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Killing 'Em Slowly, and then All At Once:
The Death of the
Edinburgh Film Festival

October 13, 2022

This past week the Edinburgh Film Festival – which bills itself as the oldest continually running film festival in the world – died. The charity that “ran” the Festival, the Centre for Moving Image (CMI) announced that it was essentially going bankrupt. In addition to the festival, the CMI will be shutting down their local Filmhouse cinema and one in nearby Aberdeen, and they’ll be laying off (making redundant) 102 out of 107 staff (who are those 5 leftovers?). 
This is pretty big news, a bombshell even. It’s a bad omen for other film and cultural organizations as we go into a recession and continue struggling with Covid, the war in Ukraine and other major events. But the other reality is – this was avoidable, and I think you can pin most (all?) of the blame on the CMI’s board and leadership. As you can almost any time a well-respected cultural charity bites the dust (see also, this). Things like a recession and Covid (or those two coupled with a war, Brexit, and more) can kill a film festival or cultural organization, but these places are also hard to kill unless they’ve been dying a slow death already.
The CMI board was quick to pin the blame on recent event’s impact on their bottom line. As quoted in The Guardian, this is what they had to say: ““The charity is facing the perfect storm of sharply rising costs, in particular energy costs, alongside reduced trade due to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. The combination and scale of these challenges is unprecedented and means that there was no option but to take immediate action.” Indeed, they are facing crazy costs and a slow-down in business. They note that “over the next 12 months the group’s energy costs would rise by £200,000” which is likely a direct result of the war in Ukraine, and this itself should be seen as a bad omen for other arts organizations throughout the UK and Europe. Other smart thinkers in the region have told me that not only are electricity costs going to go up, but that there’s a good chance government might limit hours and openings to save energy soon. Their other costs are going up significantly due to inflation, and their audience numbers have been down, which is undoubtedly true at many independent and arthouse cinemas globally. As Brian Ferguson notes in The Scotsman, “The CMI’s financial collapse is a grim omen for the rest of the cultural sector, as hundreds of venues and organisations must be grappling with the very same issues.” I’m sure this is all true, and that’s the job of a board, to look at this bigger picture in advance and help chart a path out of it with the ceo (or executive director, pending the title at each place).
It's also a bit shocking in a place like Scotland. As noted by Mark Cousins here, Scotland has a government “and a culture minister, and an arts organisation – Screen Scotland – that cares about this stuff. They’re not oblivious; they understand how a cinema and a festival can raise the tide.” That can’t be said for many other countries, and definitely not for any major city in the US, for example. But in ScreenDaily we learn that Creative Scotland and the government were pre-warned of this collapse, and decided not to step in to help. I think that’s the tell – these smart folks knew they were faced with an organization that couldn’t save itself, and didn’t want to throw good money after bad. 
As someone who has been traveling to Edinburgh for many years, and was there for some of the good and bad years (heck, I was a keynote speaker at the conference that kickstarted Creative Scotland in 2008, two years before it was officially founded), I know a tad bit about this mess. I’m sure others in Scotland and the UK can and will speak more to this, but the Edinburgh Film Festival has been close to death because of a crap board since at least 2008 if not longer. So far, most of the news reports and opinion that I’ve seen have been focused on recent events, but this has been a long, slow death by many cuts – and outright stupid mistakes – all of which really come down to things a board should have rectified many years ago. If this is a lesson in anything, it’s a lesson in why cultural organizations need strong board leadership and what can go wrong when they don’t have it. And how that can go very wrong when you add in a recession and these other issues.
The list of things that went wrong in Edinburgh probably starts as far back as its founding, as would be true anywhere, but many would place it more presently and specifically when the UK Film Council decided that they wanted to put their energies and monies into making the London Film Festival the more important fest. This was essentially the decision of one person at the UKFC who felt Edinburgh had lost its prestige, so the UKFC paid the fest to move from its usual berth in August to June (but this came with an overall reduction in millions of ongoing funding as the UKFC cut budgets soon after). This was as the UKFC and BFI were also merged, and it’s now the BFI London Film Fest, by the way (and this history made the BFI CEO's dismissal of saving EIFF sting even more). Not that anyone wanted this to happen, or that the London fest will ever be any more important than Tribeca will never be on the fest circuit, but hey… red carpets in big cities. Mind you, Edinburgh had actually been among the top film fests in the world and at that time, it remained an important stop on the circuit, even with its issues. They did return to August recently, but it was too late.
If that big change in timing and funding wasn’t enough, the festival then went through a series of leadership changes, which have pretty much continued to the present day, and which were almost all attributed behind the scenes to board negligence. Several good leaders left under various circumstances, which is never a sign of a good board. The festival lacked leadership such that it would turn to cockamamie ideas. For example, they took Mark Cousin’s manifesto to heart one year (he and Tilda were guest curators/directors of a sort) – which included such artistic gems as “Start a film in one cinema and finish it in another – the audience runs between” which sounds good to an artist, but is a nightmare to implement for everyone else, especially festival leaders. 
What this organization needed was some strategic thinking. Yes, some re-organization and a whole heck of a lot of better funding. But at the end of the day, these are things the board needs to handle, and they do that by finding and installing leadership that can a) lead, b) set a vision for the future, c) fundraise, and d) implement this or be fired. If, after a few tries at this, it isn’t working then the problem is not the people you’ve hired, it’s the ones on the board. Always. I don’t know any of these folks, so this isn’t personal, it’s just a statement of the reality of how these things work. 
In the meantime, at least 102 people have lost a job, and none of them are to blame for this mess. They deserved better, as did audiences in Edinburgh, and the field. Festivals like this one are important to our culture and to developing new talent – Mark Cousins (again) notes that he became a director because of Edinburgh. Barry Jenkins got this start working at the NYFF. Anna Bogutskaya, who just lost her job at Edinburgh wrote a great piece for The Guardian worth reading in full, where she eloquently says it best: 
Independent cinemas are spaces of creation, as well as consumption. They nurture filmmakers, film professionals and audiences alike, and have a ripple effect on culture. They allow people to meet and go on to create more of this art. I owe my own career in film to hours spent in my local multiplex, and then the Prince Charles cinema in London. I had never seen a Q&A before, never knew that a cinema could be so alive, that filmmakers were people within reach who loved movies too. I didn’t know you could put on all-night events, that audiences could howl at the screen, or that you could see a film forgotten by history.
My hope is that some group of smart folks in Scotland can come together and form an organization that can take over and save the EIFF and the two closed cinemas (this seems to be in the works). The current organization/board/leadership shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the new one. And whoever restarts the place should bring back most of those 102 “redundant” folks, because they probably know more about what needs to be done than anyone who made this decision.

