Monday, March 17, 2008

Empty seats at a free screening are sad sad sad.

I was sad to see so few showed up for a free night of films. Is it that in NM people just don't attend free film events? Or that our film line-ups didn't interest people? Or we aren't good at getting the word out when we have free film events? Or that low turn- out for free film events happens in every state no matter what? Or that my expectation of healthy attendance is unrealistic?

I was looking forward to the 6:00 pm-9:30pm screening of several shorts and features Friday night, films produced by women. The evening was sponsored by several state/city funded art organizations. Why Get Married? was one of the longer films in the night's line-up, a Festival celebrating Women. (March is the month for that don't you know?)

Once my documentary screened, many shadowed figures left the theater. When I realized the lights weren't coming on between films, and so many had left, I went out to the lobby in case folks had questions. I needed to get to talk with a members of the audience who might have comments. I made the film for that very reason, to be part of a conversation about Why Get Married? I did have some nice exchanges with several who were happy to see and talk to me. I'm glad I did because by the night's end, many who'd seen Why Get Married? had left due to rumbling stomachs.

It was heartening for me to see how good my documentary looked on this big beautiful screen, and how well it flowed. I haven't seen it in over a year, and one can be critical of one's own work. I sat with my good friend Margaret, visiting from Nova Scotia. Her plane left early the next morning, yet she wanted to spend the evening with me at our state- of- the- art cultural center. There was a Q and A period at 9pm with the filmmakers. She wanted to see what that was like. There were 3 of us left by the end of the evening, facing about 20 people, most associated with the festival in some way or another.

I was sad that a free evening of film, sponsored by over 20 film/art organizations in the city/state were unable to help the filmmakers fill the seats. I am not sure what that means exactly. Too many variables to process I suppose, but marketing with personal outreach seems key key key to getting butts in the seats. Those marketing events need to personally invite specific people to come to these events. We all respond to personal contact as it feels as though our presence matters. Large email blasts, beautiful printed programs or generic posts alone won't do it. I did my best. Maybe my outreach efforts got 20% of the audience that flowed in/out that night.

It was an interesting and diverse film line-up in a swank theater. It was also a great opportunity and venue to have lively energy for the film festival. An audience creates the energy and is important to filmmakers naturally. Without enough people in a theater a screening feels entirely different, like there are energy leaks coming from all the empty seats.

So back to my original question, do free film events equal low turn-out just because they are "free"? Or did we not make enough effort to fill the seats, to make it a packed house, that would create buzz, goodwill and energy to build on for the next event?

My guess is an intermission and some good finger food would help attract and keep an audience for such an event. And fill the theater with great energy.