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.