Sunday, November 29, 2009

AIFF 2009 - Film Festivals in the You Tube Era

I've posted elsewhere about the ethics of getting clips of video for use when blogging about a movie.  After all, book reviewers can take excerpts from books to make their points about the writing.  They don't rely on a few excerpts that the publisher sends them.  The law is murky - well, it's clear that video taping in a movie theater is  illegal, but once you have the video, the First Amendment would seem to favor the blogger.  All this assumes minimal amounts of video, with no intent to make money, simply to review.

The most persuasive argument to take video down came from a filmmaker a couple of years ago who said that the clauses in many film festivals forbid any movie that is available on the web, no matter how short a clip.  I took it down as I would if people ask, and the request is about their material or image, I do immediately.  But this year I've noticed several movies in the festival that are available online.  I asked Rand (the festival program director) about this and he said he's been to workshops discussing this and that rule is crumbling because of what all is available online these days.

So my dilemma is, what should I do if I find a whole movie online?  More precisely, should I post it when I'm putting something up about that movie?  Just put a link?  Or not mention it at all?

What are the factors that should be considered?   The film is already up somewhere  online and available, so I'm not responsible for that.  If people want to see they can. (I'm assuming that film maker allowed the posting directly or indirectly, if not, I shouldn't post it.)   I concluded there is one key issue:

Will it affect attendance at the festival?  If so, how?

Arguments that it will lower attendance:
  1. If people can see the films online, they don't need to pay to see them at the festival.
  2. If people see festival films online and don't like them, they won't come to other films.
  3. Fewer audience members might come and there would be less interesting Q&A.  

Arguments that it won't lower attendance and may increase attendance:
  1. If people can see some films online, they can go to other events playing at the same time.
  2. All of the films I've found were short and are part of a Program with other films, so people will have to go to see the other films anyway.
  3. If people like a film, they may go on the chance of seeing the filmmaker and asking questions.
  4. People who had no intention of going to the festival will see some and realize that these films aren't your run-of-the-mill Hollywood film and come to see some of the festival showings.
  5. Lots of people like to see a film more than once.  If it's online, they can see it again on the big screen (itself another reason to go) and see aspects they missed the first time. 
  6. They can tell friends who can't go, how to see a few of the films that they liked that are also online.
  7. People don't have to take my word for anything, they can judge for themselves.  They can also judge whether they like and dislike the same things I like and dislike.

I have no empirical evidence to indicate what people will actually do.  I have to use my own acumen to tentatively conclude, until it's proven otherwise, that the few films I post are not going to hurt attendance and may well help it.  (But, being me, means as soon as I wrote that I started to google to see if there is any evidence.  I didn't find anything addressing my question, but I found a lot saying that online is one of the futures of festivals, and that future is already here.  See below **)

Also, I'm just one head, and I'm sure I've left out important points, so please jump in and add points I missed in the comments. 

Another factor I'd add here.  One purpose of this coverage of the Anchorage International Film Festival is to give people in Anchorage (and elsewhere) more information about what's playing and when so that they can save a bit of time going through that long list of movies coming next week.  I assume that my readers are adults and can decide for themselves if they want to click the play button or not.  I should make things easier for them, but not decide for them.

So far, I've only found a handful of films where the whole film is online (not just a trailer) - but I've only been looking at the films in competition.  I won't be able to highlight more than a small percentage of the films.  Once the festival starts, I'll see stuff and comment as my interest in any particular film, the serendiptiy of who I bump into, and my time allow. 

**I found almost nothing in my short search about festival films being available online.  I couldn't figure out the right search terms I guess.  I did find this:  Anna Feder, Festival Director/Programmer at the Boston Underground Film Festival, interviewed on the blog Film Festival Secrets:
recent trend I have noticed in submissions of which I approve: I love that filmmakers are starting to put all their materials on line. I try to discourage filmmakers from sending me these expensive wasteful glossy paper press kits when my needs are digital files of stills and trailers. We don’t want the filmmaker to bankrupt him or herself submitting to our festival. Submit early, keep the packaging simple (we care about your film – not the well designed art on the cover!), and let your work speak for itself (no lengthy introduction letter needed)!

But that's materials, not the film itself.

It's clear, though, that more and more people are putting films online.  The question that remains is what will the relationship between festivals and the online films be in the future?  Live festivals offer the excitement of seeing many films in a short period, repeatedly bumping into the same people, getting to talk to the film makers.  However, traveling takes time, is expensive, and is environmentally questionable.  Most likely online social networkers will create a virtual film festival platform that captures much of the interaction at a real festival.  The films would reach a far wider audience.   So seeing things online may be the most viewed outlet for all films eventually.  

There already seem to be Online Film Festivals.  I'm noting a few I found, but I want to make it clear, I haven't researched to see if these are legitimate.  I have no reason to suspect they aren't, but given the existence of the questionable Alaska International Film Festival website, I do want people to be cautious.  

iFilm Connections: Asia & Pacific features:

an online film festival featuring independent feature-films whose content sheds light on issues of representation and the impact of globalization upon the cultures of Asia and the Pacific Islands;

The Tampa Bay Online Film Festival:
The Tampa Bay Film Online Film Festival was originally built into the initial Tampa Bay Film web site, and launched with Tampa Bay Film on January 11, 2007. It became extremely popular, and was very successful. The original Tampa Bay Film Online Film Festival became the most effective means for filmmakers to market and promote their films in Florida.
We’ve learned from what worked, and what didn’t. The stakes are now higher. We’re going to be the best online film festival in the United States.

