Build Your Film Festival Identity
During the Christmas break, the SFC team took time to clean up our Festival database. It was nothing serious – we just made sure that all our links were working, that festivals were up to date, URLs were correct, and so on. We found a few festivals that were canceled a few years ago, or re-named. Overall, we spent a significant time scrutinizing all the profiles.
The good thing is that we had an in-depth review of all the film festivals around the world. Of course, SFC is mainly – if not only – interested in film festivals that program short films, which is why we clearly distinguish two types of festival: Regular and Dedicated.
Regular festivals are events that not dedicated to shorts, but which still program shorts. Typically, Sundance, Locarno, Cannes and many other festivals have a shorts section embedded in their program. The Dedicated category covers festivals entirely focused on shorts, such as Clermont-Ferrand, Short Shorts, Huesca, you name it. Both categories are important to us.
Looking at all these festivals from all over the world, we can clearly identify some recurrent ‘niches’ that we categorize as follows:
By human group: Gay & Lesbian, Children, Women’s Festival of (city). Which great city does not have its own gay & lesbian or environmental film festival?
By Ethnic group: African, Latin, Iranian, Russian (or whatever) Festival
By Topic: Environmental, Human Rights
By Technical device: Mobile phone festivals, etc.
By Genre: Horror, Sci-fi and Comics are the most popular.
By length: Of course, the one that interests us is the “shorts” niche.
We then came up with the idea to look at festivals from 3 different angles: Title, Venue and Side Activities. This categorization is not intended to examine a festival’s film selection or the size of its budget, but to consider its very identity.
All festivals are unique, but with most we got a feeling of ‘deja vu’. We found tons named “the XXX International Short Film Festival” or “The International Short Film Festival of XXX”. Almost all mid-size to large cities in the world have their own short film festival.
You may think a festival’s name is just cosmetic and doesn’t really make a difference. Well, yes and no. In fact, it may say a lot about the festival. If you’re running the ‘Banana & Cocktail film festival’, it suggests a spirt of partying and fun that may attract a certain category of people (and repel others).
Other festivals are more formal and will focus more on content. They may give a simple name to their festival, like “The International Short Film Festival of X” and build their reputation on the prestige of the city where the festival takes place.
In both cases, you will probably have to deal with the keyword ‘Short’ (or ‘Corto’ in Spanish and Italian, Court in French, ‘Kurz’ in German and ‘Curta’ in Portuguese). That word seems to be inevitable and will also have implications later on for your online SEO. However, the real question is, what will you marry with that word?
Short ?? or ?? Short
After the keyword “short”, we found that a few other words ranked highly, like “festival” (sometimes contracted as “fest”). The “indie” short is very popular in North America.
We found amazing titles that were full of audacity, but our favorite one was: “Short that are not pants”.
We may consider venues to be of secondary importance and just the place where films will be screened. This is wrong. The venue is an integral part of the product or event. It clearly establishes the general atmosphere of the festival. Here we could extend the concept to the physical venues where the films will be screened, and also the surroundings – the places where people will drink, network and so on. Festivals are a people business, and this aspect is something the Internet will never be able to compete with.
Of course, at the top of the venue hit parade, by default we find movie theaters of all types: Big, small, old, modern, with floors and stages, etc…. Open-air screenings are also very popular, and there is no summer film fest that does not offer them today.
However, we found a lot of unexplored locations where festivals could take place. Let’s just be crazy for a second and imagine screening a film in a cave, underwater (in a submarine-type structure), in the woods (for a horror film festival), in the desert, on top of a high building with a view of the city, or our favorite one: inside an igloo.
Also, you may consider side projections – that is, projections that are not part of your festival’s main competition, for which you would retain a more traditional movie theater. These could take place in an unexpected or unconventional location such as a wine bar, a basement, on the beach or in a planetarium. These side projections could be great for socializing and networking, which must be another key objective for a film festival.
Many locations have yet to be discovered in the film-festival universe, and we’d like to encourage festival organizers to keep exploring them. The sky’s the limit!
Side activities are also very important. In fact, this is the substance of festivals. Again, we are in the people business. We’re supposed to watch films, but also to bring people together, talk about future projects, network, have fun, etc.
We found so many great activities around festivals that we decided to categorize them in three ways: Learning, Market, and Fun.
- Learning consists of workshops of all types, guest speakers, question-and-answer sessions, etc.
- Market involves private screenings for distributors, sponsor stands, a mini-fair and press conference.
- Fun is all about partying, the disco bar, etc.
These side activities are very important. It’s clear that festivals that tend to focus mainly on their program have weaker outcomes.
In closing, one of the reasons we wrote this article is that we (SFC) occasionally receive feedback that suggests we are competing with festivals by screening shorts online. Well, no. Online screenings will never be able to offer the features we just described above. To repeat for the last time: this is a people business!