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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cincinnati film festival?

As with many other things in Cincinnati lately...things are starting to heat up for a "major film festival" in Cincinnati. CityBeat had a fantastic article about this very subject last week, and it has since stirred some interest on the topic.

Mayor Mark Mallory has commented on the issue and said, "Let me tell you, I am very interested in that concept. We have a very rich film industry in the city of Cincinnati, considering we are not L.A., Chicago or New York." He goes on to say that CityBeat's reference of it only costing $120,ooo, "doesn't seem like a lot of money to me."

So what do you think...is Cincinnati capable of hosting a major film festival here? CityBeat highlighted the many niche film festivals that are already prevalent in Cincinnati. It seems as though our arts community is capable enough, but do we have that extra umph to make it happen? Furthermore, what could a marque event like this do for Cincinnati's image nationwide? Sure we've got fantastics arts here, and they are supported well...but it doesn't seem like all that many people know it. Could an event like this put Cincy on the radar of young professionals, and thus enlighten them to everything else Cincinnati has to offer?

External Links:
Cincinnati World Cinema
Cincinnati Film Commission

10 comments:

mmascolino said...

Slate did a piece on running a film festival awhile back. Its good reading for the challenges of running something that is "important". (The basic problem is that the best directors want to premiere films at the best festivals so its hard to schedule good works...doublely true if you are an upstart festival.

I think best case would be one of our megastars really championed the idea. The second best idea would be to somehow consolidate some of the existing festivals into something bigger.

your friend said...

Unlikely.

Cincinnati NAMjA said...

I would love to see this come to fruition! Look what transpired when we put our minds to having a music festival. I think this would be great for the city (if it is done correctly of course).

UncleRando said...

I think a good location could be in the Washington Park area...you could have some stuff in Music Hall, some in the new SCPA building, and then the general activities all in Washington Park itself. That would be cool.

igon said...

While in concept its a nice idea, I think it will fall to the back of the line with the other "wanna be" cities, scrapping it out for attention. I dont think it would ever be taken seriously by the masses.

On the other hand, anything that gets people to Cincinnati can't be a bad thing.

Jimmy_James said...

^^^^^Mmacolino, I think this is a good idea, but that it would be a mistake to view it as something that has to immediately be of national importance, like Sunset. Getting directors to premiere films here shouldn't be a concern for now. The fact is that there are a tremendous amount of independent films that never get aired in Cincinnati, even with The Esquire, The Mariemont, and AMC Newport screening independent movies. So having a festival that aired movies that wouldn't otherwise be shown in this town, would a huge asset for film fans living here and in the region. If it eventually grows into something more, with premieres and local film entries, fantastic. But I'd be happy just to have a week long (or even a weekend) celebration of film every year, with all the movies I read about but currently have to wait for on DVD.

Mike R said...

Cincinnati World Cinema ran a festival back in 2004 at NKU that drew over 2,000 for 9 screenings. Compare that with 350 paid tickets for roughly 65 screenings at the Oxford Intl Film Festival last month and you can see how hard this is to master. It takes much more than the hype we saw from the OIFFers, who inaccurately self-promote as the 'first, best and biggest.' Read the stories by Steve Rosen in the archives at CityBeat and Indie Wire; and the OIFF wrap-up at the Miami University Newspaper.

The guy who runs CWC (with the only film fest in the region since 2001 that made money from ticket sales) oddly enough says that a festival may not be the best way to go - you can attract more people and show more and better films by programming year-round.

The Cincinnati International Film Festival was a dismal failure two years in a row (2001-2002) and the Fringe Festival film effort did not fare well last year. Cincinnatians will not show up night-after-night in a compressed time span to see independent films they know little or nothing about. They have too many choices for their disposable time and income - and this is not a 'film' town - folks here have different priorities.

If Cincinnati wants a festival event that includes film, that is one thing. To make it work will call for some serious corporate support and a producer who knows the score. If, on the other hand, Cincinnati wants more and better films, then get your butts up to the Art Museum and check out the CWC programming. What you want is already here - you just have to show up.

~ Mike R.

Tim Swallow said...

With all due respect to Mike's comments, there are some clarifications and additional elements worth noting:

First off, the organizers of the Oxford International Film Festival deserve a lot of credit for making a festival happen two years in a row. Showing so many films in a short period of time is a huge amount of work. And yes, as Mike points out, perhaps some of their self-promotion claims were inflated, many of the offerings were second- or third-tier films and attendance was dramatically less than hoped for. But these things can be corrected.

Film festivals are not a deeply entrenched tradition in Southwest Ohio and the public is not accustomed to large doses of cinema in a short time span. One way to build a sustainable, repeat audience is to reduce quantity and increase quality. Instead of two screenings each of a gazillion films in three days, two or screenings each of 15-25 feature films over one week will allow buzz to build. One thing we've learned at CWC in six years is that top-quality films drive serious word-of-mouth and positive box office results. Our average attendance is roughly 200 per screening, and this includes small-audience niche films.

The first Cincinnati International Film Festival was not a total failure; their international films segment held at the Esquire drew the bulk of festival attendance and these four or five films were of excellent quality.

A prime example of successful multi-year festival presentation is the Cincinnati Israeli Film Festival, which consistently draws solid audiences. Keys to success are its thematic programming - films by/about Israelis and Jewish life, and the outstanding support given by the Jewish community. And a number of active corporate sponsors help insure success.

