The Fight for Visibility – Promotional Woes at the Audi Festival of German Films (AFGF)

By Alida Tomaszewski

Beyond the walls of the Kino and the Como cinemas lies a desolate urban landscape. All signs point to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, yet I see none representing the festival from which I just emerged. “It’s true, advertising is weak here in Melbourne” says Klaus Krischok, festival director. “That’s the problem with being based in Sydney, you can’t run everything on remote control. In Sydney we have huge City of Sydney banners, because they are our partners, so we have over 200 banners all over the city. But there is no visibility here in Melbourne.” Film festivals are an expensive pleasure and their promotion an expensive necessity. Festival organizers need the help of sponsors and partners to gain decent visibility in their city of choice.

Exiting the Como cinema to enter the greater area of the Como shopping complex, there is a jarring shift, a spontaneous combustion of celebratory atmosphere, an instantaneous disappearance of an entire festival! (You get the idea). “Well, it comes down to contractual obligations by the cinemas” says Krischok with a puff of his cigarette. “If Palace buys the rights for the commercial prints of a film [non AFGF], they’re buying all the paraphernalia with it, so Palace has to put a big poster up outside for their films, and thus we can’t [put ours up].”

In an effort to gain higher visibility and better sponsorship, the festival recently moved beyond Melbourne’s City of Bayside to it’s new South Yarra and CBD locations. Krischok pushed the move to inner-city Melbourne with the intention of securing the City of Melbourne as a partner, thus increasing advertising potential. Krischok is still keen to cure the festival’s promotional anemia, but to date the City of Melbourne hasn’t signed. As the AFGF approaches it’s 10th anniversary, the challenge continues, “I’ve realized there’s a weakness here, but whether we can do it [secure the City of Melbourne as a sponsor]…I’m not sure.”

The festival is almost entirely run by Klaus Krischok and Claudia Kühn of the Goethe Institute. “Basically, it’s a two person enterprise. There are a lot of volunteers and people helping out during the festival, but basically everything from choosing the films, talking to sponsors, writing the program, putting it all together, doing the magazine, inviting the guests, is done by me and Claudia. So it’s hard work and there will always be shortcomings.”

Under-staffing and uncooperative exhibitors do put pressure on the already strained promotional corners of the festival, but Krischok feels the real key to better promotion is being able to utilize media opportunities more wisely, “you’ve got to have a story to give them”. Krischok sits up a little straighter to tell me this one. It is in regards to the GDR retrospective, the first retrospective to ever be held by the festival. “A retrospective is always special, this is the first time we’re doing it, and, this is me talking as a ‘cultural person’, I’m really trying to get some content over. It has got to be done for the cultural/political side, which is what I’m doing, not for the commercial side, but it has a certain advantage as a spin off for the media.”

The retrospective being held is one of rarely seen films of the surprisingly prolific film production of the “other”, the communist German state, the former German Democratic Republic. Screening films such as Carbide and Sorel, Coming Out, Jacob the Liar, The Legend of Paul and Paula, Solo Sunny and Traces of Stone. “Everyone I’ve talked to, and I’ve had about 40 radio interviews, all love that idea of the GDR Retro” he says with a smile. Krischok believes a “hook” can provide impetus for a festivals success. The AFGF made the retrospective easier on their pockets by not attempting to acquire the archival footage, but instead showing the films on DVD. “It’s a great spin off as a story…even though it may not necessarily be the stuff that sells well” – it gives people something to grab onto, brings them to the website and generates buzz.

As an Australian metropole, Melbourne matches Sydney, pace for pace, as the country’s financial and cultural hub, so the potential for growth and change during the Melbourne wing of the festival is vast.
Currently, the Goethe Institute and their festival organizers are playing catch up with an increasingly competitive national film festival circuit. For the AFGF to move beyond being an under-valued blip on Melbourne’s bursting cultural calendar, it looks like it’s going to be a steep (but not unachievable) climb.

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4 Responses to “The Fight for Visibility – Promotional Woes at the Audi Festival of German Films (AFGF)”

  1. Dina Iordanova Says:

    Hi ALida,

    I think you are bringing up a very interesting issue in regard to the staffing of a festival, somegthing that is on my mind as well as a research question. Indeed, the discrete and disjointed nature of festivals is in the roots of what I believe to be an awkward management issue related to the festivals’ human resources. Most of the people involved with festival work are self-employed, with low incomes reported on tax-returns. They are largely reliant on the vernacular economy of piece-meal payment for small-scale projects. Normally, festivals cannot afford employing staff on a full-time basis; even the biggest festivals operate with a small permanent staff of fewer than twenty. While the staff of Cannes has been quoted at 300 ‘during the height of the festival’ (Beauchamp and Béhar 1992:46), out of season there is only core full-time staff and a network of casual scouts and screeners, who supplement their income by freelancing for a range of other events (thus ‘networking’ them).

