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Film festival builds international profile

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[author]Mandy Nolan[/author]

While most of us will be eating turkey and drinking champagne over the holiday break, Byron Bay Film Festival Director J’aimee Skippon-Volke will be locked in her media room watching films, busily programing the sixth festival scheduled for March  2 to 11, 2012.

The global economy may be contracting, but that seems to have had little impact on the creative industries, as Skippon-Volke declares that this is the most films she has ever had submitted.

‘We have had films from a pool of about 60 countries; for two years in a row we’ve had that many but this year we’ve had the biggest amount of entries we’ve ever with over 900 films submitted. We’ll be whittling that down. Last year we had around 200 films, from Russia, Portugal and all over.’

As festival director, J’aimee believes that the secret to maintaining the success of an event, even in a challenging economic climate, is all about the programming.

‘It’s about having films included of all lengths and all genres. What we fall back to is a lot of the programming is done around community values and the interests around here, like healing, spirituality, surfing, the environment, colourful characters, the arts, music…

‘We have always had a scalable budget; if things are tight there are fewer bells and whistles. We have tried to develop ourselves as a sustainable event financially. Of course we are on the lookout for sponsors. We want to make sure we come across as a world-class event.  Other festivals have budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars but I would say it’s the smarter festivals that will stay.

‘It’s about picking and programming and giving the audience what they want and recognising who they are; it’s about smart programming.’

In just six years of the event, Skippon-Volke has performed an unlikely miracle: she has turned a small-town regional event into a film event with an international profile recognised all around the world.

‘I feel that the Australian industry is somewhat insular and it was hard as a regional event to gain any recognition. In Byron we are so far from Sydney and we are not in Queensland, so we are not relevant to Brisbane – so we decided to build an international profile first.

‘We got into Myspace and marketing through the internet. I have had filmmakers, who have travelled the world circuit with their films, who have said: “I went to America and the Bahamas and people had heard of the Byron Bay Film Festival but they hadn’t heard of Tropfest”. A lot of that is about giving the filmmakers a good time. The filmmakers say the audiences here react in a way they have never seen before…’

The Festival continues to attract visitors for overseas and interstate with recent survey figures revealing that more than 54 per cent of their visitors had planned the trip to Byron especially for the Byron Bay Film Festival.

The 2012 event is sure to attract film lovers from far and wide. While J’aimee is reticent to release too much program or guest information until mid February, ‘for fear of festival poaching’, she can let film buffs know that director Steffan Elliot will be attending.

‘He directed Priscilla and has a new film coming out on Australia Day with Olivia Newton John called A Few Best Men. We won’t be screening it, but he’ll be doing panels and speaking at events.’

Skippon-Volke expects this to be an even bigger event with plans to expand the program to include Pighouse Flicks and expanded screenings at Birch Carroll & Coyle in Lismore.

The Byron Bay Film Festival runs from March 2 to 11. The gala red-carpet opening is on March 2. For information go to www.bbff.com.au and sign up for the newsletter.

Image: Byron Bay Film Festival director J’aimee Skippon-Volke holds court with Jack Thompson, James Khehtie and  Robert Raymond at last year’s festival opening. Photo Jeff Dawson


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