Asheville Film Festival: The good, the bad and the future

The Asheville Film Festival Advisory Committee held a roundtable discussion on March 21 with community members, business owners and local filmmakers to get feedback on improvements to this year’s festival, which takes place in November. The meeting, held in the boardroom of the Asheville Area Arts Council, was a mixture of announcements, focus-group-driven discussion and Q&A with the AFF organizers.

“We feel like we’ve gotten pretty good on the logistical and technical ends of the festival,” said Advisory Board Executive Director Lee Nesbitt. “But one of the places that we don’t feel that we’ve quite reached our goal is in community involvement. That’s really the purpose in bringing you in today.”

Roundtable participants were then divided into four groups of five or six and asked two broadly phrased questions: “What do you value most about the Asheville Film Festival?” and “If you could change or improve one thing about the Asheville Film Festival, what would it be?”

Participants responded in an open discussion, with a facilitator from the AFF writing discussion points on a large flip chart. Toward the end of the discussion, attendees were asked to pick the three most pressing issues for each question so that those points could be brought back for discussion with the full group.

The roundtable reconvened in the boardroom, where each focus group presented its findings. Most of the answers were quite similar. To the first question, all groups responded that the festival has a positive impact on the local arts community, and that having a film festival helps promote the city as an arts center. Other consistent points included the positive economic benefits and the credibility the festival gives local filmmakers.

The response to the second question was even more unanimous. Participants indicated that the marketing and publicity done by festival organizers needs substantial improvement, that the planning and overall organization were haphazard and that the festival’s identity and scope were unclear.

The discussion quickly turned into a Q&A, with festival organizers addressing a variety of concerns. One matter—the actual economic impact of the AFF—was addressed briefly by the staff, who pointed out that while the festival has lost money for the past two years, it also brings in an estimated $2 million per year to downtown businesses.

Other concerns, such as the nature of the film selection, the problems with having the same staff plan both Bele Chere and the AFF each year, the possibility of privatizing the festival, and how the “Lifetime Achievement Award” winners are chosen were also discussed.

At the end of the meeting, the AFF staff took a moment to mention their existing plans to improve the festival, including the addition of a new film buyer, Greg Gardner, and plans to partner with the Mountain Xpress to maintain the festival’s Web site. Organizers also plan to improve their promotion efforts, and announced rough plans to hire a publicist familiar with the film-festival circuit.

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