SARASOTA — Less than 24 hours after the final event of the 15th annual Sarasota Film Festival, Director Tom Hall was already making plans for how the festival is going to adapt to a rapidly morphing film and video landscape.
"There's no time for an offseason anymore," said a slightly-hoarse Hall Monday morning. "Those who can become more effective in helping filmmakers use a festival as a launching pad and not an end of the road are the ones who are going to survive and prosper."
Though final numbers had yet to be crunched, Hall estimated they would show a five percent increase in festival revenues and attendance over last year. Organizers had fretted that the event's post-Easter timing — after many snowbirds had left town — might affect turnout, but were relieved with what Board President Mark Famiglio called "sustained, conservative growth."
There was a capacity crowd at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for the opening night documentary, "Blackfish," a packed Sarasota Opera house for the closing night feature, "Frances Ha," and sold out screenings for dozens of the 230 shorts, documentaries and feature films shown over 10 days. And it was standing room only for the series of Q & As with Peter Bogdonovich, Mariel Hemingway, Lili Taylor and Griffin Dunne, this year's cadre of celebrities.
But while Hall said he was "very happy" with those outcomes, he also realizes the rapid changes taking place in film technology and distribution dictate that a stand-alone physical event will soon be insufficient.
"We need to have a year-round value for filmmakers and for our audience," he said. "That's the future of our kind of festival. Instead of being just a 10 day event, we need to have what I call a 'long tail' of opportunity for filmmakers and the audience, connecting them throughout the life cycle of the movies we work with."
Currently, Hall said, a festival provides filmmakers with exposure as they seek distribution. In the new paradigm, a festival would work to help connect audiences and filmmakers throughout the year via the Internet, social media, mobile apps, newsletters and collaborative partnerships.
Hall said he will begin immediately to create from scratch a structure to allow the festival, which currently has only a couple of year-round employees, to manage that level of attention to so many projects.
He is not aware of any other regional festivals that are currently doing this but sees it as an essential step in retaining value for both patrons and filmmakers.
"I don't think we have a choice," he added. "I would love for us to become more innovative and I think it's an opportunity for us to lead and create sockets for the industry and the community to plug into."
The changing face of filmmaking may also affect future programming for the festival, Famiglio said.
"The buzz word is `trans-media,'" he said. "It means content across media boundaries — audio, visuals, new types of visuals, fashion — different types of film that might have been regarded as experimental or avante-garde in the past."
More collaborations — be they local, national or international — are also part of the plan, Famiglio said. The festival recently announced it will partner with the Patterson Foundation's "Legacy of Valor" project to honor veterans, which will influence some festival programming and special projects.
Given the expanded goals and the caution born of financial mistakes in the past, reliance on an already sizable army of volunteers is likely to increase. Fortunately, with its large retiree population, Sarasota seems to have an ample supply.
Ken and Rhonda Kaplan, who have lived in the area for two years after moving from Massachusetts, put in almost 60 hours during this, their second festival. As "lead" volunteers, the two 60-somethings directed both patrons and other volunteers at virtually every major event, from the opening and closing films to parties at the Sarasota Yacht Club and The Francis.
Somehow they also managed to also squeeze in about 15 screenings.
"I like to see films with messages that sometimes do not get onto the big screen because of their messages," said Ken Kaplan, whose favorite was "No Place on Earth," about Jewish families who lived in a cave in the Ukraine during the German occupation. "Some people make films for the love of filmmaking and that's what you'll see here."
It was part-time Sarasota resident Rickie Grosberg's first year as a volunteer, though the Hudson Valley bed-and-breakfast owner began attending three years ago. She saw "at least 10" films and even enjoyed the part where she had to stand in line.
"You talk about the films, you trade stories, the guy working the line comes over — you have this funny little connection for 10 days. It's a wonderful way to connect more to the community."
That is an aspect of the festival that won't ever change, says Hall.
"People will still make movies and the festival will still be 200 people in a dark room watching together and talking about it afterward — that's important to keep," he said. "It's how that experience is replicated outside the theater that's important. And that will change."