Independent Cinema Office Blog

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Posts from January 2013

Rotterdam 2013: Space is the Place

Posted Wednesday 30 January 2013 by Kate Taylor in Festival Reports

Female sexuality will be punished. It's not that it must, just that it will. If this is a common narrative thread for all art, it is one that is explored and repeated with seemingly infinite curiosity by cinema. Following the scenes of masturbating in skyscraper windows of Longing For The Rain, my second film is another Tiger Award nominee with something to say about frustration and the dangers of seeking satisfaction, It Felt Like Love.

It Felt Like Love | Dir: Eliza Hittman

In this American indie debut directed by Eliza Hittman, we follow 14-year-old Lila, desperate to transcend the boredom of tweendom. With a best friend who delights in canoodling with fellas in Lila's face, her gooseberry status and hormonal yearning lead to a fixation on an older guy Sammy, who exudes toxic indifference.

This would make an interesting counter-programming double-bill with Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, also at IFFR. Leaving the cinema after the latter audiences walk away with a kind of jiggle retina-burn, where the after-image of breasts is everywhere you look. While divergent in it's message, It Felt Like Love, has a similar fixation on teenage skin, lingering on bikinis and mini-skirts in search of the profound.

It Felt Like Love joins a fine school of female coming-of-age naratives, with the shy girl overtaking her more promiscuous friend, with extreme results, alongside notable films such as Water Lillies or My Summer of Love. It well communicates the excruciating nature of unrequited desire, and the awful ease with which this can be exploited. But for this viewer, the characters were too palely sketched to hold the attention.

However, I was glad that it did bring to mind one of last year's Rotterdam highlights, Lena, soon to be playing at Glasgow Youth Film Festival, where - albeit for a short-lived moment - an insecure teenage girl has good healthy sex with a cool boy her own age. This kind of representation makes you want punch the air, it's so rare.*

The next Tiger nominee is Soldier Jane (Soldate Jeannette), an Austrian puzzler from Daniel Hoesi. Car-crash-compelling, Fanni is a middle-aged anti-heroine who at first appears sociopathic. Running intricate money scams, shoplifting luxury clothes, living rent-free in a classy apartment, simply because she's worth it.

Soldier Jane | Dir: Daniel Hoesl

When a boutique-owning acquaintance gently suggests Fanni might like to get a job in retail, her sense of entitlement is bluntly expressed, "I belong in front of the counter." But time is running out, a stalker is dropping vague threats during her spa treatments, and the locks have been changed. So Fanni takes flight.

I'll admit I find it hard to grasp what is going on in this film, shot with a flat digital ugliness, and with a humour so surreal and arid. But there are two striking images that have stayed with me in the days since. The first is a shot where a machine counts out Euro notes in fifties and hundreds. It was a plainly-framed close-up, but I could feel my eyes bulging, like in a cartoon, as the money just kept coming, with something physical going on in the cinema as the audience started rustling. The second shot was watching the KLF-style bonfire of those same notes - someone near me actually gasped.

As a critique of capitalism, Fanni's lack of attachment to money, and her insistence that the law does not apply to her, could be read as a lack of conscience, or alternatively, as what makes her a radical force. Either way, Soldier Jane is not giving an easy answer.

There's a danger at festivals where you see a few OK films and then see something good, it is immediately elevated to masterpiece. So I'll try and lay off the hyperbole, but up next was the first film that I truly enjoyed and left the screening on a high; International Space Orchestra.

The International Space Orchestra | Dir: Nelly Ben Hayoun

World Premiering in the Signals: Sound Stages section of the festival, this documentary charts the formation of an orchestra made up of space scientists from NASA, leading to a concert where they perform music composed by Damon Albarn and Bobby Womack, and Maywa Denki (the choir learning the Japanese phonetically), plus a libretto by Bruce Sterling and Jasmina Tesanovic.

