Back in September we were brash enough to ask you how much you liked us. (We offered some tasty spot prizes as an inducement to respond.) 2,434 newsletter readers and/or ticket buyers took the time to do it. That added up to a lot of commentary for us to cover, but the feedback is enormously useful, not just for our own planning, but for sharing with partners, venues, suppliers and other colleagues.
As with every questionnaire we have ever run, the single subject on which no clear direction emerges is the programme. For some happy souls every film this year was a gem, for others NZIFF 2017 went down as a time of misery and ‘sad’ choices. One respondent would like the website amended so he or she would never be presented the option of seeing a French film. Numerous others request more films from a favoured country or field of interest. Some say ‘enough already with the documentaries’. Others say ‘bring on the docs’.
The excellent news for us is that 95% of the 2,434 ticked the boxes indicating they were very satisfied or satisfied with NZIFF in 2017. A mere 0.68% opted for the box stating that they’d be highly unlikely to recommend NZIFF to friends or family. This gratifying vote of confidence put us in the perfect frame of mind to harken to some of the other things you had to say about us.
A year ago we interpreted a pronounced increase in demand for ‘more convenient’ session times as an effect of VOD viewing habits. As we are accustomed increasingly to choosing the time and place of our screen consumption, that trend continues. A couple of time-challenged respondents this year went so far as to characterise screenings scheduled during their working hours as ‘infuriating’ and ‘pointless’.
Happily, elsewhere in the survey results we found an overwhelming endorsement of appointment viewing as experienced at NZIFF. It is sounded loud and clear in the comments volunteered in praise of the venues, the crowds, the vibe, the Q&As, the lack of commercials, the theatre staff, the volunteers, the conversations struck up with total strangers - even the pleasure taken in joining in an enthusiastic round of applause for a filmmaker who is at the time probably sound asleep on the other side of the world.
Spreading The Word
This year, facing greatly increased postage costs alongside 21st century snail-mail delivery times, we reduced our brochure mail-out. Many respondents were unhappy about this. We apologise for not notifying the cutback sooner than we did, but we are unlikely to be reverting to old spending priorities when there’s no longer any guarantee a posted brochure will reach you before bookings open.
Unfortunately supplier failures, still being arbitrated, prolonged the wait for many festival goers this year. There were significant delivery delays to our advertised pick-up spots in Auckland and Christchurch. PDF downloads of the Auckland brochure sky-rocketed as a result. Watch us get smarter about this in 2018.
The brochure, by the way, was identified as the primary source of information about NZIFF for 63% of the questionnaire respondents, compared to 31% who look first to the website. We are very proud of our ever-more-versatile website (beautiful work, Cactus Lab) and were pleased to see it showered in praise. “You need it to be more like the printed hard copy”, said one dissenter, just to reiterate that attachment to printed matter still runs strong at NZIFF. Surprising aside: we were amazed how many festivalgoers cited British critics as key influences when it came to selecting their films.
We grit our teeth and continue to look forward to the year when our own booking system in Wellington functions perfectly from the minute we go on sale; and when Ticketmaster in Auckland lets you select your seats. Complaints around these two issues were the most painfully eloquent we received. Their eloquence provides valuable fuel in our continuing struggle to get these matters sorted. That said, we were pleased how many Wellingtonians said they liked our ticketing a whole lot. (Even on that bumpy first day we successfully delivered 12,800 tickets.)
The joys of community amongst strangers are lost on some of our patrons. “Lasers to incinerate people who talk through films,” suggests one. “Can we also get an ad advising people NOT to laugh inappropriately?” asks another. Hmmm… we’re not sure how funny that ad should be. Meanwhile the etiquette advisories that we have seen fit to screen were widely approved.
A few questions raised – and answers provided.
“Please provide more information about parking, distances, public transport.” Yes, we will. NZIFF is at heart a CBD event. We were very aware of the transport and parking challenges facing our main-venue patrons in Auckland and Christchurch this year.
“I couldn’t book the seats I wanted because the system kept saying I could not leave one seat vacant.” That’s right. You can’t.
“I did not enjoy the Secret Screening.” Our condolences to any ticket buyer who did not pick up on the fact that this mystery film was part of the nefarious Incredibly Strange Programme. All other feedback about this new feature of the programme – and there was plenty – makes it very clear that programmer Ant Timpson has another success on his bloody hands.
School Holidays. The timing of NZIFF is determined by two key factors. We have to allow ourselves time to complete film negotiations after the Cannes Film Festival (which itself was dated this year to avoid the French election). Second, we have to ensure the availability of the flagship venues. When this takes us into the school holidays we do try to programme accordingly; that is to say for school students, not necessarily for our valued supporters, their teachers.
“More films for kids, please, or more easily identified as suitable.” There’s infinite care already put into our ‘For All Ages’ section, but we can look into providing more guidance on the wider programme.
“Don’t sell crinkly food.” “A higher standard of wine, champagne and snacks to accompany such a rich film offering.” Let the venue operators know what you would like: food and beverage is their business. We are well aware that some of them cater much more successfully to NZIFF audiences than others.
“NZIFF shouldn’t pull movies from general release to play in the fest.” NZIFF cannot and does not do this. A distributor may decide to pull a film from its scheduled release if, for example, it fares disappointingly elsewhere in the world or suddenly faces formidable competition. Offered The Lost City of Z under such circumstances earlier this year we deemed it a public service to ensure that such an epic vision made it onto the biggest screens at our disposal.
“Don’t play dubbed versions of foreign movies.” Generally we don’t, but we’ve long made an exception for animated features, including this year My Life as a Courgette. The English-subtitled, original language version also screened in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin.
“Clearly the large number of films re-shown after the festival ended indicated a lack of understanding about what people want to see. Wellington has sophisticated cinephiles who want movies that are unlikely to be generally popular or come back to mainstream distribution. Very few of those films this year.” We disagree on the last point. And you would be surprised how many of those ‘mainstream’ films only achieve distribution in New Zealand because NZIFF was prepared to back them in the first place.
“Each year I am disappointed that there are film selections for Auckland and Wellington that don’t make it to Christchurch… It feels like we are the unsophisticated cousins. Not cool.” Respondents from Hamilton and New Plymouth expressed similar sentiments. We are dedicated to expanding the options of filmgoers throughout the land, but we are 90% dependent on ticket sales to pay for NZIFF. The relative numbers cannot be ignored: even Shirley Horrocks’ documentary about Christchurch’s Free Theatre drew a 50% larger audience in Auckland than it did in its subject’s home town. We try to persuade sales agents and producers to acknowledge the capacity of the venues when setting their screening fees, but many are themselves under-resourced and will not budge from formula. Sadly NZIFF cannot afford to pay for one screening at a 100-seat venue in Hamilton for example what we pay for a 600-seat venue in Auckland.
“Thank you to Bill Gosden and his team for all the hard work you put into selecting and screening the films. It is greatly appreciated.” Often it is hard work, for sure, but it is always a pleasure and a privilege to set up so many thousands of enlivening encounters every winter, and to see how they resonate in the months that follow.
Bill Gosden and the NZIFF team thank you for having us.