Talkshow Digital IFFR 2010, a report


Talk show ‘The Digital IFFR: Feed, Trust or Kill the Tiger?’

39th International Film Festival Rotterdam,  Wednesday 3rd February 2010
a report edited by Peter Bosma (Cinematheque programmer Lantaren/Venster) and Melissa van der Schoor (IFFR).


During the 39th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) an exciting discussion took place on the integration of new media in the world of cinema and the prospects of the future of film festivals in the digital age.
 
In the digital age, it is possible for anyone to download movies and also make movies and distribute them via online channels. The advent of the Internet and the various social networking sites made films and knowledge about film culture more accessible. Boundaries between amateurs and professionals are fading, we can all reach for our own ‘15 megabytes of fame’. In the future the power of the Internet and the digital consumer will continue to increase and this will change the landscape of film in a fundamental way. Institutions such as film festivals are obliged to reflect on their position and the future of cinema. Everyone can already be a filmmaker, distributor, programmer and critic at once, and all kinds of movies can be viewed online. What is the value of a film festival in this new media landscape?

A first step in answering this question was through an online survey which was held in the weeks before the talk show among students of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. The question they were presented with was: What would you do with the festival tiger: Feed, Trust or Kill? Which of the three scenarios would you choose?
- Feed the Tiger: I would like to have influence on the content and experience of the festival, through the channels of digital communication (interaction).
- Trust the Tiger: I would like to preserve the festival in its present form, I like to indulge in the selection of the festival programmers, choosing my own personal method (total immersion). 
- Kill the Tiger: I would rather watch films at home, I do not need to attend a film festival (indifference).
The results of the survey showed a majority preferred the combination of ‘Feed the Tiger’ and ‘Trust the Tiger’. This public opinion could be compared with the opinions of professionals. The talk show gave an opportunity to experts from the world of cinema, marketing, science and festival visitors to gather together. They were challenged to think about different scenarios for the future of film festivals and the impact of the new technologies on the festival experience.
Keynote presentations were held by: Patrick van Mil (managing director IFFR), Ruben Heijloo (online producer Nederlands Film Festival), Marijke de Valck (Assistent Professor Media Studies, University of Amsterdam) and Hans Dekker (e-marketeer Do Company Rotterdam). The talk show was moderated by Farid Tabarki (Studio Zeitgeist).
 
Keynotes
 
1. Patrick van Mil spoke as managing director of IFFR (after the successful 39th edition he moved to a new challenge at Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam). In his presentation he chose the option ‘Trust the Tiger’, he argued that film festivals will remain important in the digital age.
Patrick van Mil started his presentation with a brief inventory of the opportunities and threats of digitization.
 
The opportunities of digitization are:
·Democratization of film making, the access to film production has broadened. As a result there is an enormous growth of supply of moving images.
·Endless growth of possibilities for reaching the audience (through laptops, mobile phones, urban screens) and for a direct connection between film maker and audience.
The threats of digitization are:
·Erosion of the traditional business model, based on shortage of prints, rights, screens. The decision chain of the film industry is weakened. The intermediaries like sales agents, distributors and exhibitors are being more and more marginalized. As a result it is more and more difficult to finance film.
·Disappearance of theatrical screening, due to the increase of home cinema. Multiplexes and film clubs will keep an audience, but the art houses will face difficulties to survive.
·Cinema vanishes in the abundance of information and the overload of moving images. It will be difficult for films to get noticed, to be seen.
 
The central thesis Patrick van Mil wanted to defend was: in the digital age film festivals are the saviours of cinema culture. In his view film festivals are important and will remain so. He lined up a handful of arguments:
 
Film festivals offer...
·the first and often last and only possibility for films to be screened in a theatrical setting, after the festival many selected films disappear, or are only released on dvd.
·the only possibility for the audience to experience cinema collectively, the festival is a social event, which gives more value to the viewing experience (especially so in the case of genre films, like horror or comedy).  
·the service of a well reasoned selection out of abundant supply. The festival is a guide in this wilderness, scouting for discoveries of new talent and new territories, assessing the production of established film makers and reviewing film history.
The ideal film festival should offer...
·the challenge of a program that is based on vision, curiosity and passion.
·a contextualization of the screenings, offering reflection. discussion, evaluation. The festival gives meaning to developments in film culture.
the stimulance of the connection between maker, public, and media. The festival is a platform for an interaction between these three groups of participants, which create an awareness of the existence of each other.
·the stimulance of the life of films beyond the festival. The festival creates an audience interested in cinema of high quality, it caters to a required taste.
 
