Donald Harrison: From 16mm to Youtube

Comments (8)

When the Ann Arbor Film Festival started, it was a "film" festival, accepting submissions on 16mm and other purely film formats. Now, a substantial portion of its submissions are digital, and it has developed a presence on Youtube.

In its 46th year, the Ann Arbor Film Festival is one of the longest running in North America. Each March, the festival presents a highly selective sample of the 2000 cutting edge film submissions it receives from 30 countries. As a non-profit, the festival funds its operations from donations, submission fees, ticket sales, and merchandise.

In this 9 minute segment (download iPod compatible video, 46MB), Donald Harrison, Director of Community Development, outlines how the Ann Arbor Film Festival is adapting in the changing world of media. When the festival started, it was a "film" festival, accepting submissions on 16mm and other formats. Now, a substantial portion of its submissions are digital, and it has developed a presence on Youtube.

Donald views the festival's online and offline activities as both separate and reinforcing each other. As an example of the separation, Youtube videos start to lose viewership at lengths of more than a minute while festival attendees expect programs of 70 minutes or more. However, many of the festival's producers and attendees regularly use Youtube. The festival's enduring value proposition is this changing media landscape is to allow producers, attendees, and industry people to come together in a forum devoted to innovative and pioneering film making.

In future segments, we'll explore how the festival's business model is evolving and how it competes with the over 2000 annual film festivals in North America alone.


