The upheaval of the global COVID pandemic has likely transformed the traditional festival circuit as well as the way we watch films, consume content, and participate in events. Film festivals provide the independent animator and filmmaker opportunities to connect with audiences, develop networks, link with funders, producers, distributors and multipliers, usually with ‘face to face’ opportunities such as roundtables, pitching etc. In the absence of physical meetings, cinema experiences, and opportunities for live audience participation what are the challenges independent animation filmmakers face? Also, as new online platforms and solutions emerge, what does the new model look like? This post will summarise some of the key findings from the Indie Online research project led by Michelle Kranot of The Animation Workshop/VIA University College, and offers some suggestions for festivals and independent animators when considering new distribution models.
The research took place between March 2020 and October 2021 and involved semi-structured interviews with 20 film festivals and 20 independent animators and filmmakers. The majority of interviewees reflected on the accessibility of the online format of a festival concluding that audiences (including filmmakers, distributors, multipliers, and the general public) can find the online format difficult to navigate and that film festivals need to invest more attention in helping them locate for the most valuable experience. The audiences’ physical appearance at a physical festival enables a navigation of the exhibition space(s) that is hard to replicate online. The screen can flatten and homogenize the audience’s experience.
In particular, it was highlighted that visibility of filmmakers was pertinent and that the multipliers need to be directed to their work. Luce Grosjean of MIYU Distribution explains:
They (film festivals) should ensure that great, professional people, who can really help you to make your next project, will be watching and participating online.
There is a consensus that marketing, product awareness, data driven strategy, and PR and promotional skills are what is needed to develop strong strategies for films to be promoted and ensure sustainability for festivals and their role with independent animation in the future. Therefore, albeit more difficult, it is more important within the online space to give the filmmakers the right visibility and expose their work to the right people. As Arnaud Miquel of Annecy MIFA explains:
When you aren’t physically at a festival, you are not really as open to opportunities or less likely to come across a person, or content which you were not previously aware of. You need to be really very good at social media campaign, very active to get noticed online.
Filmmakers should prepare to have deeper dialogues with festivals about where, when, how, and for how long their films may screen and how this interconnects with their own distribution strategy. Bigger conversations around creating for online spaces rather than the solely cinema should materialize. The research highlighted new relationships forming between film festivals and tech companies who can provide platforms to deliver blended experiences. Filmmaker Simon Rouby explains:
It’s another image amongst TikTok and Instagram. Your film becomes another instilled image that comes into this big river and stream. Nowadays, with the multiplication of online proposals, the big thing at stake (even for big platforms) is our attention. Everyone is vying for our attention.
So how do filmmakers develop their ‘visibility’? They should create robust strategies for marketing and distribution, create content that wraps their film, and find new ways to pitch their films. But there is a pertinent question here about how to resource the filmmaker in order to conduct these activities. Independent filmmakers already undertake the marketing of their films often for free. They require training, funding, and resources to make this happen. But where does the funding for this come from? During the pandemic some festivals offered filmmakers fees for screenings. This was a welcome suggestion, perhaps all film festivals will consider implementing this and that funders design budgets to enable filmmakers to fully resource their films afterlife
Naturally, the role of the producer and production companies should be included in this discussion. We suggest that further work around the lobbying of funding bodies to provide adequate funding to fund projects to their full potential is undertaken. That said, the role of the producer has been largely overlooked by this research. We suggest that this aspect needs strengthening and to be examined further. Another role that we suggest is missing from this organizational structure is one of an agent. In other words, to be missing is an agency to advocate and promote, filling a gap left between the producer and the distributor and festival PR team.
Now, a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that festival audiences are experiencing social fatigue (Maier 2015) Cintia Gil, Director of Sheffield Docfest says:
It’s not unfair to say that by now audiences are tired and professionals are tired and there is simply too much content out there. Feelings of boredom, tiredness, burnout, and disinterest are becoming common.
We recommend, with some urgency, an investigation into this phenomenon in order for online versions of festivals to develop, adapt, and continue to conduct the good, essential work that they do.
It is difficult to know how long ‘the new normal’ will last, but what is evident from the research is that the current activities will have a legacy, that some of the challenges already existed and have been further exposed through the pandemic. We likely will not return to cultural events as we knew them and this will be influenced by how film festivals and filmmakers adapt and what the funding landscape looks like in the future.
The full report is available here and features a tool kit developed for independent animation filmmakers.
Maier, C. (2015), ‘The Effects of Technostress and Switching Stress on Discontinued Use of Social Networking Services: A Study of Facebook Use’, Information Systems Journal 25 (3), pp. 275–308.
Michelle and Uri Kranot are artists, filmmakers, and researchers based in Denmark. Both are members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Awards for previous works include the Grand Jury Prize for Best VR Immersive Work at Venice International Film Festival, the FIPRESCI Prize at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, a place on the Academy Awards® Shortlist, and the Danish Arts Foundation award. The Kranots are founders of TinDrum, a research and development studio. And lead ANIDOX, a program of The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark, that focuses on developing and producing animated documentaries.
Ellie Land is an award-winning animation director, educator, and researcher making short, feature-length and interactive films, working within the genre and research area of animated documentaries. Recently, her work on the feature film Irene’s Ghost was nominated for a BIFA Award in 2018 and was cited as one of the best films of 2019 by the Guardian. Her recent short-animated documentary Bathroom Privileges (with Rupert Williams) won the AHRC Research in Film (Animation) Award 2020.