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Film Festival Group Pleads With Academy: Don’t Cut Our Grants (Exclusive)

IFP Festival Forum asks Academy to reconsider its freeze on grant programs that fund almost two dozen festivals


The Independent Feature Project’s IFP Festival Forum has become the latest group to protest possible cuts in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ grant programs, sending a letter to the AMPAS Board of Governors asking the Academy to continue its grants and recognize “the critical role of festivals.”

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As TheWrap reported exclusively on Oct. 9, the Academy has halted almost all of its educational, grant and internship programs and is considering cutting back or eliminating programs as it gears up to break ground on its expensive Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Also read: Academy Halts Grant Programs, Protests Begin Over Potential Cutbacks (Exclusive)

“We cannot overstate the power and impact of the AMPAS imprimatur on festivals’ ability to leverage that stamp of approval for greater engagement from sponsors, donors and even local and state governments,” reads part of the IFP Festival Forum letter, which was signed by eight festival directors and given exclusively to TheWrap.

“Concomitantly, we cannot stress enough the positive impact for the field by festivals striving to attain the standards of excellence, professionalism and artistic vision to be considered eligible for an AMPAS grant.”

The Festival Forum letter has been emailed, mailed and faxed to the Academy between Friday and Monday. It is signed by the forum’s executive committee, which is headed by acting director Jody Arlington and made up of directors at the Sundance Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and Hamptons International Film Festival. It follows a similar letter sent to the AMPAS board by 22 recipients of Academy Film Scholar grants.

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When that letter was revealed by TheWrap, an Academy spokesperson released the following statement:  “We’re taking this year to re-evaluate some of our grant-giving to ensure that each of these programs has the greatest benefit to the Academy and the communities it serves. No organization supports film education, programming and emerging talent more than the Academy — it’s part of our core mission and always will be.”

Currently, grant applications are not available at the Academy website.

Some Academy members have lobbied for the restoration of the grant programs, which in 2013 cost about $1.2 million out of the Academy’s total revenues of $134 million and expenditures of $97 million. Academy member and Academy Film Scholars co-founder Mitchell Block coined the phrase “one percent for scholarships and grants” to sum up the request.

Out of last year’s grants, $450,000 was awarded to 23 different film festivals, with grants starting at $5,000 and averaging almost $20,000.

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The IFP Festival Forum letter states that it is designed to “share with [the Board] how important your contributions have been to the film festival community, as well as to the future of film exhibition in the United States.”

It includes testimonials from the Seattle International Film Festival, Full Frame Documentary Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, True/False Film Festival and DC Shorts Film Festival, all of whom testify as to the importance to their festivals of Academy grants.

Below is the IFP Festival Forum letter in its entirety:

Dear AMPAS Board of Governors:

The IFP Festival Forum is a professional association of film festival organizers comprising over 200 film festivals, including most of the 23 recent recipients of your generous Film Festival Program grants. Our members were concerned to learn that the Academy is considering ending its grants program for festivals as well as its Education, Internship and Film Scholars programs. We want to share with you how important your contributions have been to the film festival community, as well as to the future of film exhibition in the United States.

Film festivals showcase, preserve, and exhibit film. They are also educational institutions, research agencies, cultural centers and economic engines. Just like the Academy, they serve two communities: the filmmakers who create works of the moving image and their participating audiences. In many cases, and especially in short form film, the film festival circuit serves as the only theatrical life an independent film may have. Festivals curate and screen work more challenging than distributors may be willing to risk their resources on, until the festival circuit reveals a passionate audience for such work. It is the film festivals that curate independent film work from which distributors choose for broadcast or a commercial run. The festival circuit builds word of mouth, priming the market for the release of these works.

Festivals also recognize the fragile financial world of the independent filmmaker, and strive to deliver amenities, audiences and the most high-end exhibition formats they can afford. At their best, it is the film festival circuit that connects artist to audience and begins the conversation between filmmaker and the marketplace. They are indispensible in the independent film world as we know it today, and have been made so with the invaluable support of the Academy’s Festival Program grants.

The Academy we know recognizes the critical role of festivals, not only with their grant program but also by acknowledging select festivals as Academy Award® qualifying events for filmmakers. The Festival Forum has been privileged to partner with AMPAS at the Art House Convergence to inform festivals on the standards and processes required to quality.