    The human resources reality of festivals – keeping only essential core staff on a full-time basis while simultaneously maintaining an active recruitment pool of large numbers of reliable cheap or free labour around the time of the event – creates an intrinsic need for all those events that are not entirely run on a part-time basis to seek establishing activities that keep them going beyond the dates of the festival and create extra jobs. It is in this context of pursuing regular business that festivals have sought to cultivate audience communities, to set up markets where executives come to meet (even if not to see any films) 8, to involve arthouse cinemas and cinematheques (Munich, Paris), to link up with TV channels (Sundance), use Internet –enabled distribution (Palm Springs via Jaman.com), set up associated production arms (MonteCinemaVerite Foundation, Hubert Balls Fund, or similar enterprises at Thessaloniki, Yerevan, Vienna, and many other festivals), distribution operations (Rotterdam’s distribution initiative), special screening tours (London IFF’s travelling shows), cinematheque-type activities (Douarnenez festival’s association), Institutes (Sundance9), consortia (Toronto Film Festival Group), archival libraries (Toronto IFF), initiated by festivals come about.

    Is there something similar that you observe in the context of this particular festival as well?

  2. Alida Tomaszewski Says:

    Hi Dina! Thanks for the comments! Yes, definitely a human resources issue, but also an organizational issue I think. During the festival’s “off-season” the Goethe Institute holds art exhibitions, dance, theatre works and music events all over Australia. (There are Goethe Institutes all over the world, but Klaus only deals with Australia).
    What I’m observing is: because the festival is run by a national-cultural institution as opposed to a specifically filmic/artistic intuition (e.g Sundance), their attention (during these other activities) is fixed on the further proliferation of German culture and learning as opposed to on the constant promotion of the AFGF. This limits their ability to cultivate a specific AFGF audience throughout the year. On the other hand, like you said, these activities do keep the regular staff employed and create extra jobs. They also keep the AFGF sponsors on board. (Part of Audi’s sponsorship deal for example, is that they are premium sponsor for the entire gamut of Goethe cultural activities for the year, thus giving Audi top visibility at every event held, and the Institute a big sponsor for one of their main events – the AFGF). So they are definitely fostering relationships throughout the year for future use!

    I also know that the Goethe Inst. works closely with German Films (GF). Because GF are in Germany and in closer contact with the German film industry, they are the ones that say who is and is not available (actor/director wise) to make an appearance at the festival. German films also help with access to films. In return, and as a major sponsor, the GF logo benefits from being plastered all over Goethe’s other annual activities. So, another symbiotic relationship – but I guess that’s the nature of sponsorship!

    Then there are the “Berlin Sessions”: DJ’s from Berlin play at popular venues during the AFGF in each city. The DJ’s are brought out by the music label “Future Classic” based in Sydney, not by the Institute. The Dj’s are playing around Australia during the festival. Klaus tells me that the Berlin Dj’s also have a one-night-per-city collboration with Australian Dj’s, and that the Goethe Inst. “supports this collaborative phase”. Klaus says “the guy who runs the Berlin Sessions will introduce some of the films in Sydney”, and “will cross promote through sources”. In Melbourne though, I haven’t seen any of this. On the Berlin Sessions website for example, there is no mention of the AFGF whatsoever, but yet the AFGF promotes the sessions on their website and in their program.

    I think Klaus and Claudia work on a full-time basis cultivating (and keeping) sponsors, and also offering regular internships for tertiary students. This year they had a number of interns from Germany that helped them market the fest and manage volunteers in the lead up to the AFGF.

    So, while I observe some similarities, to what you have mentioned, these are limited – the festival almost stands alone like just another (slightly larger) event on their cultural calendar. They haven’t quite managed to tie it all together, and therefore have lost some of the benefits it could have reaped over the last 8 years.

  3. Dina Iordanova Says:

    Hi Alida, this is indeed extremely interesting. Could the differences you outline be mostly due to the fact that the funding of the festival seems to come via a centralised channel that funds cultural activities in general?

  4. Alida Tomaszewski Says:

    Hi Dina, I think being tied to a centralised channel doesn’t help the cause, definitely! Although, the AFGF never set-out to be a MIFF or a Sundance, but they are setting out to be at the level of the French Film Festival (in Australia), whose funding comes via a centralised channel of the same ilk (Alliance Francaise), but yet surpasses the AFGF in all arenas. But this is partly an issue related to the perception of German culture (Thomas and I have touched a bit on this here: http://monashftv.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/sprechen-ze-deutsche/#comments)

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