From Locarno to TIFF, film festivals experiment with accessibility strategies to attract younger audiences


LocarnoYouthAdvisory 2017-08-15
Locarno Film Festival “Youth Advisory Board”


Felipe Gomez, MIC’17 Intern

On August 2017 I traveled to the Festival del Film Locarno having been selected to participate in two internship programs: Locarno Film Festival “Youth Advisory Board”  and Made In Canada (MIC) “Media Industry Readiness” program.

Before my travel to Locarno, I notice that there were constant conversations about the future of films, festivals, and media platforms. Most of these conversations often had as its main topic the involvement of younger generations with film exhibition, it was often noted that they don’t often go outside of their homes to watch films, they use their computers or smartphones. These conversations always end up with the statement that something needs to be done, but they don’t know exactly what – they face a time where technology evolves so fast, every change must be ahead of the next.  I arrive at Locarno with this in my head, expecting to see a festival with a very strong and solid audience group, but skeptical about their younger audience attendance.

The Locarno festival showed an amazing audience involvement and a massive support not just from the organization, but also from the European audience. Every night around 8,000 people gathers at the at the Piazza Grande, to screen a film or two that vary in style and subject matter, like internationally recognized films such as The Big Sick, to auteur driven films as Sicilia from the masters Jean Marie Straub and Daniéle Huilet.

Locarno2017-08-13The strongest aspect that Locarno has is the incredible support they give to independent filmmakers. The films screened during the festival range between film essays, personal expressions and social criticism, which makes this festival a unique encounter point and opportunity to showcase these works and meet potential collaborators. One of Locarno initiatives called ‘Open Doors’ specifically designed to support filmmakers from specific regions of the world where a film industry is not entirely developed or in some cases, the support for unique filmmaking styles is not supported. The program currently supports filmmakers from the South Asian regions (countries like Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan amongst others) and creates encounter points where they collaborate with one another, showcase their work and develop new strategies to support their films within their territories as well as internationally.

As 2017 Made In Canada Intern, a task that I took along to the Locarno Festival that my mentors Marva and Orla encourage me to explore during the festival was to talk to the audience before and after screenings – get to know why they are there, where they come from and what they think about the festival? During the line-ups before the screenings, I had conversations with some audience and ask why they were interested in that particular film. Most of the time, the answers were because they truly believe and trust the festival´s choice of films and what they have experienced with other films on the same program. After the screenings, I met with the same people and ask what they thought about the film. Many, with what I believe is out of respect, answer back with “it was good”, but others were very eager to talk about it. What caught my attention was a common answer amongst most of them, which was that they would never have the chance to see this film in another time and that is why they go all the way to Locarno to experience these films.

My attention was also caught by the festival audience older age range, and during my audience interactions, I asked why do they think my generation doesn’t like to attend film festival or screenings. Their answers range between personal interests, cultural backgrounds and the constant improvement of technology, but they also believe they will eventually be interested. For them personally, their own interest consisted mostly in nurture through life experiences,

This entire conversation about the young generations involvement with film and festivals had a point that was very visible in Locarno, and that was ‘accessibility’. The Locarno Festival has specifically been working an accessibility strategy to encourage younger audiences by creating spaces of encounter, which might not be directly related to cinema, but at least by building these spaces nearby, where, if the thought and interest comes, they have the option and the capacity to attend the festival and watch films with people with similar interests. This can be seen in other festivals as well, such as I have seen at the Toronto International Film Festival for the past years with ‘Festival Street’, where multiple activities take place on the course of the first weekend that is not just

3. Cameron festival Street

related to cinema, but it gives a space for many different demographics to share a time and space while encouraging interest in the festival and easy access to the festival films being showcase

My experience in Locarno range from learning the internal duties a festival must take care of, the constant support festivals such as Locarno give to filmmakers around the world and how they build and sustain an audience, which is the heart of a festival to keep working year after year. What I gained and understood the most from this experience is the importance of festivals, not just because it gives the chance to filmmakers to showcase their work to different audience groups, but most important it’s an encounter point, where audience members can meet and share similar interests, filmmakers can talk, exchange ideas, and collaborations can be nurtured to keep the culture of cinema alive.

Festivals have to be present, they might not be able to attract younger audiences as much as they did before, but eventually, by their constant presence and outreach strategies; they will attract new waves of audience groups within their events that will keep the festival alive for years to come. The task they face, as technology keeps moving forward, is to follow and work with it and use those tools to keep communicating with the upcoming generations and encourage their participation in cinema and culture.

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