Richard James Havis
Like most organisations, film festivals feel it's good marketing and publicity to broadcast their presence on the web. The venerable Hong Kong International Film Festival (hkiff.org.hk/eng/main.html) recently unveiled an app to keep users informed about the event. The primary use of festival websites is, as one would expect, screening information and ticket sales. Facebook is a good way of keeping viewers interested, while Twitter, as a one-to-many service, can be useful for informing audiences of scheduling changes.
But the past decade saw a subtle change in the nature of film festivals that has been reflected in their Web appearances. Whereas festivals once used to be rarefied events where critics would discuss films and the public would hope for a glimpse of a star, the events have recently followed the general business trends and begun to try to brand themselves. This is partially due to the fact that whereas the festivals were once skimpily funded by government and city grants, big sponsors started making their presence felt around the start of the new millennium. Festivals want to make themselves into marketable brands to please sponsors, and websites aid this.
New York's Tribeca Film Festival (tribecafilm.com/festival/) is the master of festival branding. Co-founder Robert De Niro is the face of the brand, and its New York location is used to add extra kudos. In a relatively short time, Tribeca has managed to create an image of itself as a progressive, forward-thinking, upscale festival. Its website, which has a separate and efficiently run office within the festival, has played a large part in this. Newsletters keep attendees informed of events through the year, and publicise on-going festival-related events. The key to a successful film festival site is interaction, and last year Tribeca managed to attract viewers from all over the US by hosting an online film festival that played some of the festival movies over the Web.
Tribeca's big idea is that if viewers are involved with the festival throughout the year, when the event finally starts, potential audiences already feel part of it - and buy tickets.
The idea of keeping audiences throughout the year has resulted in some festivals, such as New York's Asian American International Film Festival (asiancinevision.org/), sending regular newsletters to its audience year-round. Cannes (festival-cannes.com), the most glamorous of all festivals, recently decided to draw viewers to its site by rolling out some well-written essays on world cinema history (above left) - although it's hard to fathom who would visit the site specifically to read them.