This Way Up - Heading In The Right Direction
I was lucky enough last week to attend a two day conference in Glasgow for the independent film industry. This Way Up is an annual event that tours from one city to another in the north of the country. This year, it's third as I understand it, was the first time it had been held in Scotland. Truth be told I don't attend too many of these events so I wasn't sure what to expect, but as is so often the case, people are generally friendly, stuff is understandable, and things usually work out for the best if you approach with an open mind. It's many, many years since I had been to Glasgow, but the stark blocky architecture was just the same; beautiful in the right light, quite domineering at other times.
The meat of the event was based in the newly refurbished Glasgow Film Theatre, a 3-screen venue not too dissimilar to our very own Showroom in Sheffield, but with a more traditional feel about it. Introductions were made to the seated audience of around 300 professionals from all corners of the independent film industry in the UK (and further afield) and we kicked off immediately with some really interesting Key Note Speakers.
Bobby Allen, VPO of content at Mubi, shed some light on their ever-changing approach to the presentation of independent film online. He was the first to utter what came to be the buzz word of the conference: Curation. Mubi have turned their entire model on its head and now offer a rolling programme of just 30 films for a limited time only, emphasizing the fact that each film is literally hand picked by their team of professionals, and subsequently dedicating far more time and resources than would otherwise have been possible with an ever growing catalogue of thousands of titles. This was very reaffirming, as curation has been one of the messages which we have pushed in recent years at ShAFF. Falling at the end of the adventure film festival season, ShAFF is in the enviable position of being able to cherry (hand) pick the best films, whilst at the same time sourcing others that arrived after the other festival deadlines, and can arguably state that it provides the best programme of adventure films of any equivalent festival. Taking an extra step, it's safe to say that the Best Of sessions which screen each year at ShAFF are among the most popular screenings, curating the cream of the cream.
Next up was Johanna Kiljonen, editor of Nostradamus Project. Despite not speaking in her native tongue Johanna delivered an emphatic, coherent, enlightening, and downright funny 20 minutes on, well on the basics of showing films to audiences to be honest. Perhaps the biggest take home message from Johanna's talk, aside from her dissing of the majority of Virtual Reality (VR) programmes and events, was how bad we are at looking after our audiences after the film/s finish. We generally usher them out of the fire exit, and onto the street without any sort of follow up discussion, reward, or even feedback. Again it was reaffirming to be sat next to the guys from Beautiful Everything who, two years ago, built a bespoke platform (Boom Beam) for ShAFF audience members to be able to rate the films that they had just watched, in real time, on their phones or tablets before they'd even left the cinema screen, also suggesting further films and screenings that they may enjoy, based on their personal scoring patterns. Serendipitously whist in the session my phone buzzed in my pocket and I was alerted to a conversation taking place in the wider world on Twitter where somebody had asked why the likes of Rachel Atherton, hugely successful downhill mountain biker, were not included on the BBCs Sports Personality Of The Year shortlist. Dave Mycroft of MyOutdoors had replied to suggest that Kendal Mountain Festival might like to host a competition, and suggested using Boom Beam to manage the voting. Small world coincidences.
Last of the key notes, was Dawn Walton, founder and artistic director of Eclipse Theatre Company, based in Sheffield. I later heard another delegate refer to Dawn as a force of nature. She gave another entertaining and illuminating talk using her experiences at Eclipse as a case study. The bring home message from her talk was to develop cultural ambassadors who buy in to your event or organisation on interest and or ethical grounds - i.e. they love what you do - and then help to not only promote it, but to develop it too. At ShAFF although we already have a team of over 50 ambassadors, her enthusiastic commentary made me realise that we are perhaps under utilising this as a resource, and that more work can be done on it.
Once the keynotes were over came a series of panel discussions and lectures, interspersed with drinks, lunches, and breaks which provided ample time for mingling and networking. I'd gone armed with plenty of business cards, but in the end didn't have the need for them. I found that most of the other delegates were so specialised that they didn't really have much to offer ShAFF, and that on the flip side, other than championing Boom Beam, which I did on numerous occasions, ShAFF was equally spcialist and not really of interest to others. That said, I made connections with Docfest and Film Hub North, put faces to names, bumped into a few old colleagues who have moved on within the same industry, and made copious notes on ideas for how to grow the festival. All in all it was a very rewarding, and reaffirming process.