Having produced a number of festivals over the years, both live entertainment and film, I have first-hand appreciation of the amount of work involved and the amount time required. As noted in Mr. Rosen's articles for CityBeat and IndieWire, I believe that Cincinnati World Cinema's resources are best applied via year-round programming -- building awareness of, and an audience for, top-quality independent and international cinema.

That said, I think a multi-venue week-long film festival in Cincinnati and/or Oxford, with top-quality films, could be a great thing. Especially if mounted as an effective collaboration between various local film orgs, with sufficient budget, lead time, resources and ample corporate support.

CWC has spent several years developing a constituency of thousands of area residents who appreciate and support independent film; the Esquire/Mariemont theatres have an equal or greater number of regular attendees. I think these audience bases would be delighted to attend a festival with programming that meets their established expectations. And propertly promoted, the glitz and glamor tied to such an event should draw a lot of new faces.

It is encouraging to see people talking/writing about the potential. Next steps require some exploration and commitment - we'll see how many jump on this wagon.

Best Regards,

Tim Swallow, Cincinnati World Cinema, www.cincyworldcinema.org

ginger lee frank said...

Having spent all four days at the recent Oxford International Film Festival I can attest to many aspects of its success, including organizational effectiveness and collegial camaraderie. While it's true that most of the films might not be considered top-tier, as Tim Swallow mentions, I thought the majority of the films I saw in Oxford were good. Quite a fewl even had major stars in them. And it was a treat being able to meet and often eat with so many of the filmmakers and director in town. Audiences were disappointing in size, but even the smallest were not as small as many I've been a part of (or comprised the totality of) at the Mariemont or Esquire; just this week again it was my ticket purchase which required the projectionist to show the film one night.

Jimmy James correctly points out that there are a tremendous number of independent films made that don't get screened at the Esquire, Mariemont or elsewhere in town. But among those that do, many often have little or no audience. So, while "having a festival that aired movies that wouldn't otherwise be shown in this town, would a huge asset for film fans living here and in the region" it will not be enough to cause it to succeed or last more than a year.

Local media would have to get behind it promotionally (as CityBeat did not do for the ill fated Cincinnati International Film Festival). It involves creating a film culture here. Toward this end, I think Tim Swallow has demonstrated the most success of late. His former partner, Jim Kesner's weekly film group is also a potential nucleus. Andrea Kornbluh's long running, short duration Cincinnati Women's Film Festival also demonstrated the ability to attract and interest audiences. Even the Global Film packaged festival just completed at UC's MainStreet Cinema, by collaborating with various international student groups, attracted audiences. And Tim already mentioned the Cincinnati Israeli Film Festival's successful community based promotional success.

Coincidentally, I recently ran into Cincinnati International Film Festival founder and director Terry Alverado (shopping in Kenwood Mall) and discussed the CityBeat cover story calling for a Cincinnati film festival. I was the "associate programmer" (or whatever title Terry assigned me as No. 2) one year. The people who attended enjoyed themselves and, as Tim points out, there was some good product. But I always felt there was too much emphasis placed on starting out with "the glitz and glamor tied to such an event" which Tim also mentions as being part of the promotion package. I think you have to earn that byproduct, not base upon it; it's not integral to what CWC does. I'm not all that bothered about prizes and awards either

Also, it takes a crew to pull off a festival (and a village to support it), with efficient organization and lot of volunteers.

There are so many festivals around the country now competing for top-tier regional premiers that it's hard to see how a start-up festival in Cincinnati could compete to attract them.

As I wrote in a letter to CityBeat following its article,"for a film festival to work here it needs either a large, available, excitable base audience, like a university's (or possibly a museum's), or – and probably more importantly – the ability to attract a substantial audience from outside the immediate area." For this it needs an identity, a niche or a theme. I proposed a "Best of the Fests" the get us used to the idea, a festival screening the recent winners of other festivals (and, despite what I said earlier, some Best of the Best of the Fests awards would automatically be pretty special). Or we could feature films made in the mid-west. Or children's films. Or a music and film festival. Or a festival of all shorts (All Shorts of Films). Or CinFest, films about sex and blasphemy (Shorts Off, perfect for Censornaughty, Oh!).

I suggested we employ downtown and OTR, with the CAC taking a lead (compare to what the Wexner in Columbus does with film), and incorporating Jim Tarbell's suggestion of the Emery Auditorium. Would think the Aronoff should participate too. Get someone to donate projection equipment to the several live theater companies in OTR and you have half a dozen venues all walkable to, minutes from each other. And if you do it in the warmer months, there can be outdoor evening Films on the Square (either using the digital display already there or a more classic film-based portable set up as still happens in European towns) and on urban walls elsewhere around town (which has been done here before).

I like the time frame of a week as well, and not too many films (unless they're shorts), with several opportunities to see them.

So, who's going to do this?

Buona Fortuna.

Tim Swallow said...

There's much food for thought in your observations, Bill, er, Ginger. I think it boils down to nailing four critical elements:

Concept
A festival that tries to be all things to all people considerably raises the bar - asking a lot from the presenters and the audience. A thematic festival, be it shorts, docs, ethnic, etc., allows a tightening of programming focus that translates into succinct marketing advantages. For example, look at the success of the Asian Film Festival in nearby Pittsburgh...

Location
If we're talking OTR / downtown and we want to draw from the metro area, then we automatically have to address the perceptions that prevail regarding personal security.

Viability
Sufficient civic, governmental and corporate support must be generated to provide festival programmers and marketers a reasonable chance of success.

Execution
With adequate resources to work with, the core festival team must possess the requisite experience, talent and initiative to make good things happen.

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