The Great Lakes Film Festival has gone online, but with security measures:

Much like most other festivals, ours was limited by time in how many films we could screen at the fest. Simply put, if a film is good, it will be accepted and screened without time constraints. Films will not be available for download, but shall be presented in a video on demand system that will allow users to watch the films.  The VOD system will be secured and can be viewed from any computer.
Unlike other festivals streaming films online, films in this festival cannot be downloaded, the films  HAVE NO EMBEDDING CODE and our HTML code if copied and pasted, the films will not play, therefore they CANNOT be placed on other websites. 
The only time and place they can be viewed is in our festival.  In short, we have gone to great lengths to set this system up to protect the safety and security of each filmmaker's film always keeping the filmmaker in mind. Basically, it is just as secure as a brick and mortar theater screening, only much better.
We made the decision to screen films exclusively online because of two reasons, first we understand that filmmakers around the world pour not only all of their time and heart into their work but also most of their money.  Because of financial and time constraints independent filmmakers most times find it difficult to attend the screenings of their film.  Now not only can the filmmaker attend, but all of their friends and family members can as well.  In addition, the number of attendees to the festival is literally limitless giving the filmmaker much more exposure for their work.

The New England Online Film Festival

2009 Festival Films

The following films have been chosen to be part of the First Online New England Film Festival. You can also view the text list of films
. . .

And Cologne Online Film Festival:
CologneOFF is a new mobil type of film & video festival acting without a static festival location. It is organised simultaneously online and offline via partner festivals & cooperations. In this way, the festival takes place when a physical partner is hosting CologneOFF and this can take place anywhere anytime –> more

So, I'm going to assume the world is changing and I'll go along with that change and put up whole films if I run across them and there's a reason to be posting about the film.  I'm NOT going to try to find all the online films from this festival and post them.  So far, I've been trying to post the films in competition in each category and I've found a few that are online and I've posted them with the entry about the particular film. 

But if you have compelling reasons why I shouldn't do this, let me know. 


  1. I write a lot about film festivals and films on my own blog, Bad Lit: The Journal of Underground Film, so I deal with this issue all the time as well. Below are the personal rules I've developed over the years. These rules aren't to say I think this is the way things absolutely have to be done by all bloggers. They're just how I handle things personally.

    1. I don't post ANY entire film, either short or feature-length, UNLESS it's been posted by the filmmaker; or at least with the filmmaker's explicit consent. A film should be seen the way a filmmaker wants it to be seen. Some filmmakers are comfortable with having their work online, some aren't.

    2. The same pretty much goes for clips. I don't think it's fair for me to judge what is right and wrong. A filmmaker needs to judge that for his or her own self.

    3. If I'm promoting a film festival and I find an entire film online that has been posted by a filmmaker with his or her consent, I still won't post that film until AFTER the film festival is over. Actually, since I write about so many festivals, I tend not to post films until I think their festival run is over. In this situation, I feel it's my goal to get people to go to the festival. Not to give people a reason to sit home and watch all the films online. But, if a festival wants to promote its online offerings, I'll gladly link to or embed them.

  2. Mike, thanks for the thoughtful comments. I agree with #1 and said so above. Not sure about #2, that goes along with the idea that a book reviewer doesn't have to get the author's permission about what she quotes from the book. #3 was my sense of things last year, but I've changed this year and that's why I wrote this. Do you have anything that would support the idea that having some whole films online would keep an audience home? If someone only wants to see one film because its about his favorite hockey team, maybe. But he might want to see it again on the big screen and with a chance to talk to the film maker. Was there anything in my logic that you thought was wrong?

    Since I'm not a film insider, I guess it's easier for me to question some of the basic beliefs, since they are not ingrained in me. It just seems technology is changing all the rules. Also, I'm not a 'festival promoter' in a business sense, though I do want to encourage people to take advantage of having a film festival in town. And I do want the festival to be successful simply so I'll have the chance to go each year. But I'll tell people what I think about a film, good or bad.

    Again, I appreciate that you took the time to to share your experience and thoughts. And I'm mulling them over.

  3. I do agree that the times they are a changin' in regards to film viewing online. I usually start from a point of being a bit old-fashioned, but I'm open to new ways of thinking.

    Re: The use of clips. Despite my personal "rule," I don't totally see posting clips as terribly hurtful or damaging, especially if you're trying to make a point about a film. Your book analogy is actually quite a good one and I do know that other, more big time film bloggers than myself, like Jim Emerson, put up clips for video essays and such. I don't think folks would get on your case if you posted up clips.

    Re: posting full festival films. No, I don't have any empirical evidence or proof on the matter. It's just my way of thinking, maybe because I'm an old fuddy-duddy less prone to going out like I used to myself.

    I actually do think there may be value of posting a film online to encourage an audience to go hear the filmmaker talk about it at a festival. But, I don't have any proof of that being the case, either!

    But, my other line of thinking, is that if I post an entire film that I think is fabulous, but the rest of the world thinks stinks, then I might inadvertantly turn people off to going to the festival to skip that particular film and any other stinkers I might recommend.

    For me, it's the power of words that get people excited to go see films, if that's what I really want to do. If I sound excited about something, then that's what I think will drive an audience, not "watch this now, then go out and see it again."

    You do bring up good points, though, that make me consider my own "rules," too.


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