How cinemas can enhance their business with film festivals: A look at Fantastic Fest


Sarah Pitre, the Head Film Buyer at Alamo Drafthouse, has played a pivotal role in making Fantastic Fest the success it is today. 

In this blog post, we'll explore the ways in which cinemas can strengthen their business by creating film festivals, drawing inspiration from the success of Fantastic Fest.

Cinemas have always been the hub for film enthusiasts, serving as a space to enjoy the magic of cinema on the big screen. However, in an age where streaming platforms dominate the entertainment landscape, cinemas need to innovate and find ways to enhance their business.

One effective strategy is to host film festivals, and one shining example of how this can be done right is Fantastic Fest. Sarah Pitre presented the festival in a panel at Cinema Vision 2030 @ Berlinale in Febuary 2023. 

Learn about the Fantastic Fest

Founded in 2005 and situated in Austin, Texas, the Fantastic Fest has earned its reputation as the largest genre film festival in the United States. The Guardian described it as "the wildest film festival in America". 

The Fantastic Fest takes place in Austin, Texas in September.
The Fantastic Fest takes place in Austin, Texas in September.

Strengthen communities through enhancing the business

To fortify the foundations of the cinema community, it's crucial to think beyond the confines of screening rooms and embrace innovative strategies. According to Sarah Pietre, the following three measures are essential to benefit the cinema in the longterm. 

Supporting filmmakers: "The Launching Pad"

One of the key ways that film festivals enhance the cinema business is by providing a platform for emerging filmmakers. Fantastic Fest has excelled in this regard, acting as a launching pad for new talents.

Building relationships with these filmmakers and encouraging them to return to the festival fosters a sense of community - with the audience as well as the cinema. 

Fostering studio relationships

Fantastic Fest goes a step further by helping launch films in cooperation with studios. The audience's reaction at the festival often influences decisions regarding theatrical releases. Movies like "Parasite" and "John Wick" premiered at Fantastic Fest. Recently "The Menu" was screened to test the audience's reactions. 

This collaborative approach can be a benefit for both filmmakers and theaters.

Variety reporting on the Fantastic Fest
Variety reporting on the Fantastic Fest
Creating an audience festival

Fantastic Fest has mastered the art of making the festival an audience-focused event. While the films are undoubtedly central, it's the side activities that truly foster relationships, such as: 

  • Debates
  • Board games
  • Parties
  • Food and drinks
  • Conversations

Attendees don't just watch films; they immerse themselves in an experience, forging strong and vibrant community bonds. Of course, all local actions are aligned with the screened films. 

More than cinema

Cinemas looking to enhance their business can draw inspiration from Fantastic Fest's success. By hosting film festivals, they can support filmmakers, foster studio relationships, and create a community-driven event that extends beyond the cinema screen. 

Fantastic Fest's approach demonstrates that film festivals can be more than just a series of screenings; they can be a celebration of cinema that brings people together and strengthens the film community.

Watch the panel @ Cinema Vision 2030


Profilphoto Deborah Shirley Cohrs

Deborah Shirley Cohrs shirleys

Deborah is an expert in digital communication. In the German cinema landscape, she accompanies arthouse cinemas, advises cinema associations, and shares her knowledge in workshops. As an editor, she also writes for the German Ideas Platform "Zurück ins Kino". more from the author

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