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Festivalitis Part 4: Getting to the Heart of the Matter Post CTNX 2012

Ellen Besen discusses festival dynamics and "mood" as she follows-up on the CTN Expo.

By Ellen Besen

I really thought this next piece was going to be about festival programming but fresh from CTN Expo- which wrapped on Sun Nov 18, I feel compelled to shift focus to a more pressing topic: overall spirit. By this I don’t mean so much the mood of the attendees but more the spirit in which the event was conceived and carried out by the organizers. This last factor has a defining impact on every aspect of the event including the attendees’ mood and programming as well, which is precisely why it is the more pressing issue.

This kind of spirit can be an elusive subject- one that doesn’t really show itself directly.  Instead you kind of have to look at an event sideways, to use your detective skills and also keep in mind what other choices could have been made to suss out the organizers intentions.

Of course, sometimes what you suss out is less the intention and more just plain old lack of experience. Smaller festivals, for example, sometimes keep costs and logistics in tow by inviting fewer speakers. But an essential part of what makes a festival feel like a festival is the instant creative community that springs up under the direction of the organizers.

That weekend long artist to artist conversation is far more than just a stimulant or its participants; it is also an excitement generating juggernaut which energizes the entire event. At the heart of the juggernaut lie the invited speakers- this is the part that the organizers control and here not only the mix of talent but also the simple numbers involved are critically important.  Bringing in a range of speakers   with a variety of viewpoints from different aspects of the field gives the program texture. Mixing up bigger stars with engaging unknowns creates surprise and sets up the festival as a trendsetter.

And perhaps most importantly, though you might not think so, are those sheer numbers. Even if the other factors aren’t adhered to with any great effort, having enough guests is a key to success. Throw at least 30 or so guests together (even if most are not well known) and you are pretty much guaranteed a party- one where memorable things are likely to happen- and that acts as a magnet which draws in more professionals which pushes the energy even higher and that begins to draw in the general public as well.

By contrast, stick with those lower numbers – 10 or 15 speakers, say- and even if this includes a good number of top people, the overall effect is a dog and pony show with energy which only flows from speaker to audience rather than being captured and amplified by intensive and ongoing artist interaction.     

In this area, CTNX’s programming combines with its everything-under-one-roof venue to excellent effect. If the only complaint here is that, at only its fourth outing, it is already becoming overcrowded, that is merely proof that the quantity and quality of the speakers are enough and more to create the elusive juggernaut.   

More details coming…


(Ellen Besen- author Animation Unleashed- was delighted to speak at this year’s CTN expo for the first time- a great chance to join the juggernaut conversation and carry on with research for book 2 with co-presenter (and book 2 co-author) Aubry Mintz.)      

Copyright © 2012 by Ellen Besen. All rights reserved.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.