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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Spring 2010

By Tom White

The festival circuit has undergone a dramatic shift over the past couple of years, with changes at the helm taking place seemingly everywhere--Sundance, Tribeca, Full Frame, SilverDocs, Los Angeles Film Festival AFI Fest, SXSW and a host of others. And just as festivals are rethinking how they can better serve their missions and their communities, filmmakers, in light of the Great Recession and dimming prospects for rewarding theatrical distribution runs, are rethinking how they get their films out there.

Prior to Geoff Gilmore's leaving Sundance for Tribeca last year, he delivered a closing night address at the festival, in which he expressed the frustration that too many good films were coming out of Sundance and not finding their audiences. Can--or should--festivals play that role, of a hybrid of discovery showcase and quasi distribution mechanism? And how might filmmakers work the festival circuit to their advantage? Or is the festival circuit alone a viable option?

In this issue, we look at the festival model--how it's working and how it might work better. Pamela Cohn kicks things off, checking in with some of the top programmers in festival-land to get a sense of the zeitgeist of their domain. Tamara Krinsky hones in on the new media and social networking initiatives that festival mavens are incorporating to re-tool themselves for the new decade. Producer David Becker, who learned a thing or two from taking his and director Michelle Esrick's Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Movie on the road for a year, learns a little more from publicists and consultants about how to best equip oneself physically and psychically for the festival experience. And Adrian Belic, who has toured his Beyond the Call for three years, shares with us his adventures in audience-building and revenue-generating.

DIY is the operative ethos these days for filmmakers to devise and develop their own strategies for getting their work to audiences. Festivals are certainly part of the equation, but enablers like Jon Reiss, Peter Broderick and Scott Kirsner are advising filmmakers to develop a more macro plan, incorporating the Internet and alternative, non-theatrical venues as well. Distribution consultant Adam Chapnick reviews Reiss' book Think Outside the Box Office, while Tamara Krinsky reports on Distribution U, a day-long conference held in November in Los Angeles--and conceived and commandeered by Broderick and Kirsner, with guest appearances from Reiss and Belic.

Elsewhere, Michelle Paster talks to a couple of filmmakers who reached their core audiences primarily outside the festival circuit, after selecting a few fests as prime launches in important regional markets.

Finally, one dynamic festival model is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year--Ambulante, which tours documentaries to towns and cities all over Mexico. Rossy Eguiure talks to founder Diego Luna and executive director Elena Fortes about how countries around the world have taken notice of this singular project.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White