Thursday, March 8, 2012

So you want to run a Korean Film Festival: The KOFFIA Story

KOFFIA Artistic Director Kieran Tully gives an updated version of his Film Festival Tips Guide for this years blogathon, and talks about how the project has developed with KOFFIA 2011. 

I've decided that at a time when hundreds of Korean film buffs all around the world are writing about Korean cinema, and possibly getting crazy ideas and thoughts in their heads about bringing Korean cinema to their neck of the woods while blogging, that maybe this piece might be of interest. So I've decided to give a updated version of a previous Tully's Tips guide I produced as part of my Screen Culture course at AFTRS. This new version has more tips and more refined details given KOFFIA 2011 has come and gone and the festival has developed greatly. 

In 2010 I was required to conduct a creative project that in some way commented on an issue or contributed to a sector of the film and television industry. For this I chose to set out on a mission to establish a Korean Film Festival, partly due to my passion and knowledge of cinema from the Peninsula, but also because I couldn't believe a Korean Film Festival didn't currently exist. While the Japanese Film Festival had just completed its 13th Year (and now 15th), Korea was null and void and so I set out to change this fact.

After merging with a project team at the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea, which consisted of Kim Young-gu (a staff member of KOFIC, the Korean Film Council) and Ji Jungyeob (an experienced assistant director and crew member of the Korean Film Industry), what resulted was the 1st KOFFIA Korean Film Festival in Australia. The event had its ups and downs, successes and failures, but most important of all, it returned in 2011. Other forms of Korean Film Festivals had occurred in Australia before, but none returned for successive years. A primary difference for KOFFIA was that this festival was not just for the Korean community in Australia, but for everybody, and this was at the heart of its success.

Jung-yeob, Kieran and Young-gu at KOFFIA

During my research of the Korean film industry I had discovered some tips on how to start your own film festival written by Michelle Svenson. This was back in around 2007 I believe when I first stumbled across it, and it was quite an inspiration. Not just to find a tips section on how to run a film festival, but to find it on a Korean film website (Darcy Paquet's made me think it was time to get things moving. While I didn't start actually executing the project until 2009, I would always remember the day that I found that page. I would go on to find another helpful list from Time Out London which interviewed Alison Poltock, Artistic Director of the East End Film Festival. So when I chose my topic for my research project I knew straight away what I wanted it to produce. It wasn't just going to be a 10,000 word thesis on the festival that I submit to my lecturers (which it also did include), but it was important to develop my own list of tips to running a film festival.

Erika Kim and Kieran Tully open KOFFIA 2010.

This list that I developed was eventually published by Julia Avenell on Film Festivals Australia. Julia was a classmate of mine at AFTRS, and developed the website as part of her major project. (You can read up on all of the Screen Culture students projects here). Its a great idea, that provides information on and experiences about visiting the many different film festivals that occur in Australia. (You can read her experience of attending KOFFIA 2010 and what she thought of our closing night film 'Castaway on the Moon' here). In a nice course collaboration I was able to submit my tips to her site and hopefully provide useful information for budding young Festival Directors. Below is what was published.

How To Run a Film Festival

"Running a film festival takes a lot of hard work and it’s a daunting task when you consider how many film festivals are out there. So how do you build an audience and make your festival stand out in the crowd? Kieran Tully believes that with the right staff and a determined attitude you can create a unique event that people will remember – it’s all about being creative and maximising the resources around you.

Tully’s Tips to Running a Film Festival were developed by Kieran when he was establishing a first time festival. He shares them here with you so that you will have the best chance of making your event a success, and one that may return for a second year. Please take from it what you will, and apply them appropriately to your project plan.
1. Have a Purpose 
Have a reason for running the festival. Whether it’s to entertain, to inform, to make money, to expose a culture, to progress your career, or a combination of all of the above, you need to have a solid reason for establishing a film festival. After months of endless days working on it, you need to still be able to believe in it for whatever reason it was you started out. Have this clearly defined before you start out.

Eg: See the aims of KOFFIA here.

2. Find Your Target Audience 
Discover who your target audience is, and I don’t just mean demographics, I mean from the mass to the niche. Find anybody that could be interested in what it is you are screening and start to develop relations with them as early as possible. Whether this is simply telling a set community of your plan for the festival, or to get actually get them involved, obscurity is your enemy.

Eg: We found them!

3. Prepare Early 
From securing funding or government grants, to developing an audience, a festival takes time. You need to start preparing it as early as possible, as once it gets rolling it’s hard to catch up. I can’t give a set figure on how early, maybe 6 months, a year or 2 years, in festival terms the earlier the better as time is your most important asset.

Eg: Another busy day at the KOFFIA office.

4. Recruit Knowledgeable Staff 
Now when I say knowledgeable, I don’t just mean it terms of event management, I mean in terms of distribution, of film industry knowledge, of festival know how, of the culture or topic you are displaying. A combination of the above is what is required to be able to understand what your audience wants, and how you can get it to them. Very rarely would an international football manager be someone who has never played football at a professional level, and neither should a festival director be someone without any relation to the film industry. A film festival is more than an event, it’s an experience and needs to be treated as such.
Eg: The KOFFIA staff.
5. Embrace the Industry 
Utilize those that have greater resources, databases or money than you, and get in touch with them. Not simply to ask for assistance but to involve them in your plans. Whether this be to have them review a film, suggest a guest, be on your jury, write content for your website or be a source of guidance, they will likely be pleased you have asked them and now you have grown your potential audience.
 Eg: See articles written by DVD Bits Sarah Ward and 
The Reel Bits Richard Gray here.
6. Know Your Product 
Watch the films. Simple. In order to best be able to market them, to portray them, to know what your target audience is, to help create a belief in what you are doing, you must watch what it is you are featuring. And not just some, watch the entire selection of films and know who they are by, their history, their impact, all of this is vital market research for you.

