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Looking ahead at the International Film Festival Summit

As the 12th San Diego Asian Film Festival closed over a month ago, we jumped immediately into planning the 2012 edition of our annual fest. First stop was Austin, Texas, where the International Film Festival Summit convened, and festival organizers from around North American (and beyond) traded notes on everything from programming to sponsorship to marketing. There were panels on new digital technologies, keynote speeches, and, of course, cocktail hours.

SDAFF has long been committed to providing audiences with the most cutting-edge experiences. Here’s a peek at some of the new discussions we’ve been having:

For the past two festivals, SDAFF has been experimenting with DCP exhibition technology, which is the new industry standard, but which was never designed specifically for the festival circuit. So one of the panels at IFFS put DCP developers on the hot seat to talk about how the new exhibition format (which is the beautiful digital format used at your local megaplex) has been utilized by major festivals like Venice (which is now 70% DCP) and how it could potentially be useful for smaller festivals. SDAFF and its audiences have already seen the glorious images: this year, festival hits MY WEDDING AND OTHER SECRETS, RAKENROL, OPERATION TATAR, and audience award-winner THE POWER OF TWO were all projected via DCP. Make no mistake, it’s no 35mm. But for a feature shot on digital, it might be the optimal exhibition format.

But having a computer run your screening is as reliable as, well, a computer. The Italian subtitles for CONTAGION didn’t play at Venice, and the projector needed to be rebooted mid-film for it to work. Sundance has thus far refused to go DCP because of the hiccups. This year, SDAFF ran into some of the new challenges emerging from DCP: specialized passwords to prevent piracy, not being able to control all aspects of the theater while the DCP is running, and needing long wait times to ingest DCP files into theater servers. Luckily, with only four films on DCP, our trusty operations and projection teams were able to get things running smoothly. But as the technology gains prominence¬†amongst independent filmmakers, and as our audiences get used to the incredible images, SDAFF will need to revisit its workflow to continue to give audiences the most optimal experience. These were the sort of issues we talked about IFFS.

The Summit also had exhibition areas, making it as much a trade show as it is an industry conference. Vendors from around the country brought in their wares. Some were in the business of printing all-fest badges, some ran ticketing services, and others designed festival websites. Some excitement was generated by new innovations in exhibition. Several companies showed off their outdoor exhibition equipment, and one company even showed off a mobile trailer complete with a bathrooms, concessions, and a surprisingly posh movie theater.

In looking into all of the new and exciting options for film festivals, I realized that we need more feedback from our audiences about their preferences. What do you like or dislike about the way you buy tickets for SDAFF events? What works or doesn’t work when you browse for films during our festival? The festival experience keeps evolving, and while we have our ideas of how best to present our programming, we can’t do it without hearing from all of you.

Lastly, we need to talk about Austin. For years, I heard about it being a haven for artists and the regional capital of free thinking. My four days in town confirmed it all. Walking down 6th Street on Saturday night, I heard live music emanating from every bar, lounge, and concert venue. The city had a pulse. For the film buff, the Alamo Drafthouse, home of Fantastic Fest, was a revelation. That beer and food was served during the film (we saw The Descendants) was not as thrilling as the fact that one is immediately immersed in movie-love, from the Clockwork Orange-inspired t-shirts, to the hilarious short videos that play as you wait for the film, to the ominous warnings that anyone who texts or talks during a film will be viciously ejected. This is where people who live for movies go to play.

Let’s make San Diego a place to play as well! Stay tuned for 2012…