Patrick van Mil argued that nowadays this contextualization of films happens less and less in newspapers, film journals and film theatres. Film theatres should especially be a quality brand, making every screening into an event. Unfortunately, there is a lack of urgency.
At the International Film Festival Rotterdam the connection between filmmakers and festival audience is stimulated by the scheduling of Q&A’s after screenings, and a series of ‘Big Talks’ and additional information in the catalogue, the daily paper and on the website. Trailers of several festival films are shown on the local urban screens of City Media.
There is also an outreach to the audience at home. The IFFR has a long tradition of cooperation with the Dutch Public Broadcast, offering a series of daily festival reports among others. The festival has its own label of dvd releases and recently the festival has launched its own You Tube channel.
 
2. Dr. Marijke de Valck has published extensively on the subject of film festivals, she is one of the international leading figures in the new research field of film festival studies. She will develop her keynote into an article in the Dutch magazine Boekman, forthcoming Summer 2010.
In her presentation she focused on the concept of cultural gate keeping and the role of the expert. The festival programmers can be seen as guardians of a gate, besieged by a crowd of filmmakers and a flood of content. Their power is undermined by the development of a participatory culture, and the various ‘Do It Yourself’ practices and user generated content. However, it is also possible to use a more positive connotation of gate keeping: gates are being opened and this guides our attention. We need experts in the overload of choices, because there is the danger of decrease in quality, fragmentation and banality. In the changing distribution landscape the gates are open, the long tail of the internet stimulates a wide range of choices. The increase of supply could be seen as enrichment of culture but also as a nightmare of a culture limited to instant gratification. Even the audience poll of the International Film Festival Rotterdam shows that the ‘taste of the crowd’ has a narrow range. The top ten hardly features any Asian film for instance.
Film festivals have a long tradition of selecting the best and the most innovative content. The development of taste needs an effort, it takes time. Visiting a film festival is an elitist event, but the access to film festivals is open to anyone who is prepared to open his mind to challenging cinema (and also prepared to pay a lot of money for tickets and other expenses). Film festivals will continue to be attractive events, because here you can experience a cinephile atmosphere, in real space and time. Film festivals are agenda setting and offer a discursive context. The concept of gate keeping is shifting, it is not limited anymore to just selecting films which are being sent in, but it expands to involvement in pre-production. Film festivals have developed into brands of high quality, their cooperation offers a worthwhile support for the filmmakers. The International Film Festival Rotterdam is to be regarded as a pioneer on this front, establishing the CineMart and the Hubert Bals Fund years ago. The experiment of Cinema Reloaded follows the example of several international initiatives which exist outside festivals.
Marijke de Valck concluded her keynote with a mixture of ‘Trust’ and ‘Feed the Tiger’: the festival should be open to changing notions of quality, and connect to new ways of sharing cinephilia and engaging film makers.
 
3. Ruben Heijloo
Ruben Heijloo is online producer at the Nederlands Film Festival (NFF) and was involved in the launch and development of the Nederlands Online Film Festival (NOFF). In his presentation Ruben Heijloo argued also for a combination of ‘Trust the Tiger’ (especially new digital festivals) and ‘Feed the Tiger’, gathering input of content by new and established film makers and facilitate responses of a new film audience.
 
