Indie films are in a precarious position. The model that served pre-pandemic – premieres at the annual Sundance Film Festival leading to purchases by distributors with plans for national theatrical roll-outs – seems to have crumbled now that so many audience members have become accustomed to streaming new releases at home.
There are other reasons as well, of course, but the bottom line is that the cost of film making is growing at the same time that the theatrical market is shrinking. So how to get audiences to leave their sofas and return to their local art houses before it’s too late?
Chicago has a plan!
FACETS Multimedia has launched the Chicago Alliance of Film Festivals (CAFF) as a way to bring life back into the local indie film sector, and, as I write today, 43 Metro Chicago organizations – including the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, the Chicago Irish Film Festival, the Chicago Palestine Film Festival, the Chicago ReelAbilities Film Festival, the Chicago South Asian Film Festival, the Lake County Film Festival, the One Earth Film Festival, and Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival – have already pledged to become members of the CAFF. In addition, the Chicago Park District has also pledged to become a member, as have the Davis, the Logan, and the Music Box theatres as well as the Gene Siskel Film Center. Any organization that wants to join the CAFF is welcome. This includes schools (such as Governors State University and Instituto Cervantes of Chicago) and neighborhood associations (such as the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest).
Karen Cardarelli, the Executive Director of FACETS, said that a seed was planted at a symposium in 2019 when Eugene Park (of Full Spectrum Features) and Ana Garcia Doyle (of One Earth Collective) said they saw a need for members of the growing film festival sector to work together. Attendance at the symposium, which was supported by Arts Work Fund and The Chicago Community Trust, was over a hundred.
According to Karen, the symposium’s main message was that the film festival community in Chicago had “siloed from each other” (in other words, they were competing against each other instead of cooperating with each other even though their actual performance schedules rarely overlapped).
Alas, once the COVID-19 lockdowns began in March 2020, everyone just hunkered down and tried to save their own organizations. However, once quarantimes began to wane, Eugene and Ana approached Karen and asked if FACETS would help them continue the effort. After looping in hundreds of people in the sector, the feedback was unanimous: “Yes!” And now the CAFF plan is a go.
“A little knowledge will go a long way to helping more Chicagoans see film festivals, and what a communal experience they could be.”
There are currently about 50 film festivals in Chicago. The plan isn’t to change what they’re doing; it’s to help all of them attract larger audiences. According to Karen, more funding is needed so these festivals can afford more staff and better compensation for filmmakers. She feels that there is a “cultural void” in Chicago and thinks that film festivals can help fill it.
“I think that’s what our job should be. To get more resources so these film festivals can fully realize their visions.”
I asked Karen if she was apprehensive about potential failure. Karen said: “I’m not sure what failure would look like. But I don’t see how that’s possible. We’re starting from ground zero.”
How does Karen describe “success” for this new alliance? She told me that if they’re doing their job with the CAFF, the general public will be seeing more information about film festivals. Where? Advertisements including – but not limited to – billboards and bus signs will be especially important, as will announcements of future programs to entice participants leaving their first CAFF event to attend the next one and then the next.
From the FF2 POV, anything that helps motivate folks to get out of the living room and into an auditorium is a good thing. Hopefully, the film festival vibe – with filmmaker Q&A sessions and audience participation – will help remind folks how great it is to share the “Big Screen” experience with others. So, we applaud the Chicago Alliance of Film Festivals’ plan, and we sincerely hope it provides a model for other communities.
“There’s no way to go but up.”
© Stephanie A. Taylor (2/8/23) – Special for FF2 Media®
LEARN MORE/ DO MORE
Click here for more information on the Chicago Alliance of Film Festivals (CAFF) including how to join.
MISSION STATEMENT: “The Chicago Alliance of Film Festivals will help Chicago area film festivals add to the cultural and economic vitality of our communities, through sector building efforts focused on expanding our Audience, our Resources and our Expertise. We are an inclusive group so anyone who would like to support this effort is invited to join the CAFF.”
Visit the FACETS website for more information about their 40th annual Chicago International Children’s Film Festival in November. Note that CICFF40 is currently accepting submissions!
“As the first Academy®-qualifying children’s film festival in the world, the CICFF presents the best, most innovative international films for kids and teens. We invite film submissions that entertain audiences by inspiring creativity, touching hearts, and challenging the perspectives of young people; opening their minds through film!”
For background details on the post-pandemic crisis facing the Indie film market, read these excellent recent articles by Anthony Kaufman (a programmer at the Chicago International Film Festival and the co-founder of Chicago’s DOC10 documentary film festival):
“More than 80% of Docs Don’t Sell at Top-Tier U.S. Film Festivals”
The Ebb and Flow of the Indie Marketplace
“As the streaming gold mine dries up and studio specialty divisions wither on the vine, the strategies that defined the Indie market in its heyday regain traction. But the one-size-fits-all model doesn’t apply in today’s shifting landscape.”
Hit & Misses: The 2022 Releases of Six Recent Sundance Features
“In just three (admittedly, very momentous) years, the marketplace for independent films has completely changed…”
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Feature Photo: FACETS Executive Director Karen Cardarelli announces the Chicago Alliance of Film Festivals. Courtesy of A Little Photo Studio & used with permission. All Rights Reserved.
Bottom Photo: Karen Cardarelli headshot courtesy of Lydia Hoover & used with her permission. All Rights Reserved.