Following a familiar documentary trajectory of the bumpy lead-up to a group performance, it has all the thrills of this form - they start out so bad, will they make it? etc. But what elevates it is the human dynamo at the centre, designer Nelly Ben Hayoun constantly disarming all around her with sheer French bossy-boots charisma. Eliciting candid responses from all stratas of the organisation, including an active astronaut, Hayoun's obsession with the dynamics of the Control Room position her well to surf around protocol and never take no for an answer. Funny, uplifting and just under an hour long. We have lift off.

The evening continues at Mind The Gap, the late-night programme of audiovisual performances, bands and djs at bastion of DIY culture WORM. Having moved around venues for a few years, WORM finally settled in an awesome building last year, perfect for presenting edgy music, film, workshops and performance, as well as hosting a film lab. Unfortunately this new building coincided with the funding cuts, leading to a reorganisation that currently sees them minus film programmer, Peter Taylor (no relation!), who also programmes shorts for IFFR and has been responsible for some of the best underground cinema-programming of recent years, anywhere. Someone snap that programmer up!

As an extension of the festival shorts programme, it’s a lively crowd of filmmakers and artists and the atmosphere is great, with WORM as a natural magnet for a late-night drinks, where you know you'll meet people and can discuss the films you've seen - the kind of hub that is still surprisingly rare in UK festivals. Tonight's entertainment focuses on combinations of musical and visual extremes, with the highlight being a beautiful performance from dark electronica merchant Kreng and experimental Korean cellist Okkyung Lee. Having met 3 hours prior, their improvisation went to all sorts of places and allowed our over-imaged brains a chance to drift a while. And then, before things start to get messy, to drift home.

*She still gets punished in the end though.

Rotterdam 2013: Politics and Dreams

Posted Tuesday 29 January 2013 by Kate Taylor in Festival Reports

"Like all forms of art and culture, film has an intrinsic value that goes further than what the market is prepared to pay for it." - International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) catalogue

Dark times are afoot in Holland. Over the past two years the cultural landscape has faced a swathe of funding cuts that have seen a country with some of the most progressive and cutting edge cultural institutions - particularly at the intersection of film, art and technology - either close their doors or have to change drastically. While austerity, and/or its rhetoric, may be biting everywhere, the political motivations and sheer velocity of this cull have been frightening to behold.

It is into this context that Festival Director Rutger Wolfson and Managing Director Janneke Staarink open their festival catalogue essay, considering the way that we make arguments for culture and stand up for it's value, in the face of forces that use the arts as an easy target. These arguments are not new to people who work in the cultural sector, but as is clearly demonstrated in the current cuts in the UK, with Newcastle setting a worrying precedent, they need to be refreshed and made with vigour, and the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) embodies these politics with their programme.

One way of defining value they suggest, in the case of film, is the urgency of a form that is quick to reflect the world back at us, enabling us to understand society and our place in it, as it happens. Another that is pertinent to IFFR is the innovation in evidence by presenting filmmakers (both new and in retrospective strands) who push the form forward, recognising the strides that the avant garde makes in film culture, which also creatively fuels the mainstream.

IFFR certainly does not exist outside the market, but alongside the Hubert Bals Fund it is integral to the economics of a certain kind of independent cinema that does not compete on a purely commercial basis. This filmmaking needs very practical funding support, followed through with a fierce championing and a platform to meet its audience.

Excitingly, this focus on work from developing countries, and in presenting trail-blazing work that often errs to the extreme - be that erotic, violent or poetic - it also makes for more lively screenings for audiences. Alongside a non-stuffy friendly environment, it's what makes this festival my favourite. And so it is with a spirit of the adventure I jump off the train into my first film of the festival -

Yang Lima's Longing For The Rain (Chungmeng).

Longing for the Rain

Epitomising the middle class strata of a booming Chinese economy, Fang Lei is a housewife with a successful businessman husband and an adorable toddler. Days are spent shopping with her friend, and in scenes shot with a remarkable humour and tenderness, looking after her ailing mother-in-law.

