This Week on the Boxoffice Podcast: How Regional Film Festivals Are Adapting to Covid-19

Lela Meadow-Connor, courtesy FFA

Lela Meadow-Conner, executive director of the Film Festival Alliance (FFA), joins Rebecca Pahle and Russ Fischer on this week’s episode of the Boxoffice Podcast.

A non-profit organization designed to create a collaborative networking space for mission-driven film festivals around the world, the FFA—like their counterparts in the wider exhibition landscape—found themselves having to make major shifts in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Member festivals have had to shift from in-person events to online, all the while making a concerted effort to maintain established community ties while also reaching new audiences at a time when there’s a glut of streaming competition.

Also in this episode of the Boxoffice Podcast: a rundown of recent news both domestic and international (including Studio Movie Grill filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and a raft of closures and restrictions that have hit the European market in the last weeks) as well as insight from Boxoffice Pro Chief Analyst Shawn Robbins on the state of the film calendar through the remainder of 2020.

Lela Meadow-Conner On… The Close Relationship Between Regional Film Festivals and Community Cinemas

“So many of these festivals are beholden to these venues. Even if a festival, say, feels ready to return, their premier venue may not be open. And they have to then think about all of the issues that come along with that. I do think it’s a collaborative process. I think that we all have to work together –distributors and the exhibitors and the festivals and the filmmakers—to really convey, especially to the audiences, what the message is that we want to convey. And when it’s safe to come back and what feels right for everybody.”

…Filmmakers Deciding Whether to Debut on the Virtual Festival Circuit or Hold Off for Theatrical Distribution

“Back in March, April, May, filmmakers—there was a lot of concern [from filmmakers] over whether they should play the virtual festival circuit. And now I’ve had enough conversations with filmmakers who are like, ‘Yep, this is just what the festival circuit looks like right now.’ You do what you would do in a normal circumstance. If your film’s a documentary that needs to play before the 2020 election, you should get it out there. If it’s an evergreen piece, maybe you can wait till Q2 or Q3 of 2021 to get it in physical theaters, if that’s what you really want to do. But again, for filmmakers, they really need to look at what the point of the festival circuit is for them, as they are submitting their films to festivals.”

…Competition from Streaming and Subscription Platforms

“There’s just so much content coming from streamers and subscription services. How do you cut through the noise when every day you’re getting something in your inbox that’s like, ‘You might like this on Amazon or Netflix or Hulu’? [With a virtual film festival,] you have to go online, you have to pay for it, you have to do all this stuff. That is an obstacle, I think. And that’s an issue. But again, the beauty of film festivals is that they have this trusted curatorial voice from the audiences that they serve. Hopefully, those loyal audiences will still tune in, and hopefully there’ll be ways for them to attract new audiences. Because of the nature of of being able to post things on social media—and word of mouth is such a huge, huge component of spreading the word about about festivals.”

…Changing Marketing Requirements and Capturing Audience Attention

“The other big thing that seemed to have changed is the marketing timeline. In normal days, you would have put your printed program out a month before the festival. Now, literally, you can do things a week before and be like, ‘Hey, we’re screening this!’ Because people’s attention span is so much shorter. It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s a squirrel!’ You click away from what you’re doing. Figuring out how to capture people’s attention is really, really tricky but really, really key.”

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