The Nederlands Filmfestival (NFF, the Dutch Film Festival) started in September 1981 in Utrecht as a small get-together for the Dutch film world. After nearly thirty years, the NFF is a big, multimedia festival, for both industry and public. In 2009, the festival screened more than 400 films and attracted a record number of 151,000 visitors. There is a competition for the Grand Prize of the Dutch Film (better known as the Golden Calf), there are many side bars in the program each year, and there is an international film market. The NFF is more than just film: we have discussions, talk shows, lectures, workshops, and great parties. The NFF is also very active on the internet. Besides our website and our monthly newsletter, the NFF is pretty active on social networks, like Facebook and Twitter. One of our biggest online successes is our collaboration with YouTube. We have chosen YouTube for its simplicity and because it is the biggest video community. Indeed our online traffic has grown by four to five times, due to the exposure at YouTube. We use our own YouTube channel for some years now, to publish trailers, video reports and also for our online video competition: the Netherlands Online Film Festival (NOFF).
In May 2010 the fifth edition of the NOFF will kick off. For the past two years, the NOFF uses a special contest module on our YouTube channel. This is pretty unique: we were the first ones in Europe that teamed up with YouTube in this way. The NFF began the online competition because it wanted to reach a new kind of film maker and a new audience, that are typically very active on the internet. Film makers can enter their short film for the NOFF via YouTube. A festival committee makes a selection of all entries, which are uploaded at the NOFF channel and website. An independent jury, consisting of film- and internet experts, decides which film eventually wins the jury award. The audience casts its vote for the audience award. Both awards are presented during the actual, physical film festival in September. The laureates get an amount of money (2,500 euro) and of course they gain everlasting fame. The winner of the NOFF 2008, Evelien Löhbeck, for example has become rather successful since she has collected her award: newspapers were writing about her, and her animation film NOTEBOOK is shown all over the world. The NOFF has grown steadily over the years. In 2009 a record breaking 96 films were selected for the festival – out of a couple of hundred entries. More than 16,000 people voted for their favourite film. And some videos draw more viewers than films released in the regular cinema – sometimes many hundreds of thousands.
At first, the NOFF was treated by film makers as kind of last resort; when they were not selected for the regular festival, they entered their film for the NOFF. There were also some filmmakers who were afraid to enter for the regular festival. In the beginning, established film makers hesitate to participate in an online film festival. New talent tends to adapt more quickly to new business models and are less afraid of torrent websites and the possibilities of downloading. Happily enough, things are changing: more and more film makers enter their film for the NOFF specifically. Also, the more established film makers find their way to the online competition. But most NOFF film makers are still student or amateur film makers. The NOFF shows that there’s lots of talent there. We try to be a filter and make this talent visible for the audience.
The internet is an alternative way to distribute a film and a way to have direct contact with your audience. What’s great about the NOFF is that anyone can enter a film - anyone. So, as a film maker, you can distribute your film freely and you are not dependent on the few cinemas or festivals that are out there. The online competition can help a film maker to find an audience and to communicate with it.
Every year we have a lively discussion at the festival about the criteria for the selection of entries and the criteria for the jury award. Most important is, of course, that an online film should be good – just like an ‘off line’ film. Film is just another way of telling a story, and that story has to be told convincingly, whatever medium you use to show your film. Also artistically, a film should be well made. But there is a difference in the way online films are being watched: most people still watch online films via the internet, on a PSP, an iPod/iPad/iPhone or just behind their computer. That means their attention span is different than when they are sitting in a comfortable cinema chair, in the dark. So, to keep the viewer interested, an online film should be short and catchy. Also, the film should work on a smaller screen: films that are visually detailed just don’t work on YouTube. These are criteria, though, that could change in time, and could eventually disappear.
 
What we have learned through experience, is that the target audience group of the NOFF and the NFF do not overlap. We shouldn’t be scared that people will stay home, to watch films on their computers, and not visit the festival. It’s the other way around: we use our online competition to reach a new audience, and perhaps persuade them to come to our physical festival. Also, we try to make the NOFF more visible at the festival, so perhaps people who come and watch a film in the theatre, also visit our online competition. The NFF and the NOFF are two separate festivals, with largely a different audience, different rules, different dynamics. Two separate festivals that can exist next to each other, can even strengthen each other. And that’s something that applies to a film festival and internet in general: A festival is more than just watching films; it is a social meeting, an event. And this cannot be completely translated to the internet. A film festival can create unique things or tools for the internet, but that doesn’t mean the audience will stop coming. First, because these are two different target groups, with just a partial overlap. Second, because the real ‘festival tiger’ will keep coming to the festival, because of the physicality of it all, because of the atmosphere. The internet can facilitate the audience and can even enrich their visit.
But what about the film makers? Why should they come to a festival when they can reach a bigger audience via the internet (or VOD, which is even a bigger – and more promising – platform). Although you must not forget that, for most of them, a screening in a real cinema is still pretty damn cool. If a festival doesn’t want to lose touch with these film makers, they have to facilitate them too: to create an online platform and help them in finding an audience. This is the challenge which festivals have to face. And although we can never be fast enough, we are working on it. With projects like IFFR’s Cinema Reloaded and the NOFF, I think we have taken a step in the right direction.
 
4. Hans Dekker is an e-marketeer at Do Company, based in Rotterdam. In his presentation he offered a series of examples of new ways of communication between festival, visitors and film makers, and also new ways to stimulate production of content, using digital tools.
From a wide range of possibilities he chose ten options which he illustrated with examples of Good Practice:
 
1. ‘Context made interactive’:
http://www.interactiondesignblog.com/2009/05/interactive-table-concepts/
2. ‘Your compass’:
http://www.iphoneclub.nl/33089/lowlands-mobile-festival-guide-09-bevat-buddyfinder/
http://weblogs.vpro.nl/digitaal/2008/08/06/hot-or-not/
3. ‘Geo awareness and story building’: http://foursquare.com/
4. ‘Event dashboard’: http://beagle.vpro.nl/
5. ‘Profile uploaded’: http://www.roomwareproject.org/
6. ‘Breaking open the mold’:
http://labs.tribalddb.nl/philipsvs/; http://oneframeoffame.com/
7. ‘Holistic and integrated storytelling’: http://www.hboimagine.com/
8. ‘Subscribe to the experience’:
http://www.sellaband.com/searches
9. ‘The crowd is my source’: http://vark.com/
10. ‘The backchannel conversation’: http://www.tweetdeck.com/; search.twitter.com
 