Then the dreams start. A man is in her bed, making love to her in a way she has never experienced, while her husband lays sleeping beside her. These sensations, so vivid, that she can feel but cannot see, are soon slipping into daytime consciousness, and Fang Lei is left both turned-on and frightened.

Filmed with a low-budget digital photography that stays close to our heroine's face throughout, we witness how this sexual awakening sparks various stages of happiness, hunger and punishment, with things getting really weird when she seeks advice from various religious leaders.

Alongside Liu Shu, whose film Lotus was a highlight at the recent Bratislava International Film Festival, Yang Lina is definitely an interesting filmmaker to keep an eye on, with both women offering a refreshing frankness and complexity to their lead female characters, and a sharp social commentary on urban Chinese life. Where Longing For The Rain delights is the ambiguity that underlies the proceedings (does Fang Lei really reincarnate her dream lover by giving birth to a huge dream baby? Does redemption lie in seducing a hot Buddhist monk?) offering audiences multiple readings and plenty of post-film bar-room talking points.

And then to the bar, where critics, programmers and the itinerant community of international guests greet each other, reunite and offer tips on the must-sees. Rotterdam is not a 'red carpet' festival, but I promised Jon I would include any celebrity spots in this blog, so it doesn't get much better than Bernardo Bertolucci (in town to screen his Me and You) holding court at the bar. I spend the evening bending the ear of Mark Adams and Helen DeWitt on my manifesto for the future of indie film before they are rescued by Gabrielle Jenks, Abandon Normal Devices festival manager, and my regular Rotterdam roommate, to check in to the hotel and prepare for the cinephile onslaught of the next few days.

Crowdfunding case study: Sheffield Doc/Fest

Posted Monday 21 January 2013 by Tilly Walnes

Following Tilly’s introduction to crowdfunding essentials last week, we invited Charlie Phillips of Sheffield Doc/Fest to share some tips from their experience with a crowdfunding campaign...

We just raised nearly $28,000 (£17,000) on IndieGoGo for our 20th anniversary festival, thanks to the generosity of 350 of our best friends, fans and supporters. You can take a look at our campaign here. It was very hard work though, so if you're considering crowdfunding for your festival or event too, I thought I'd spread some useful tips on what worked and what didn't and how to make it work.

The fact we hit our target was obviously great. Though quite a typical target for a crowdfunded film, it was unchartered territory for an event, especially a UK one, to set a target like that. The motivations are very different for a contributor to a film (where it feels like the team behind it are poverty-stricken and deserving) and a festival/event (where at least we have jobs and there's a perception from some that we're rolling in public money) so in retrospect it was quite ambitious to go for $25k in those circumstances, but that makes it even more awesome that we managed to do it.

It was great publicity for ourselves as innovators and supporters of new ways of getting creative work made and seen - I've been touring the world for the last 3 years preaching the wonderfulness of crowdfunding so it was necessary and very pleasing to try it ourselves and put our necks on the line and prove that it can work. There's an accountability and transparency inherent to crowdfunding and that tallies perfectly with our ethos as a festival which is democratic, transparent and DIY. It's hard to prove that to people beyond mere words, but I hope we did it here, if only to a small extent.

It really proved to us how devoted our community of Doc/Fest-goers are - you need a set of obsessive people to make your campaign work and the 351 funders we got comprised lots of people who Doc/Fest had helped in the past to get deals and jobs, or who had just had a really good time here. Obviously we don't do those things on the basis that people owe us something back, but it's so lovely to hear from our people how much they feel we've enriched their lives. Forget the money, feeling that love from those people and the amazing comments they sent us, that was the most triumphant and inspiring thing.

In terms of what didn't work, it is so much hard work. A few of us spent day after day writing and phoning people and reminding them to contribute. You need to keep plugging away at it and you need to be shameless about asking for help, and that's hard and requires overcoming a (very English) psychological barrier of not ordinarily wanting to ask for assistance. It worked in the end, but it was impossible not to get disheartened when we were a long way off with a few days to go. With crowdfunding, the money rolls in right at the end, but it doesn't half give you a heart attack.