Stuff I'm Reading

Richard Linklater’s ‘Apollo 10 ½’ Rejected as Animation by Oscar Committee as Filmmaker Speaks Out: Last July, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' animation committee rejected Richard Linklater’s Apollo 10 ½  for Oscar consideration in the category of Best Animated Feature Film, despite it using 2D animation styles and employing 200 animators during the process. The Academy stated that it “does not feel that the techniques meet the definition of animation in the category rules” due to the “extensive use” of live-action footage. To be clear, no live-action footage appears in the movie. So, what “techniques” are they referring to? Rotoscope technology, applied to less than 20% of the film, was used to trace live-action footage of actors for reference when animating. Linklater believes his film’s rejection represents a systemic problem about how the committee evaluates the aesthetics of animation: “Here’s what’s fucked up — the notion that there is one way that is more pure than another,” Linklater said. Head to Eric Kohn’s article for IndieWire to read Linklater’s letter to the Academy plus a short video behind the animation of Apollo 10 ½. (GSH)

You Hated Your Cable Package. Your Streaming Services Are Bringing It Back.: Just a handful of years ago you were probably paying around $100/month for the cable bundle, but you didn’t watch 95% of those channels so you switched to Netflix for significantly less money. Then you started paying for a handful of streaming services – probably 3 to 7 – and the money started to add up. And now, you’re starting to see (re)bundling everywhere, thanks to an overcrowded market. Disney Co, for instance, is offering a package of Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ at a 44% discount compared with subscribing to all three services individually. Paramount+ will be offered as part of your Walmart membership and Warner Bros. Discovery, which already consolidates Discovery+ with HBO Max is likely going to participate in new bundles with rivals. The takeaway, as Jessica Toonkel for The Wall Street Journal puts it is, “The Great Rebundling is upon us.” Let’s just hope that instead of frustrating consumers with channels they’ll never watch, new bundling services will actually relieve consumers of streaming’s rising costs and complexities. (GSH)