The ‘unique selling point’ of film festivals are insight and foresight. The festival visitors need a structure and guidance, the programme needs a sensible way of interpretation and discussion. Especially the option of backchannel conversation (twitter for instance) has a great potential to connect with an ongoing stream of voices. It is also possible to include a spatial dimension by making visible the locations of all tweets.
The digital communication is characterized by a high influx of creativity. Hans stated “ideas will be like currency”. It is easily created and shared, but the true value of the professional insight/foresight will be the solution an idea may bring. The foresight of a programmer of the IFFR should facilitate these digital initiatives through the platform of the festival, after which the true value of it will be created and judged by the crowd. This will lead to a large boost of innovation at the IFFR and give it a higher advantage over the competing cultural goods. The examples mentioned in the presentation show a high dynamics of innovation and a very large variety in fields which are already in motion.
Hans Dekker stated that the IFFR should keep its core of festival activities intact and simultaneously focus on the periphery of activities which are more social and fluid. All digital methods have a supporting role in stead of a substituting capacity, but they are very important nonetheless. A film festival should do an effort to build an open innovation platform and invite current digital players to participate.
Hans Dekker recommended the option ‘Feed the Tiger’ and ended his presentation with the motto that every organization should ‘fail fast, learn fast and fix fast’.

Discussion
After the key notes a lively discussion took place between the forum of experts and the audience. In this report, most of the remarks have been incorporated in the rendering of the key notes.
The discussion ended with a reflection on the experiment of Cinema Reloaded: a website where three projects are being presented in order to stimulate crowd funding. Patrick van Mil explained that filmmakers in the domain of art film have problems to find money, and they have also difficulty to find an audience, to get noticed among the overwhelming amount of available information. The International Film Festival Rotterdam has a tradition of supporting the filmmakers in this niche market of production and promotion, by means of the Hubert Bals Fund for example. Cinema Reloaded is an experiment to ‘feed the tiger’, a new way to accomodate the meeting between filmmaker and the audience and to create new forms of financing. The film industry proves to be very conservative, it was difficult to find filmmakers who were willing to participate in this experiment, it took some time to convince them. The purpose is to earn money and to reach the public, but the outcome of the experiment is as yet unknown. The intention is to present the results of Cinema Reloaded next year, during the 40th International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2011.
There are already many examples outside film festivals of ‘Good Practice’ regarding crowd funding. The music industry has the (not quiet successful) example of www.sellaband.com, in the film industry there are American examples like www.kickstarter.com and www.indiegogo.com, and French examples like www.touscoprod.com. The British documentary THE AGE OF STUPID (Fanny Armstrong, 2009) was made by means of ‘on-line investment’. Other individual examples of crowd funding include http://aswarmofangels.com, www.forthousandsmiles.com, and http://foureyedmonsters.com (the first feature film premiered in Second Life, at a screening attended by avatars).
Film critic and researcher Joost Broere wrote an informative feature article in the Dutch part of the Daily Tiger about the phenomenon of crowd funding (Daily tiger #4, Sunday 31 January 2010).

See also: Scott Kirsner, Fans, Friends and Followers: Building an audience and a creative career in the digital age, New York: Random House, 2009. Willemien Sanders wrote a book review, ‘People helping people’, in: DOX European Documentary Film Magazine nr 84 (|Winter 2009/10) p 11-12.

The session at Wednesday 3th February 2010 ended in style with the screening of the movie AT THE END OF DAYBREAK, from Cinema Reloaded director Ho Yuhang who was present and introduced his film and talked also about his project.
 
We hope the thoughts about the future of film festivals in the digital age will continue to be developed and be discussed.

The talk show was organized by:
·Studium Generale, Erasmus University Rotterdam;
·International Film Festival Rotterdam, Education and youth marketing;
·Lantaren/Venster.
 
Thank you:
We would like to thank the key note speakers and the moderator for their friendly cooperation and their valuable input.
 
Copyright note:
You are free to use these texts or fragments of them, on condition you use the citation for non-commercial purposes only, you cite the texts unchanged, and with a correct credit to the source and a correct annotation:
Bosma, P. & Van der Schoor, M. (eds.), ‘Report talk show ‘The Digital IFFR: Feed, Trust or Kill the Tiger?’ 39th International Film Festival Rotterdam, Wednesday 3rd February 2010’, on line available at www.filmfestivalrotterdam.com and www.eur.nl/english/sgec/ (Studium Generale Erasmus University Rotterdam).