22 March 2010

Choices, Passion, and Film Festivals

by Tyler Weaver.  Follow me on Twitter.

After experiencing a few days of the Cleveland Film Fest, I'm loathe to report that my time there is coming to an end.  The Cleveland Fest is wonderful for moviegoers, but I'm not sure how great it is for filmmakers, leaving - at least in my estimation - not much room for networking amongst the filmmakers that actually attend, or for me as a filmmaker who happens to have a forum in which to pontificate to do so.  I just don't have much to say (except for the lengthy post coming... now.)

Location, Location, Location.

I understand why CIFF is at the Tower City shopping complex.  It's a big theater, with lots of parking, and it's in downtown, which CIFF (and everyone else) is making an effort to revitalize.

Unfortunately, it doesn't offer what I think film festivals should - an environment conducive to one-on-one interaction and intimacy between filmgoer and filmmaker.  Lost amid a sea of green and black lanyards, dance troupe make-up queens and stage mothers who eyeball that glass of chardonnay just a bit too greedily, and regular shoppers going about their business, Tower City is a fairly poor location for a festival of the intended scope of Cleveland.  Factor in the foot traffic between the Q (the Cavs' stadium) and Tower City shopping fighting for spacial supremacy with the film crowd, and it's a recipe for chaos - despite the best efforts of those who seek to bring something special to Cleveland.

It's a well-meaning festival put together by people with the best interest of the city of Cleveland and midwestern arts at heart, and would have been amazing 10 years ago.  The fact that it has been going on for 34 years now is a testament to its longevity and appeal in the city.

Passion & Unrealized Potential

But in a city such as Cleveland, tradition and longevity need to be thrown out in favor of trying something new.  Something different.  This festival should be the Toronto or Tribeca of the Midwest. It has the potential for greatness that is terribly needed in today's film world - but no one seems to be able to deliver.

My reason for criticism here is for the exact same reason that I criticize television shows I love.  I wouldn't criticize if I didn't care, and I love this city - for all of its warts and wonders.  I want to see it have the Film Festival and gathering of creative folk it deserves. And I despise wasted potential.  Nothing fires me up more.

There is an underlying, bubbling passion in Cleveland to shatter the negative connotations that the city conjures to the public at large - both from within and without.  However, there is not enough risk taken to push it beyond the "polite clap" response.  

Towards Realizing Potential

I loathe documentaries and films that only show a problem and the ills of the world.  So, I'm going to offer a few thoughts on how to fix the Festival and help it realize its potential.

Change the Location.

Obviously logistics would impede on this, but I would suggest Shaker Square as an ideal location for the Festival.  A wonderful theater, and numerous local businesses (not the Food Court chains in Tower City), plus easy access by the Rapid public transport.   This would also provide a more intimate setting for filmmakers and filmgoers to interact, as there are several wonderful restaurants in the Shaker Square area.   Also, less than a mile away is the wonderful Larchmere district, with some great restaurants and the greatest bookstore ever, Loganberry Books.  Also, you may reel in people from further outside of town, as let's be honest, there is an underlying dislike by many for going into downtown Cleveland.

Potential issues are proximity of hotels and parking. 

Limit the Number of Films - and Ensure That a Number of Them Are World Premieres.  

Most of the films I've seen in the program are one to two years old.  Cleveland is clearly viewed as second-tier by the film community at large.  There is absolutely no reason for this. Make people work to get in.  

Also, by limiting the number of films, and embracing the world premiere (which could involve some hard-core deal making), you will create a more relaxed atmosphere, instead of cutting the music out of one filmmaker's end credits, giving him 15 minutes, then kicking him out of the theater.  

Film festivals are supposed to bring filmmaker and film-goer together (at least in my idyllic version - reality is another story).  The above paragraph is not conducive to doing so.  If you're going to do a Q&A, don't do it in a theater that's going to be used right away.  Pick another location for the Q&A.  Sure it might be a difficult scheduling maneuver, but it's worth it.

Embrace Technology & Provide a More Robust Filmmaker's Conference.  

As it stands, the Cleveland Film Fest is like making a silent film in the sound era (and your name isn't Charles Chaplin).  There needs to be more dedicated conference time for filmmakers to share ideas.  Especially local filmmakers.  Where is the forum on Ohio's film tax credit?  Where is a forum dedicated to discussing filming in Ohio?  Show that there is a desire not to be as good as other film festivals (Tribeca, SilverDocs, Sundance) but to be better than them!  There's a staunch aversion to risk (and I don't care how "controversial" the screened films are).  It's through risk that reward is gained.  "Film" is no longer solely the domain of the multiplex - it is everywhere.  In every handheld device, television screen, etc.  Embrace the changing paradigm or be sucked under it and remanded to oblivion.

Limit the Number of Volunteers.  

The logistics of running a film festival are absolutely staggering.  It is a year of planning and a week or more of absolute chaos.  But, there has to be a cap on the number of volunteers.  Every single volunteer I encountered had the best intentions at heart, but I was told different things by different people (getting my pass resulted in a tour of Tower City, eventually concluding back at where I started). 

A festival must be a well-oiled machine.  It is a business - not a charity drive.  I respect the devotion of those tireless volunteers who clearly have passion and want to be there.  But passion does not temper a chaotic situation, and needs to be reigned in.

And in the end...

Though I spoke only of my personal experience at the Cleveland Film Fest, I have a distinct feeling that this isn't the only film fest where these issues arise.   As a filmmaker, I'm probably shooting myself in the foot for saying to a film festival (especially my local one) to accept fewer films, but there needs to be a reigning in here.

Passion is a wonderful thing.  The world is made great by the drive and determination of passionate people.  But, it takes steadfast leadership and management, and an ability to make difficult choices.  Though I'm sure difficult choices were made daily, it felt as though they weren't.  
So it's with a degree of disappointment that my time covering the Cleveland Film Fest ends.  It's back to regularly scheduled programming, and I hope, following this year's 34th Cleveland Film Fest, some changes will be made that pushes it to the level that I know it can attain.

Tyler Weaver is a filmmaker, writer, contributor to the pulptone.com website, and is the founder and EIC of Multi-Hyphenate... which you're reading right now.  He's currently making new things and yaks about that and more on Twitter under the creative guise of @tylerweaver.  



Jen said...

CIFF is definitely a film-goer's festival. It's always been this way, and while I appreciate it (I'm not a filmmaker myself, at least yet ;)), I think as it grows, it has to grow in scope and purpose as well. I've been going to the festival for a few years, and the pace of popularity is absolutely amazing. In fact, I was so unprepared for how popular the festival has become I didn't do as much planning ahead of time and ended up getting sold out of a ton of stuff. That wasn't happening to me four years ago. So, I agree that it's time to look at the future and the evolution of this.

Tyler Weaver said...

Hi Jen - thanks for reading! Even though I was only there a few days, I saw numerous people who just didn't get into what they wanted to see. The growth is remarkable, I agree - but it's time to evolve, like you said.

Film festivals have a vibrant future - if they embrace the vibrancy of what's going now in the film world, and not clinging to what worked 10 years ago.

Thanks again for reading!


quicksilverwest said...

... Cleavland demographics and locale/area... one thought clearly pervasive: Upgrade. Bonus thought [careening off topic]: Wondering how www.clevelandfilm.com would weigh in - re: film-goers and festival support of future filmmakers (the future wave in film)...

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