Art by Osmosis: Why Film Festivals ARE Relevant
By Nic Baisley
Recently I’ve been going through something akin to withdrawal, living in the middle of nowhere in Massachusetts. In my town there is no film culture, no movie theaters, and not much in the way of job growth in the industry. We do, however, have a McDonalds. Having not attended a film festival or industry conference since speaking at SXSW in March, I was starting to feel creatively bereft and separated from my filmmaking brothers and sisters. Sure, social media was there to give me my fix in short 140-character doses, but that didn’t stop me from slipping into full blown depression. Then I went to the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama.
I’m using Sidewalk as my most recent example, but if I think about it my mood changes drastically every time I’m around a group of creative people for a period of time. Every film festival and industry conference I attend always seems to recharge my creative batteries. The people and the atmosphere at these events charge the air with artistic sparks that dance across everyone like little strikes of genius lightning.
The first day of the event everyone seems a bit leery of each other, and they’re all in the “getting to know you” phase. But soon they pair off and the cliques are formed. You find your festival buddies and go see movies, hit the bars with a vengeance, and eat copious amounts of food. All that time you are talking about movies, the industry, distribution woes, what scares you, and how you are overcoming obstacles. You’re getting the same feedback in return and bonds are forged. Ideas and business cards are swapped and by the end of the festival you have that familiar “last day of summer camp” feeling. A mixture of sadness washes over you but—at least in my case anyway—was replaced by an eagerness to tell not only the stories of my experiences with these people, but to tell stories in general. I felt like I could write a hundred articles like this one about all the different things I’d seen, heard, and tasted during my stay.
I can imagine many filmmakers feel the same way. Not long after I had departed the Sidewalk Film Festival, I got a tweet from filmmaker Sean Hackett, the director of Homecoming. He echoed my sentiments exactly, saying “@filmsnobbery are you experiencing withdrawal like I am?”
His tweet was just one of many other messages I saw exchanged over the past 24 hours after the festival was over. This isn’t a singular event either. Every time I go to a festival or industry event the pattern is repeated. This really shows how collaborative in nature the film industry really is and how vital it is for filmmakers to stay social with each other. These relationships become more than just handshakes and shared email addresses, they can become leg-ups in the film world, a type of much-needed therapy, and partners in future projects.
So now I’m back in the middle of nowhere again. My mood now is hopeful, but I know it won’t last. Thankfully I’ve got another festival visit in a month and the pattern will be repeated. My advice to filmmakers is, even if you aren’t shopping around a flick on the festival circuit, attend as many events as possible, meet as many people as you can, and use that shared energy to do something creative.
Of course, always pick your festival carefully and give it due diligence—a topic I cover in my post Are Film Festivals Still Relevant?