Why do we still need film festivals in a streaming-first world?

It used to be that a film festival would screen dozens of independent movies, and studios would show up, buy the best ones, and release them into the world. But that’s just not enough anymore. Like all events and experiences, we expect the film festival model to constantly evolve.

Independent films are vehicles for new artists and fresh ideas that need to be heard. Film festivals attract diverse audiences with a multitude of viewpoints. And, after weighing and gauging the audience reaction at a screening, a filmmaker may choose to re-edit or rework their project.

But, beyond up-and-coming filmmakers seeking artistic success and studio money, why do experiential creators need to produce (and improve) film festivals? In a streaming-first world, why do audiences need to attend them?

Because they’re about more than just movies

Attending a film festival no longer just means spending day and night sitting in dark theaters deciding which starving artists deserve their big break this year. Of course, screening independent films will always be a core component of the experience, but many festivals are rebranding themselves and adding a variety of activations.

For example, the Tribeca Film Festival rebranded itself as Tribeca Festival last year, allowing themselves to move beyond “film.” Founded in 2002 to kickstart the revitalization of lower Manhattan after 9/11, this 10-day event was all about bringing tourism back to the neighborhood through the lens of filmmaking. Two decades later, in addition to its 600+ screenings, the festival features panel discussions, live concerts, gaming, art and immersive programming. In other words, a lot more than just “film.”

There’s also a daylong activation, Tribeca X, celebrating branded content as the intersection of advertising and entertainment, including the Tribeca X Awards, which honor the brands investing in creativity, as well as creators themselves. Expanding from film to a wider definition of entertainment, festivals can attract a diverse audience of attendees who may come for one track, but end up exploring many more.

Because they’re amazing hybrid events

Film festivals have always struggled with accessibility issues that can be mitigated by allowing people to attend from home. At the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, pre-purchased ticket packages cost up to $600 for a book of ten. And an express pass (priority access to all screenings) for the first week cost $4,000 per person.

The film festival of the future is hybrid; it’s even the type of hybrid event that can easily be monetized. It can be as simple as gating a screening behind a digital paywall or providing a discounted ticket to unlock every movie on your platform. Even if Covid is, one day, totally eradicated, some people would still rather curl up on their own couch, with their own snacks, to watch new movies on their own TV.

Hybrid festivals have also achieved multiple accessibility wins. On-demand films allow for on- demand captioning, flexible screening times, and once-unimaginable access for vulnerable, housebound, and geographically distant audiences. And this is a virtual experience people want to attend. In fact, the hybrid edition of Sundance 2021 reached an audience 2.7 times larger than the live 2020 fest in Utah, with over 600,000 audience views.

Because (sometimes) you have to network IRL

We know, networking is a dirty word that sends a shiver down your spine. However, stay with us… Film festivals attract creatives, yes, but these are extra special creatives who are hungry to get their art out into the world. And you, dear experiential professional, are just the type of person they’re hoping to connect with.

Imagine a place teeming with potential partners and collaborators just waiting to have a fruitful conversation. At a film festival, you’re the golden goose. You have the vision, connections and event calendar to provide artists with even more exposure. Own that power! Strike up conversations with strangers in line and — pro tip — make friends with the working staff. They know all the best parties, who’s going to be there and which activations to skip.

You also need to know which events are for career building and which are for your Instagram Stories (cough, cough, Cannes). The Atlanta Film Festival is one of the twenty Academy-qualifying festivals for narrative, animated and documentary shorts. In fact, it’s well known for showcasing filmmakers of color, LGBTQ+ artists, female-centered movies and experimental films. That kind of lineup means you can expect super interesting and brave creatives to be in the crowd, ready and waiting for their next collaborative adventure.

As experiential creators ourselves, we don’t want to see any festival model fade into oblivion. Even with Spotify, we still need concerts. Even with ESPN, we still need live sports. And even with streaming platforms, we still need film festivals.

Join us in XP Land. A community for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all of those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.

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Experiential Is Everything

XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.