Running a Film Festival: Overview & Tips (Film Festival Report Part 3)
(from SHORTCOMINGS by Adrian Tomine)
The actual operations of a film festival are essentially like every other event; one must keep track off and complete a variety of tasks. Recall that Asian American Film Festival are generally staffed by volunteers (I know Visual Communications puts out a call for volunteers every year for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and are quite independent in terms of major media events (generally there are not tons of corporate sponsors unlike festivals such as Cannes or Sundance). Like many events in real life (Baby Shower, Wedding, Birthday Party), you really only get one shot at everything and any mistakes you make you will have to live with and dynamically adjust to. No even is perfect, but keep in mind any mistakes reflect poorly on both the event and and the planners (you). Some of the best remembered events actually had numerous problems/issues that were either resolved quickly or hidden by their organizers (I can speak from personal experience on this one as I’ve had to save events run by other people). Remember, in most cases individuals involved with the actual creation of the media will be present. You definitely do not want to be responsible for an event where someone feels their media was not shown in the best possible environment and at the best possible quality.
Still from Red Dust (2010)
For our film festival I took care of many of the technical aspects because I am a member of Pitzer IT as well as friends with the staff in Audio-Visual. I learned a lot working in the audio-visual booth of Broad Performance Space for both Love & Justice and Finding Our Voices. The most important thing I learned is that you absolutely, positively MUST have a backup copy of everything you are planning on screening. Without a backup copy of LT. WATADA, the screening would have ended up being a disaster as the screener copy we were sent had a scratch/stains on it that caused it to not play more than a few minutes. On a related note, actually testing the audio-visual equipment in the screening space is also important (though in the case of LT. WATADA this ended up giving us a false positive). I also learned that a flashlight is very handy for adjusting things in the screening space without turning on the lights. An assistant is also useful to monitor audio levels and tell you to raise or lower them and for when you need to go take a break for whatever reason (phone call, bathroom, etc.)
Of course just because I wasn’t as directly involved in the other aspects of a film festival does not make them any less important. Planning and executing the dinner might have been fairly easy because of the casual nature of the event (I loved the dinner), but the reception was another matter. Fortunately for us, Galen was able to get Bon Appetit to cater the event with delicious food. While all the hors d’oeuvres were delicious, I especially enjoyed the seared ahi tuna with wasabi one the most, a fact that is not lost on me given the Asian-American nature of our event (it was poetic I suppose?). I talked to several of our guests as well as other (not from the class) atneedees and they enjoyed the food and wine. Obviously spending the money to hire Bon Appetit to cater the event greatly reduced the amount of work we would have to do as we didn’t have to staff or bring the food ourselves.
(Q&A for Finding Our Voices)
Finally there’s one last aspect that should go without saying: be respectful of the guests. Make sure you know their names, and if you don’t find out before calling people “that guy” or “hey”. Offer to get them water or other refreshments you may have on hand. Lead them around the facility (the campus in our case) and make sure they know where the nearest restrooms are. Also make sure to introduce your guests and give a brief bio about each of them (I admit I fumbled this a bit in my intro but I’ve learned for the future!). Make sure to have a list of prepared questions you can ask during the Q&A to guide or “prime” the audience. (Generally after a few questions the audience is ready to ask their own.) Before the night is over, make sure you thank them for coming out. Yes they are technically getting paid to appear but (at least for our festival) it’s not much and they still took time out of their schedule to show up.