Putting on a film festival at the level of the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) is not an inexpensive proposition.
This year’s CIFF festival is no exception, with the organization currently undertaking significant logistical efforts to put the final touches on this year’s film festival.
“They sound simple on paper, right? Get some movies, rent some theatres, sell some tickets, show some movies,” said Steve Schroeder, executive director for CIFF.
“What goes on to support that is a major logistical machine: we’ve got a team of paid professional programmers—people who’ve devoted their lives to sifting through thousands of submissions we get to finding the right films for the festival—we have all kinds of other infrastructure and support that’s required to pull this off.”
New this year for CIFF is presenting sponsor ConnectFirst Credit Union. Schroeder called their sponsorship a big deal for the festival.
Financially the support from presenting sponsors like ConnectFirst, said Schroeder, makes it possible to hold the festival yearly.
“Their support makes it possible, it’s very hard to do if you take that presenting partner out of the equation, it is very hard to have the resources to put a festival on and to bring what we do to the public,” he said.
Schroeder said that it’s also vital to have the right sponsor that fits culturally with CIFF.
“I’ll also add that it’s not just any partner—you need a partner that’s aligned to your values, who believes in what you’re doing, who’s open minded, who’s confident, who’s got an eye to the future,” he said.
“It’s that’s why I say it’s not just about the money, we wouldn’t accept just any presenting partner.”
Local sponsorship creates cultural fit with festival
Having a local Calgary based sponsor provided benefits to CIFF in terms of that cultural alignment, said Schroeder.
“We do have partners amongst our dozens of partners who are based outside of Alberta, and that’s great, we love that of course. But locally based partners get CIFF and they get the local audience here sometimes way deeper than people who aren’t based here,” he said.
“If you’re headquartered in Toronto, you may be believing what CIFF doing, but you don’t actually live, breathe, sleep Alberta, right? So it’s really wonderful when we have a presenting partner who does.”
One of the goals for ConnectFirst in partnering with CIFF was this year to provide better support the growing film industry in Alberta.
“One of the sectors that we know is becoming increasingly important to the economic diversification and growth of Calgary and southern Alberta—Alberta, in general—is the film and creative industries, and what better avenue to support that,” said ConnectFirst Credit Union CEO Wellington Holbrook.
“We’re one of the largest credit unions in the country, and this is where we live, and we want to be supporting the types of events that make this a great market, a great place to live, and a great place to do business for the creative industries.”
ConnectFirst sponsorship covers programming costs
Schroeder said that the ConnectFirst sponsorship directly impacted the ability to licence programming for the festival. It also, he said, had indirect benefits for audiences.
“It costs money to program movies, it costs money to show these movies, so that really helps just in terms of content,” he said.
“It also gives us resources to experiment with new types of experiences, new types of special events, and new types of programming.”
Among the new components this year to the festival are a greater variety of interactive media, including on-screen interactive programming, augmented reality, virtual reality, and gaming.
“That’s what having some that’s what having resources from a partner like ConnectFirst helps you to do, so that’s a really big part of it,” said Schroeder.
Being able to support CIFF in licensing high quality films for the festival, also helps to promote the local film industry said Holbrook.
“I think by bringing in the higher quality quality films also brings the eyes and ears of the world, which helps us promote the local film and creative workers that are creating great products right here as well,” he said.
“It goes hand in hand how that almost a symbiotic relationship of us being able to support that creates a better event for the local talent that’s already here.”
CIFF weathered pandemic in good financial shape
Schroeder said that CIFF, like other arts organizations in the city, faced significant challenges during the pandemic.
Leading into the 2022 festival, he said that the organization was in sound financial shape, with continuing strong support from volunteers, partners, donors, and from audiences.
“What gets you through that is knowing there are people who believe in and support you, that’s been our volunteers, and that’s been the general public,” said Schroeder.
Holbrook said that it was important for ConnectFirst to continue to support pandemic recovery for the arts.
“I think we need to be supporting a lot of institutions that have, I think, served a big role in making Calgary and Alberta a great place to be,” he said.
“CIFF has always been a quite an impressive event that has received global recognition. It’s been building for years and years, and being in a position where we can help get that restarted has been a privilege.”
Audience continued with CIFF during pandemic, online and in theatres
The festival was able to hold in-person screenings in 2020 and 2021, although at far reduced capacity. They also launched streamed programming for the first time in the festival’s history during the pandemic.
“We were absolutely delighted—like pleasantly surprised beyond words—that the same audience numbers, the same 35,000 who had attended the year before the pandemic, showed up again when the pandemic hit whether they were in person or online,” said Schroeder.
Schroeder said that despite the sound financial numbers thus far, CIFF like other arts organizations isn’t “out of the woods yet financially.”
“I think the harder time for a lot of arts organization is going to be the the next couple of years, this latter phase of the pandemic and then the post pandemic recovery,” he said.
“We’re gonna have to continue to work really hard.”
Getting audiences back into theatre seats is important
Financially and artistically, getting patrons back into theatre seats is important to CIFF said Schroeder. But, he said, there were opportunities to innovate during the pandemic that the organization will continue to look at.
“Now that the pandemic has cued us to innovate in the digital and online space, I don’t think we’ll ever fully leave that space,” he said.
“We had too many great outcomes from it that were real silver linings.”
Among those silver linings were giving patrons with mobility challenges or who were unable or uncomfortable visiting theatres greater access to films.
“Obviously the pandemic changed how we approach these things,” said Schroeder.
“That said, it’s gonna look different, because what’s really special about a film festival, and CIFF very much included in that, is the in person celebration.”
“The internet cannot deliver you that magic of it in person celebration with thousands of other people who just love movies, no matter how good your home entertainment system is.”