While the arts industry struggled to adapt to the changing parameters brought on by the pandemic, AFF launched a new program that they had been building behind-the-scenes that aims to inspire and showcase our state’s future filmmakers.
Mat Kesting, AFF Creative Director says that the program came about from a desire to engage with young film lovers in a way that could be a catalyst in their journey as budding filmmakers.
“It was really born from a firm belief we have in cultivating and growing screen culture in the state. Previously our organization hadn’t offered a specific program to youth audiences. So, there was an opportunity there,” says Kesting.
The AFF Youth Program seeks to engage South Australian students with the creative industries as viewers, makers, and creators. The inaugural week-long program of in-person screenings, workshops, virtual reality, and Creative Industries Expo was planned for July 2021, but due to COVID-19 lockdown was postponed.
In a move that was responsive to our times, the screening program was then shifted to a brand new AFF Youth Online platform over August and September that same year. The Creative Industries Expo and Industry Sessions were combined as one in-person event, followed by a special Red-Carpet Gala to celebrate the youth filmmakers that took part.
Mat says that AFF were well positioned for this move to online, due to previous planning that superseded the pandemic in this area.
“We had conceived of ideas of taking elements of the program online previous to the pandemic. That was mostly driven by regional access and expanding audiences and also accessibility for people that couldn’t attend in person for whatever reason that might be, disability or other. And it was very convenient in a way that we’d done some of the groundwork around that when the pandemic hit,” says Kesting.
The AFF engaged the services of Square Holes during this time to gather intel on how AFF Youth was received by participants and whether there was value in adding it to regular programming moving forward.
“It was a pilot program. We were testing the market, and testing interest in it and there was sufficient interest there. And this was where the feedback that Square Holes gathered really validated and helped reaffirm our confidence in pushing forward with delivering this program,” says Kesting.
“And certainly, it reassured our stakeholders that it is worth pushing ahead. So, we will continue with that program.”
“I mean it (the research) informs our creative campaigns. It informs changes we need to make to our website, gathering that feedback in a considered and methodical way is really important to us. And we’ve valued the service enormously.”
AFF have been working alongside Square Holes since 2008 to track community engagement with the broader festival on a yearly basis. This research has provided Mat and the team at AFF with the data to refine and hone their offering, as well as substantiate the cultural and economic impact of the festival to their stakeholders.
“We like to actually test what we think, test our hypotheses. That’s where Square Holes as an independent firm can do that. That can at times be scary, the results may not be what we suspect they could be, but at least we are dealing with reality, rather than just our internal anecdotal suspicions,” says Kesting.
“It takes many stakeholders to deliver a festival and I think it’s really important to provide that data to those stakeholders. So, we help use that feedback to guide our next steps and adjust how we do things but also reinforce and reaffirm activities that we are doing. And reassure our partners too.”
Square Holes work with a number of cultural institutions across the state in the capacity of sponsorships with a view to building a stronger cultural economy and influence. Square Holes founder and director, Jason Dunstone says that supporting creative organisations is part of Square Holes DNA.
“Cultural institutions like the Adelaide Film Festival add so much to the fabric of our community. Square Holes are proud to provide the research that enables AFF to change strategic direction when need be and to continue to quantify their economic and cultural impact to their many stakeholders,” says Dunstone.
Mat says part of the value of a long-term relationship with Square Holes is the opportunities presented from having a wealth of data at his fingertips.
“One of the things that Jason and I’ve talked about is longitudinal observation. There is quite a body of data there now, and what I’m interested in doing is bringing together the market research that Square Holes has done against our ticketing data that we’ve gathered internally and really drill in and look at the correlations between things. I think if we drill into it, we can get some really powerful insights as to who our audiences are and where potential audiences may come from, and what is actually of genuine value to the community,” says Kesting.
“We don’t want to be exerting all this energy and resources on things that are not of value. I mean, that’s not in anyone’s interest, but we want to ensure we are enhancing and value adding at every turn. And that’s where the true value of this market research comes into play.”
This data is becoming all the more important as film festivals and movie theatres are forced to face off against streaming giants like Netflix and Binge. Built on recommendation algorithms, as of 2021 Netflix has 209 million subscribers online and earned more Oscar nominations than any other film studio at the 2020 Oscars.*
Despite the growing influence on the way society watches and engages with filmed content, Mat believes that the streaming giants of the world only further cement the importance of film festivals like AFF.
“That algorithm is really setting the cultural discourse, and also people’s world views are becoming quite narrowed by what they click on within that streaming service. So, it actually adds increased validity to the activity of a key film festival,” says Kesting.
“It’s an opportunity to come into contact with things you wouldn’t have thought of seeing before, or work that is made by contemporary filmmakers and from all over the place that is outside of that algorithm.”
But one thing that Netflix and the AFF do share in is the understanding that the hunger for filmed content isn’t going to die down anytime soon.
“The global demand for screen content is exponential. It’s the hungry beast that cannot be satiated. So, there’s an opportunity for our state to really participate in a meaningful and valuable way,” says Kesting.
“But it’s also about telling our own stories too. As the father of three young kids, I want them to grow up with local cultural reference points. And not have those reference points be superseded by content from the US or larger English-speaking markets, so that’s really important that we reinforce our own culture on screen and through other art forms.”