Economy, venue losses impact film festivals

A trio of articles crossed my desk this week that highlight the obstacles many small festivals face on the road to putting on a show.

The first is about the Vancouver International Film Festival, which will lose its main venue (a cineplex) in the coming year.

“When you have that really lovely centre of gravity and the dynamism around that, it makes it a pretty appealing event,” said [festival director Alan] Franey. “Whether we can find some magical way to create that energy, I have my doubts about that given available venues, so that’s a real loss.”

The second details similar venue woes for the Hot Springs Documentary Festival:

The event is being held at the Arlington Hotel this time around. That's because the Malco Theatre -- the festival's usual venue -- was damaged by a storm in August. Before that, Arvest Bank had filed a foreclosure suit on the theater.

Making matters worse, the festival board owes $20,000 in local taxes. But, the festival is bouncing back in style.

Finally and most disappointingly, the Lake Arrowhead Film Festival is suspending operations altogether, pending a financial comeback.

The festival, which had grown and evolved over the years, started to experience reduced funding in 2009 in the tanking economy.

"We so completely depend on our sponsors, and funding was cut way down," [festival director Mary] Dippell said.

The nonprofit had been turned down on about 50 grants and the effect was accumulative, she said.

"In 2012, we just had a fraction of the donations we usually have," Dippell said.

The festival scheduled for October 2013 has been called off.

Occasionally I hear from a filmmaker who assumes that festivals are universally rolling in dough from filmmaker submissions fees, or from someone who wants to start a festival, assuming that there isn't much to it. The reality differs from both of these perceptions – running a festival is serious business, and one shouldn't confuse "non-profit" with "doesn't need to make money."

On the festival venue front, I wonder how many small theaters will call it quits because they can't afford to make the jump from 35mm film to digital projection, and how many film festivals will lose their venues as a result.