Also, not all of our perks proved popular - some were replaced with others towards the end of the campaign. It's so hard to know what motivates people - even though I've always preached the gospel that you offer contributors something that money can't buy, I realised that you still don't know for sure what individual contributors regard as being special - it's not monetary value and it's not necessarily a special experience (e.g. a tour of Chatsworth or a Firewalk), it proved to be the random Doc/Fest merchandise and general ephemera that they liked.

Strangely, pulling in our celebrity contacts had little effect - almost none. So tweets from Stephen Fry, Joan Rivers and Michael Moore brought in very little compared to our own tweets to people who'd been to the festival. This is not normally the case for crowdfunded films where a celebrity endorsement is golden.

If you're a festival or cinema who wants to launch their own crowdfunding campaign, my biggest tip is simple - plan ahead! Be very clear about who you will be contacting and who will be contacting them. You need to write individual emails to a lot of people, and those need to be people who you have a long-term connection with. So in a way, you're preparing for your campaign for years beforehand! Make lists of people to contact, from your mailing list, press, partner organisations - whoever. Make a schedule for who will write to them and when, when that person will follow up, and what you expect from the person you wrote to.

Think deeply about who you've helped in the past and what you can say to motivate them to respond to that feeling of gratitude in them. In particular, you can stimulate that feeling by contributing to campaigns yourself - it's a good idea if you're seen to contribute to others' crowdfunding campaigns, or even just help promote them. Tit for tat works. More generally, if you're seen to have been an innovator in the past rather than just picking up the crowdfunding baton for the sake of a bit of money, then that's good - people will respond to your willingness to try new things always.

Plan the words of your call for contributions very carefully - make it fun and persuasive, don't make it worthy or vague. Especially when you talk about what the money will go towards - the more specific the better. We were funding for our 20th anniversary and wanted to do some special events to mark the occasion like a screening in a cave - arguably even that wasn't quite specific enough, but the more you can give people something tangible they will be able to see that goes above and beyond their normal expectations of your festival/event/cinema, the more they're motivated. No-one wants to see their money disappear into a general slush fund, so make the money as ring fenced and specific as possible.

Make your video fun and something people will want to share. Ours was very silly, but people loved it - you saw us talking directly to camera, you saw the office, you saw our general sense of humour. Do that and people won't even need to read your words. they'll just want to help these loveable people on screen to do more loveable things.

Offer collectable 'money can't buy' perks – it doesn't need to be anything expensive. If you have old t-shirts, catalogues, bags, posters and other merch from past years at your festival/cinema then that's great - people like vintage items, people like things that aren't on sale anywhere. So think about what you have to hand that's special. Think also about who you have in your circle of patrons, friends, customers, etc, who have something to offer - that could be a famous person signing a book, it could be someone you know who does hot air balloon rides, or a season ticket for a football team. Who do you know who could donate a one-off experience for free?

As to which platform I'd recommend, we've worked lots with IndieGoGo in the past and we've partnered with them to celebrate some great film projects on their site in the past. They're really good people and easy to contact on a human one-to-one level for advice. At the time we launched, it was the only major crowdfunding site where UK projects could sign up without a US bank account. Now that Kickstarter have launched in the UK, this is different. We'd say that whether you go with IndieGoGo or Kickstarter, it doesn't really matter because they both require you to do a whole load of marketing yourself and the ability to hit the target still relies upon your contacts and the quality of your campaign. BUT we would say to go with one of those two because people recognise them as trustworthy and you're surrounded by lots of other great projects. If people are led to a site they don't recognise or where there's a whole lot of random projects, then it can confuse them - crowdfunders like familiarity. This might only account for you keeping £500 that you might otherwise lose on another site, but you need all the help you can get, so play it safe and go for one of those two we say.