TikTok creators are condensing Hollywood movies into minutes and getting millions of views: Anyone who’s spent a while on TikTok has probably come across entire accounts devoted to sharing scenes/sequences of Hollywood movies. Usually, an artificial robot-voiced narrator will summarize the entire film in under a minute or over the course of a few TikTok videos (note: these summaries tend to be pretty choppy, as they’re usually first written in Chinese and then translated into English online). Many of these creators consistently generate hundreds of thousands, if not millions of views on TikTok or on adjacent social media sites in China and make decent money doing it ($300+ per video). Some creators even make business off of teaching others how to make these clips – apparently stay-at-home moms in China are some of the most likely to take lessons. While American studios will likely start to explore licensing agreements with TikTok, they probably won’t pursue compensation from oversea creators despite copyright infringements. “[It would be] like you are playing whack-a-mole [if they did] (Larry Zerner, copyright and entertainment attorney).” Viola Zhou fo Rest Of World has the story. (GSH) My take (BN): This is a weird phenomenon now, but I could see this being done in a pretty interesting way, and as a form of criticism/creation that could be cool in the future.
Branded Content
Making Oscar Worthy Branded Entertainment - My Talk at Advertising Week: Next week, I'll be speaking at Advertising Week as part of their streaming sessions at the Amazon Ads Studio. My chat is going to be about the best films/shows being made by the best brands, and how others might follow their lead. From the description: This year, a brand-funded film won an Oscar (The Long Goodbye, presented by WeTransfer). We’ll explore the different ways brands are approaching film and episodic content, how they can best get their message to audiences, find distribution at scale and make an impact through entertainment. We’ll look at why agencies and creative partners need to add this skill set to their arsenal to help brands achieve their goals and how to do it in a manner that ensures success. Learn more and watch here (next week, and you have to be a badge holder).

Jägermeister And The Roku Brand Studio Co-Produce “The Lesbian Bar Project”: In a past newsletter we wrote briefly about “The Lesbian Bar Project”, a Jägermeister-sponsored 20-min documentary that shares the rich history of lesbian bars in the U.S. The short doc was released mid 2021 as part of Jägermeister’s #SaveTheNight campaign which worked to support LGBTQ+ people during and after the pandemic. Just this Tuesday, the concept became a 3-episode miniseries on The Roku Channel. While product placement and brand references were calculated throughout the show, the series demonstrates what brands can create beyond traditional ad spots. And the story continues beyond Roku screens: Jägermeister launched a branded metaverse experience on Decentraland where players can walk around a bar with Jägermeister drinks and learn about the history of lesbian-owned bars. Alyssa Boyle for AdExchanger has the news – check out her piece for more about the series! (GSH)

The Fair Use Case at the Supreme Court: There’s many important cases in front of the Supreme Court this term, and one of them is a fair use case that could have broad implications. The case concerns Warhol’s use of a Lynn Goldsmith photograph of Prince in a new, and crucially, transformative artwork. But that’s not how Goldsmith or other copyright maximalists see it. It is how one Court saw it, but not a second, so now it goes to the Supremes. It’s a big deal case, and if the Court gets it wrong, it would have pretty profound implications for fair use and for how we make culture. A good explanation of all of this is in this article from Paul Szynol in The Atlantic. Check it out to learn more. (BN)

The Future of Augmented Reality in Four Charts: Augmented Reality (AR) “refers to an interactive experience that combines the real world and computer-generated content.” Virtual Reality (VR), by contrast, creates a completely artificial environment in the virtual setting. If you’ve been paying attention, experts are talking about AR like it’s the next evolution of the internet. Check out this piece by Sifted to learn a bit about the state of AR today and where experts think it’s headed. A few of the main points are as follows: (1) AR will be most quickly adopted in entertainment, healthcare, and retail sectors; (2) We’ll have 1.73 billion active AR users by 2024 thanks to smartphone apps and headset technology; (3) While AR in retail is expected to boom, only 1% of retailers say they use AR and only about half say they’re prepared to start using new AR tech. Once the sector does get there, virtual fitting rooms and 3D representations of products to see how they’ll fit our homes/bodies will be commonplace; (4) AR in entertainment is expected to hit nearly 4.5 billion by 2030; (5) An AR world doesn’t come without its challenges (ethical concerns, technological skill gaps and barriers of entry). (GSH)

GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
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