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Film festival draws large crowd, tops ticket sales

By Staff | Nov 4, 2016

The American Conservation Film Festival showed fewer films this year, but actually drew more viewers, according to festival organizers.

The festival concluded its 14th season on Sunday with the screening of two feature length films, “An Acquired Taste” and “True Cost” and two short films: “Medieval Monsters” and “E.O. Wilson: Of Ants and Men.”

The screenings were part of the 35 films shown during the six-day festival that ran on two consecutive weekends from Oct. 21-30 at Shepherd University.

At the 2015 festival, 11 more films were shown compared to this year. This year, the format was changed to eliminate concurrent showings.

“We’ve had up to 65 films in the past,” said Jennifer Lee, development and communications director for the ACFF. “We’re striving to right-size the festival. It’s an attempt to make the festival venue manageable for both our staff and volunteers, and our audience.”

This year’s modified schedule has yielded higher festival attendance, Lee said.

As of Sunday, festival ticket sales were up roughly 25 percent over last year and were 50 percent higher than 2014, Lee said.

“We had about $9,000 in ticket sales last year, and we’re going hopefully to hit $13,000 this year,” Lee said. “We’ve really experienced some very positive growth. Despite the fact that we have fewer films, we’re bringing in more people.”

Cutting the number of films was done in response to audience feedback from online and paper surveys, Lee said.

“We get a lot people who say ‘There’s too much to choose from, I can’t see everything,'” Lee said. “So we really try to be responsive to what our audience says.”

The ACFF also added a second weekend of viewing and four additional awards this year.

“This year there is a full second weekend with our eight award winning films,” Lee said. “That gives people another opportunity to see films they may have missed, or to see a favorite film again.”

The ACFF has also pushed to expand its festival attendance with new marketing efforts, Lee said.

To widen the festival’s viewer base, the ACFF worked with the Shepherdstown Rotary Club, and Shepherd University and Shepherdstown High School’s rotary clubs, to publicize the festival. Students under 18 attended the festival this year for free.

“We’re hoping to get more students here,” Lee said. “We really want to encourage young involvement and exposure to films they’ve never seen and topics that are completely unfamiliar to them.”

The ACFF was awarded a grant from the West Virginia Division of Tourism this year that paid 75 percent of marketing costs, with the festival and its existing partners covering the rest, Lee said.

The festival’s new marketing campaign was added to the Washington, D.C. metro area with advertisements in the Washington Post and on WAMU public radio, Lee said.

“It’s really important that we reach further than we have in the past, “Lee said. “The more people we can expose to the festival means they’ll likely come back.”

The festival also held its Conservationist Filmmaker Workshop for the fifth year in a row, featuring emerging conservationist filmmakers. Workshops made up of filmmakers, educators and experts provided young filmmakers insight into making documentaries.

“They speak about everything from marketing to storytelling to branding,” Lee said. “That adds a great educational component, but it also allows mentorship with experienced filmmakers.”

“We had several students from American University,” Lee said. “Really, anybody over the age of 18 that wants to participate can do that.”

Shown at Reynolds Hall on Sunday, “An Acquired Taste” is a 67-minute film by Vanessa Lemaire which examines the topic of eating red meat from a different perspective. The film features urban kids who have decided the most responsible way to eat meat is to go out and kill your own food, said Lemaire, who was born in France and now lives in San Francisco.

An environmental scientist who once worked in environmental policy making, Lemaire decided filmmaking is the most effective way to convey a conservationist message.

“I got disillusioned by finding that money and power cannot actually do much to change mentalities,” Lemaire said. “I decided media is the way to go to try to create change.”

In addition to serving as a venue to screen her film, Lemaire said the festival also provides networking opportunities for filmmakers.

“These festivals are a way to meet other colleagues and to meet film industry players,” Lemaire said. “It’s also a way to just get a feel of how audiences are reacting to your film. Audiences are very different.”