Thanks Charlie! We'd love to hear of other cinemas and film festivals initiating crowdfunding campaigns. If you give it a whirl, let us know in the comments...

Crowdfunding Essentials

Posted Monday 14 January 2013 by Tilly Walnes in General, Pop-up and Event Cinema, Training & Conferences

Flatpack Kickstart Campaign

Flatpack Festival's Kickstarter campaign in full-swing.

With a number of crowdfunding campaigns by cinemas and film festivals popping up on the interweb in the last few weeks, we thought it was high time the ICO blog took a look at crowdfunding in more detail. In this first post, we explain the basic principles of crowdfunding...

So what exactly is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is fundraising for the social media age – online campaigns seeking small contributions from the public at large.

There are three main types of crowdfunding – Equity Crowdfunding offers donors a return on investment; Rewards Crowdfunding offers donors non-financial incentives; while Donation Crowdfunding offers nothing in return. Most arts projects use the Rewards Crowdfunding model.

How does one go about crowdfunding?

Fund seekers choose an online crowdfunding platform – popular sites for arts organisations include Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Sponsume and PeopleFund.it. Create a fundraising page for your project, write (or film) your pitch, set a target amount to raise and a deadline by which you’ll raise it. List a range of incentives or rewards to offer in return for different donation figures. These could include, for example, credits in your brochure, tickets to screenings, invitations to special events, or “limited edition vintage merchandise” (aka those old festival t-shirts you’ve got sitting in the cupboard). Then start promoting your campaign.

Some models, such as Kickstarter, operate on an “all or nothing” basis, meaning that if you don’t reach your target figure by your deadline, the pledges are returned and you don’t get any of the money. This can be useful for testing out interest in a potential product or event before committing to invest in it. Other platforms allow you to keep any funding you raise within the time period.

The crowdfunding platform you use takes a 5 – 10% cut of the money raised by any successful project.

Who uses it?

Crowdfunding has funded all kinds of projects – from gadgets to grizzly bear coats. 10% of films at Sundance last year were funded by Kickstarter. Film exhibitors now taking the plunge to raise much-needed money for their equipment, venue or events, include Doc/Fest, Light House, London Short Film Festival, Floating Cinema and Flatpack Festival whose campaign is currently active (go support them!).

How should you play it?

Crowdfunding seems to work particularly well when the seeker is asking for money for something specific, rather than general running costs. As Charlie Phillips from Doc/Fest warns, “No-one wants to see their money disappear into a general slush fund, so make the money as ring fenced and specific as possible.” Your project is competing against thousands of others on the same website, so create a compelling story for your project which will draw potential donors.

The reason many funders make a pledge is simply because they want to feel involved in your project. Capitalise on that by offering incentives which make them feel like part of the team, keeping them updated with progress reports, and thanking them in whatever way you can. You never know where these relationships will lead.

Like any other kind of fundraising, a crowdfunding campaign takes work. Once the campaign is launched, you only have a limited amount of time to reach your goal, so you can’t afford to sit back and relax. Laura Harford from UP Projects, who raised £11,200 for Floating Cinema, explains, “The campaign was 8 weeks long in total and during that time it required a considerable amount of staff resources to keep up both the marketing presence and research into contacts needed to maintain momentum and interest”. You’ll need to invest energy into spreading the word and raising interest in the project, as well as the follow up. Ian Francis from Flatpack Festival advises, “Don’t underestimate the amount of work involved in looking after your backers, and distributing the rewards”.

And finally, make it entertaining. One of the great things about crowdfunding is the potential for your project to be spread by donors to their contacts via social media platforms. It’s like fundraising and marketing in one. If you can make your project (or at least your pitch) fun, it’s more likely to be shared socially.

Have you had any experience of crowdfunding or are you thinking about initiating a campaign for the future?

In our next post, Charlie Phillips from Doc/Fest will outline his top tips for a successful crowdfunding campaign...

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