We cannot overstate the power and impact of the AMPAS imprimatur on festival’s ability to leverage that stamp of approval for greater engagement from sponsors, donors and even local and state governments. Concomitantly, we cannot stress enough the positive impact for the field by festivals striving to attain the standards of excellence, professionalism and artistic vision to be considered eligible for an AMPAS grant.

We wanted to share with you a few of your grant recipient’s reactions to the news of the potential loss of the program, and the impact your support has had on their work:

“On behalf of SIFF and the Seattle International Film Festival we write to express our gratitude for and support of the AMPAS Film Festival Grant and Film Education programs. We are presently the recipient of a Multi-Year award to support our African Pictures program, and in the past we have also received programming grants for individual years. This financial support was critical in the conception and presentation of these excellent and popular programs, which provide exceptional access to international filmmakers and a deeper engagement for a more informed audience. We encourage the Academy to continue with these important funding initiatives that are few and far between for the film arts.” Carl Spence, SIFF Artistic Director and Mary Bacarella, SIFF Managing Director

“The imprimatur of a grant from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences signals to other sponsors and donors a level of professionalism that is not quantifiable for a film festival. More importantly, grants for film festivals (which are generally not-for-profit organizations with limited opportunities for earned revenue) are in short supply anywhere else, and the very nature of film festivals perfectly compliment the Academy’s emphasis on theatrical exhibition. Full Frame has been extremely fortunate to receive several of these grants, and sincerely hopes this hiatus will be short-lived.” Deirdre Haj, Executive Director, Full Frame Documentary Festival

“For nearly a decade, the San Francisco Film Society has received critical support from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. AMPAS funding of the San Francisco International Film Festival has played a vital role in bringing the best of world cinema to our audiences. In a true collaboration between funder and grantee, AMPAS support of international cinema and cross-cultural understanding led to a grant for World Cinema Spotlight, a specially curated set of films from a particular country, region, or genre, which gives audiences a deeper, more nuanced viewing experience. We deeply appreciate our partnership with AMPAS and the support we have received over the years. It would be a great loss to us–and our community–if the grants program were to be discontinued. Noah Cowan, Executive Director, San Francisco Film Society.

“It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the multi-year Film Festival grant that True/False received from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science. With the Academy’s backing we are able to push further afield and be a beacon for great filmmaking, both contemporary and historical. No other organization does more to help festivals support filmmakers & filmmaking, and no other organization’s support carries the weight of an Academy grant. True/False is proud to shine the Academy logo inside our movie palace and we hope that this moment marks a brief hiatus and not a turn away from supporting festivals.”  David Wilson, Managing Director, True/False Film Festival

“We have been fortunate enough to receive an Academy grant to support the curation and screening of the largest collection of Russian Short Films to play in the United States. Such an undertaking would not have been possible without the financial, administrative and even emotional assistance of the Academy, the grant panel and its members. These films, which most likely would have never been submitted to U.S. events, have gone on to play many other festivals, and have delighted audiences around the country.”  Jon Gann, Programming Director, DC Shorts Film Festival.

The Festival Forum will continue to collect testimonials and data from festivals on the important work that AMPAS and festivals are achieving together, so that its vital, measurable importance can be a part of your evaluation process.

We are so grateful for the Academy’s support of film festivals and film culture, and like our colleagues in education and scholarship, cannot thank you enough for your contributions to one of our greatest, and most lasting cultural contributions to society. We are relieved to hear that this year’s grants will proceed, and are hopeful that the Academy’s support of festivals will continue in future years.

–Executive Committee, IFP Festival Forum

Jody Arlington, Acting Director, IFP Festival Forum
Anne Chaisson, Executive Director, Hamptons International Film Festival
Jon Gann, Executive Director, CINE and DC Shorts Film Festival
Deirdre Haj, Director, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Tom Hall, Director, Montclair Film Festival
Kristin McCracken, Digital Content Director, Hamptons International Film Festival
Sarah Pearce, Co-Managing Director, Sundance Film Festival
Colin Stanfield, Producer, New York Film Festival