Eg: See KOFFIA Staff remarks on each film page here.

7. Cross Promotion Partnerships 
If you are starting out then you will no doubt have restrictions in terms of marketing and advertising. Your potential media spread can greatly increase by forming cross promotional partnerships with sources that have an audience similar to your own. Whether it be online, print or anything else, get in contact with these companies and suggest a cross promotion approach. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that is hard to refuse, and is surprisingly effective as they will proactively assist you.

Eg: The APSAs connecting KOFFIA with the Korean Industry
Eg: Jurassic KOFFIA!
8. Social Media Nurturing 
Again you have little budget, how do you find or nurture an audience? Social media cannot be underestimated in this area, as it gives you outlets to not only establish an audience but to develop it. Embrace them, have them write blogs or create artworks for your festival, have them suggest ideas, run competitions, reveal information, give them a reason for being interested in your event and an up-to-date outlet to be in direct contact with them. Your website is likely to be less up to date so take advantage of the non-technical forms of communication on the internet.
Eg: Our 'Hungry for Talk' competition 2011.
9. Fully Immerse Your Audience 
You may be a film festival, but you can be so much more. If you are featuring a certain countries films, display elements of their culture. If you are showcasing James Cameron films, have an underwater themed party. You have a key core audience that attend your festival because of their similar interested to you, so take the knowledge you have of this area and extend it across platforms to make the experience fully immersed.

Eg. Closing night film is about Black Bean Noodles?
Then serve them up!
10. The Festival Never Ends!
When the festival is over, the festival isn’t over. Now you must go to work on maintaining the relations you have established with partners, sponsors, media and your audience. Start analysing your data and see what went right or wrong for your festival and be flexible to change when there is a glaring issue. Keep in contact with your audience, provide them an outlet for when your festival is not on, as they have already showed a willing interest in this subject area. Most importantly keep your website and social media up to date, a major issue in the Australian market place, it will confuse and dispel your audience if these areas are not maintained.
Eg: See our newly launched Korean Film Guide

Extra Tip No. 1: Be prepared to work your ass off! 

Most film festivals, be them about Korean cinema or something else, are primarily run by a few key figures who have stuck with the festival for years. Being such small organisations and a yearly event, it's difficult to maintain a solid staff base for years on end. We are beginning to see this at KOFFIA with key staff coming and going, and it's a trend that is seen all around the world. I know many such people who are in this position, and they are strong individuals who are fulfilling their passion. They are also damn hard workers so be prepared to work and work on your festival to maintain its status, it's no easy feet but is rewarding if it all comes together. 

Eg: Me working my ass off

Extra Tip No. 2: Don't limit your festival's scope

While you may not be able to achieve every goal you have with your event, don't stop it before it has been fully explored. Think you cant get a certain guest? Find another way to contact them. Don't think you can secure a certain film? Contact the distributor. Do what you can to make your goals come true. This doesn't necessarily mean you can go and get the biggest guest or latest film, but believe in the status of your event. There isn't a whole lot different between a big festival or a small festival, maybe only in terms of its goals. Eg: Read here about how new Sydney Film Festival Director Nashen Moodley helped take the Durban International Film Festival from a 1 venue, 30 features, 1 industry guest film festival to a 15 venue, 200 features, 400 industry guests film festival. 

 Short films. During the day. That would never work! Oh wait...

Extra Tip No. 3: Festivals Festivals Festivals
So you want to run a film festival. Have you attended any? Have you worked for any? It sounds simple, but you would be surprised at how many people enter in to something they may not even have experienced before. Would a Professional Sporting team appoint a manager who has never managed or experienced professional sport before? Not likely. So what that means is, attend festivals, work at festivals, go behind the scenes, study them, take the best elements of the festivals you visit and apply them to work for your festival. Eg: I worked at 20 film festivals across Sydney while establsihing KOFFIA, taking the best of them and learning the trade at the same time. 

Eg: Learning the trade at the Japanese Film Festival

Eg: Working at the World of Women Film Festival

Eg: Attending the Busan International Film Festival

Hopefully that list will inspired someone else one day to follow a dream project of theirs, whether it is film related or not, an inaugural event or something that needs revamping. There isn't a whole lot of information about film festivals in Australia or around the world for that matter. Most information is about how to submit your film, but not on the management of them. I hope that someone finds it useful in their future endeavours. Maybe sharing of information such as my list here and sites like Julia's can help produce a more dynamic analysis of Screen Culture in Australia. It is the most important area of our industry right now, and the most important course offered at AFTRS, and I highly recommend it.

Kieran Tully
Kieran Tully is Artistic Director of the KOFFIA Korean Film Festival and Program Curator of Cinema on the Park. He has a passion for bringing films to an audience. He is completing a Masters on Korean Film in Australia at AFTRS.

1 comment:

  1. Great article Kieran, I really admire your passion and drive in following through with this project. We need more of this around the world!

    I really hope I'll be able to attend sometime soon!