NicoleTrinkle on March 30, 2008 4:19 PM
Mr. Harrison, As I watched your video clips about The Ann Arbor Film Festival, I was glad to hear that the Festival is integrating digital forms of filmmaking and Web 2.0 applications. In the more recent interviews, you mention that the Festival is interested in portraying the artist as a brand and helping to shape and develop the artist so that they are recognized in a manner that portrays their film style. This accompanies the Festivals movement to digital mediums so well. I beleive that it is easier to create a brand through an artist if they are seen through many different platfoms - web based and otherwise. YouTube and other Web 2.0 platforms like the website and blog are a big move for the Film Festival and I think that the younger crowd will really identify with this. A younger crowd is also more likely to identify with an artist and support the Ann Arbor Film Festival through the use of viral marketing, which the Film Festival relies on heavily. Great work and I look forward to seeing some of the Festival's films circulate the Internet. -Nicole Trinkle Eastern Michigan University Student
Emily Bender on April 1, 2008 11:11 AM
Donald, What a fascinating interview!! I have never been to the Ann Arbor Film Festival but will definitely be interested in the future. I think that with the economy being so futile right now movies are a great way of releasing stress and a way of finding something inexpensive for entertainment. I was also not aware of how large the festival actually was. I know you do great advertising however because I am always hearing of the festival on the radio and television. It is very interesting that you have found such a wonderful response from using YouTube. Being a college student, YouTube is a very popular website among my generation. Keeping up on the arts is crucial. You seem to have done a great job with understanding the market and researching what is important to fans of the festival.
Chris Puzzuoli on June 8, 2008 9:50 PM
The Ann Arbor Film Festival is an organization which is unique in many ways when compared with other business and companies around the country. The festival has made it's claim by targeting a niche in the film industry of outlying artists or filmmakers who are trying to get their start through short films which other major film corporations would not accept. Through close contact and building a reputation within this niche, the film festival has been able to stay alive for over 46 years with its over 2000 entries of short films per year. We see that the people in charge use a type of focus strategy in this manner because it appeals to the special needs of the filmmakers by giving them a platform on which to gain recognition for their work. This recognition, in turn, empowers the filmmakers to go further in their careers while establishing the festival as a great event for participants and audiences alike. This festival markets its participants and itself by using a carefully planned blend of new trends and long-standing traditions. Online advertising, for example, has been implemented in the past years but not to the extent where all details about the festival are given. This coincides with the tradition the festival wants to keep room for surprise and wonder while still informing its customer base about the happenings and major details about the events taking place. As Donald Harrison said, they still try to be innovative in the way they design their festival in all aspects and try not to stick to just tradition alone to make a successful festival. This tradition also ties into the “culture of creativity” mentioned by Harrison. Any business needs to have a sense of culture about itself, especially one that's been around for 46 years and has been a staple of the independent movie culture for that period of time as well. Culture created through the festival and everybody involved allows the manifestation of a sense of purpose for the festival to continue long into the future. It also creates the sense of fun and diversity which helps the level of anticipation for the festival needed to perhaps keep that niche market interesting for enough people. The fun factor also helps in recruiting the volunteer work which is vital to the festival. Through all of the interview segments, we see that the festival is built on integrity which is a big reason why filmmakers enter their work into the festival's rigorous judging process. It is also a reason why the filmmakers who make it into the festival have such a good chance of being recognized as professionals as their careers advance. Chris Puzzuoli
Sarah Peterhans on June 10, 2008 2:05 AM
Mr. Harrison, It was great hearing how you are expanding the Ann Arbor Film Festival. I think that it's brilliant to tap into the online world. YouTube, for example, has so many viewers. It is a great place to post films. I think its interesting though that there's two very different types of groups that you are trying to attract. There are the people who won't watch a video if it's longer than a certain time and there are the people that prefer longer films rather than the short ones. I think it will be tricky to attract both groups to your page on YouTube. So far, the festival focuses its strategy to attract film creators who won't be picked up by Hollywood and it has done very well in doing this, especially with 2000 submissions a year. YouTube can also help raise the amount of submissions because viewers will see what types of films are accepted and may try to produce a film worthy to be shown at the festival. Branching out to YouTube is definitely an innovative move, which is crucial to the survival of the festival. It is important to take advantage of the media that is popular at the time. YouTube is very popular and it can certainly help the popularity of the festival. Great idea! Sarah Peterhans
Raina Bell on June 11, 2008 11:48 PM
I found this interview to be quite intriguing. I have never been down to the Ann Arbor Film Festival even though I am only a short distance away, however I may try to attend next year! I think on a marketing stand point it is a great idea to have the films and videos available online via You Tube. Now not only can film makers in other countries submit their works, but viewers in other countries can watch them as well. In January of 2008, nearly 79 million viewers watched over 3 billion videos on You Tube. You could not pay for an audience that big. Also, by film makers being able to submit their videos digitally, allows them to edit quicker and more efficiently then on regular film. I believe this will draw in more viewers because there are better quality and more interesting films to be watched. I think that having the availability of submitting and showing films digitally not only helps the organization, but will also inspire more film makers or potential film makers to submit. I would have to agree with you that watching films in a theater, on the big screen, with digital sound does make them much better then watching them on your computer screen. Some films need to be watched on the big screen in order to get the full effect of the film. Either way, knowledge of the film festival will be greatly increased.
Katherine Sessoms on March 26, 2009 9:41 PM
Your interview is very interesting. I think it's phenomenal that the Ann Arbor Film Festival is recognized as one of the top festivals. It's great to see that the festival is embracing digital films as well, being that it opens the doors to artists that may not have access to expensive film equipment. I have always believed that some of the best artists go unrecognized because they do not have the means to showcase their work in the appropriate format and/or venue. I also like that when you look into the future of the festival you recognize the importance of bringing in more "heavy hitters" in the film industry. As mentioned, an artist needs financial backing to continue their work, so it's important that the Ann Arbor film festival be the largest platform it can possible achieve for these artists. Many people will not have the chance to travel to California in the hopes of recognition. It was a brilliant idea some 46 years ago to establish a festival in Ann Arbor that can possibly start or nurture the careers of our local artists.
Laura Cross on March 31, 2009 10:43 AM
It is wonderful that the Ann Arbor Film Festival is now heading into its 47th year making it one of the longest running in North America. The festival presenting only a very select number of films of the 2000 it receives from 30 different countries has help lead to its success as a non-profit organization that works at preserving the arts. But probably what has lead to its greatest success as Donald Harrison states that the film festival was once just that “film” 16mm but with the changing world media they had to adapt to survive and now accepts many digital submissions as will. I found it very interesting that such a prestige’s festival has entered into areas such as Youtube, though it was a very intelligent move. In today’s market it is hard for many businesses to survive without having substantial online components and I guess it is the same for the non-profit segment too. I believe that by adapting the business model so that the online and offline activities serve as supplements to each other allow for a larger market to be reached. They have done the research and I found it interesting that they are able to market to both segments, the Youtube audience that tend to lose interest after a minute and the festival attendee’s that expect the programs to be at least 70 minutes. As a long time supporter of the Toronto Film Festival I find it wonderful that the Ann Arbor Film Festival is adapting to survive in its changing media landscape. By doing this they are also creating opportunities for more submissions to be made into the film festival increasing its diversity to new levels. Though I do also appreciate them sticking to their roots as a non-profit business they really cannot afford to risk the loss of any attendees and some may not implore a love of the concept of the online portion feeling that it may take away some of the romanticism, but they also cannot ignore the online marketplace. Now even non-profit companies have to think like a profit businesses to survive in the new and every changing media. The survival of such a cultural aspect as the Ann Arbor Film Festival is of vast importance to society and needs to be preserved in whatever way possible. There may be other media options that could benefit the festival as well, I know the Toronto Film Festival has seen great success through word of mouth, by creating a buzz around it that draws people in. The Ann Arbor Film Festival may wish to put more ads in upscale magazines, radio time, even television ads. Though these things may not seem to fit the current business model it may need to adapt more to survive in this rapidly changing landscape. Though with such adaptation as the use of Youtube the Ann Arbor Film Festival should remain for another 47 years for people to enjoy and for more people to submit there own ground breaking films, Slum Dog Millionaire was itself as Toronto Film Festival submissions.
Evan Villeneuve on November 23, 2010 10:42 AM
It is wonderful to know that a long-standing tradition such as the Ann Arbor Film Festival is still active to this day. In the past, I have attended one of these events and found it very enjoyable. By innovating the way the organization attracts fans, the A2 Film Festival has managed to revamp the way it maintains and expands a base, ensuring a dynamic future in the world of film. The organization seems to be doing a great job of using web-based media technologies to reach out to people. Their marketing strategies are targeted towards people who like films. However, with the new development of online short films and sound bytes on web sites such as YouTube, the company had to find a way to appeal to various types of demographics within the film market. They were smart to use viral videos and emails to attract and appeal to a newer sort of customer and to reach out to the fan base that already existed. Here we see the organization using a blend of diversification and market development growth strategies to offer variations of the same product (new films), to a new niche or market of consumers (online, short-film fans). Also, by including short-films into the lineup of total films to be played at the festival, you’re offering a new style of product for people who do not want to sit through a full-feature film. Because the film festival has such a strong reputation, it provides a great medium and outlet for film producers, directors, and actors to make credible names for themselves within the film industry. Not only that, but the festival sheds its commercialism for a more indie-appeal and geared towards people who are interested in the art of film, and not just a blockbuster movie, satisfying a certain niche. - Evan Villeneuve

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