udbound was the 2017 Sundance
Film Festival’s darling: an adaptation
of the 2008 book by Hillary Jordan
about race and class struggles in
post-World War II Mississippi.
The big story for many was that the
streaming giant Netflix, which was making inroads into
film acquisition and hunting nominations for awards season,
bought it for $12.5 million shortly after the festival.
Some in the theater industry saw this as another sign
of its slow demise and another source of erosion of the
festival culture. But even as streaming platforms grow
and box-office returns shrink, the culture of film festivals
is growing, adapting and attracting new audiences.
Film festivals are making bold moves to increase
attention, draw larger crowds and reinforce the stitches
holding together the theatergoing film community, and
they’re doing it by co-opting the same technologies that
have threatened to send them into obscurity.
You probably have a film festival or two in your
town, and no doubt have heard names like Cannes and
Sundance thrown around. Only a few pictures from
these gatherings make it to national distribution every
year, and yet festivals have always been a place where
independent movies can get modest attention if they
can get people into seats.
Festivals are changing the rules of the game. Some
larger ones like Cannes have implemented new rules
requiring films being screened to be shown in theaters
before applying, so that streaming services that enter
the competition help promote the theater experience.
Meanwhile, some festivals have created partnerships
with streaming services like Filmfestivalflix.com — or
created their own streaming platforms — to try to reach
Facing industry disruption, film festivals
are taking queues from streaming
services to get more eyes on screens.
BY G. CLAY WHITTAKER
larger masses than those that are able to physically gather
But others are staying focused on the theater culture in
its physical form. Lift-Off Global Network is a collection
of audience-judged festivals in major markets around
the world. It started in the United Kingdom in 2010,
grew in parallel with the world of streaming services
and now hosts festivals in Berlin, Manchester, London,
Sydney, New York, Vancouver, Tokyo, Los Angeles,
Amsterdam and Paris.
Lift-Off events give local talent the opportunity to
have their films screened for the home audience, but
the added benefit is that films judged worthy can make
it onto Lift-Off programming worldwide, essentially
becoming part of a touring slate of features for the world.
Those opportunities are invaluable, especially as box
offices feel the sting of reduced traffic. This past summer