-up investigation
To explore diachronic developments in the network of international film festivals is an alluring research topic for media historians. Their research would start with assembling documentation about the details of these events and their environment, and in the ideal case would lead to postulate a plausible explanation of various decisions, reactions, evaluations, and impact connected to them.
Following this line of thought, there are many research questions to be posed:
- What were the specific characteristics of festival visiting and audience experience through the years, within the conditions of social, cultural, political, economical and spatial contexts?
- Which different forms of presenting films at film festivals existed and how did these curatorial practices function?
- What kind of changes, innovations or recurrent issues could be observed?
- Why is it that a certain festival becomes more famous or has more social impact than others?
The first aim would be to analyse the reactions of film festival audiences. This requires gathering information about:
- Patterns in segmentation of festival audiences and subscribers of VoD channels (age groups, geographic distribution).
- Patterns in behavior and preferences of festival visitors (peak days, peak time slots, scores of hotel packages, day tickets) and subscribers of VoD channels.
- Patterns in user comments on online film forums and social media channels.
The second aim would be to analyse strategies of curatorship of film festival programmers, mapping their choices of inclusion and exlusion of films. This requires gathering information about:
- Patterns in positioning of film festivals (divided into festival genres)
- Patterns in programming of a festival (indicators of program pillars and side bars)
I hope my argument is persuasive and alluring. Thank you for your attention.
- Bashkar, M. (2016) Curation: The Power of Selection in a World of Excess. London: Piatkus.
- Bosma, P. (2015) Film Programming: Curating for Festivals, Cinemas, Archives. London/New York: Wallflower Press/ Columbia University Press.
- De Valck, M. & Kredell, B. & Loist, S. (eds. 2016) Film Festivals: History, Theory, Method, Practice. Oxon/New York: Routledge.
- De Valck, M. (2014) ‘Supporting art cinema at a time of commercialization: Principles and practices, the case of the International Film Festival Rotterdam’, in: Poetics, vol. 42, no. 1 (February 2014) pp. 40-59.
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- The Memory of Film Festivals
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- book review Stufkens (2016)
- book review Lobato (2012)
- Director statements of Kiarostami
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- Bibliography Film Programming - Curating for Cinemas, Festivals, Archives (2015)
- Summer Film College 2015
- Diversity of Cinema Programs in the Digital Age
- Digitization of Film Exhibition: A Chronological Bibliography
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