Film Festival Alliance

Schedule of Events

Session Overviews: (All times listed in MST)

Each session is designed to meet a specific track of film exhibition areas of expertise, as well as a critical analysis of technology, inclusion of all forms of film exhibition, equity in our industry, and a focus on our changing world via sociological imagination.

We are excited to be hosting a wide variety of voices who represent film festivals, cinemas, and independent film exhibition of all kinds – featuring individuals as panelists and moderators from Together Films (UK), Fever Content (CA), Vidiots Foundation (CA), Ashland Independent Film Festival(OR), Northwest Film Forum (OR), The Roxie  (CA), Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission (KS), Jacob Burns Film Center (NY), IndieMemphis (TN), Ann Arbor Film Festival (MI), Milwaukee Film Minority Health (WI), Film Scene (IA), Denver Film (CO), Texas Theatre (TX), Belcourt Theatre (TN), REEL Abilities (NY), SIFF (WA), OxFilm (MS), Boston Latino Intl. Film Festival (MA), Other Worlds Film Festival (TX), aGLIFF (TX), Coven Film Festival (CA), Cinema Arts Centre (NY), Working Films (NC), Hayti Heritage Film Festival (NC), CAAMFest (CA), Woods Hole (MA), Avenue ISR (MI), Humane Leadership Institute (OR), San Luis Obispo Film Festival (CA), Ford Foundation Beyond Inclusion (CA), Full Spectrum Features (IL), Milwaukee Film (WI), Sidewalk Film (AL), Fantastic Fest (TX), Festival Formula LTD (UK), The Deutchman Company (NY), DC Black Film Festival (DC), Sundance Institute (UT), Letterboxd, The Coolidge (MA) and more!

Monday, Jan. 11:



A Fireside Chat with NO Studios founder John Ridley and COO Lisa Caesar, moderated by Claudia Puig.

Join Oscar winning filmmaker John Ridley and his sister/business partner Lisa Caesar in a conversation about their efforts to shift from in-house programming at their Milwaukee-based NO Studios to virtual events over the past year. As we look towards the future, how can an arts organization maintain the audiences and partners around the world that have been cultivated during this unprecedented time while embracing live events again? What will the new normal for programming and events be in 2021 and beyond?

11:00am – 11:45am:

Marketing: Building Loyalty & Audience Engagement in Virtual Spaces
We’ve spent years building our curatorial brands and developing loyal festival-goers, primarily through in-person interaction. So, how do we create meaningful engagement when we shift to virtual events (and then potentially back to in-person again?) How do we differentiate your events from the myriad other streaming options? In this session, we’ll discuss ideas from virtual eventizing to successful audience retention and even growth.

12:00pm – 12:45pm:

Development: Budgeting Re-Forecasting: Adapting for Different Scenarios
By the end of March, many of our annual budgets became obsolete. The unknown of the coming months forced us to reconsider and re-forecast our 2020 budgets. Hearing from the finance folks behind the numbers, learn how several organizations adapted their existing budgets, developed multiple budgets to accommodate the ever-changing landscape of in-person vs. virtual, and what skills they will take away for future budget planning.

1:00pm – 1:45pm:

General Assembly: Presentation of 2020 Festival Operations Survey

Avenue ISR will present the findings of FFA’s 2020 Festival Operations Survey.

2:00 – 2:45pm:

Operations: Access Reframed: Making Media Accessible presented with Full Spectrum Features
Making media accessible is too often approached as an afterthought, with only compliance in mind. From cost barriers to seemingly complex technologies, creators, presenters and funders find themselves in a constant conversation about who is responsible for meeting access needs such as captioning, ASL interpretation, audio description, and more. This session will reframe accessibility as an opportunity and not a compliance issue, and offer detailed steps for festivals and exhibitors to deliver accessibility to filmmakers and audiences. This session will include ASL and CART (Communication access real-time translation).

3:00pm- 3:45pm:

Programming: Confronting Reduced Bandwidth & Over-Saturation
The pandemic has opened the festival and cinema worlds to the many possibilities of the virtual landscape. But the virtual landscape comes with its drawbacks like competing for eyeballs with PVOD, TVOD, SVOD and a new service popping up every few months and the real possibility of screen exhaustion. This session will explore what it means to program with limited resources in an oversaturated virtual landscape.


Happy Hour: Meet the 2020 Leadership Lab Fellows
Get to know FFA’s 2020 Leadership Lab fellows and hear from them about topics they believe our industry should be paying attention to.

6:00 pm: Trivia 

Imagine yourselves in the Z-Chop House, drink ticket in hand. Join Montclair Film Festival Executive Director, and everyone’s favorite film fan, Tom Hall for an evening of film-themed trivia. The evening will include 5 rounds of 7 questions and will take place on our Filmocracy page. Gather your team of up to 6 players beforehand or come ready to join a team. Please note: if you are joining a pre-formed team, grab a table on floors 5 or above and if you are coming to join a team, grab a seat at a table on floors 1-4.

Tuesday, Jan 12:

9:30am – 10:00am: 

An Overview of the 2020 UK Cinema Landscape, Presented with Independent Cinema Office UK
We’ll get a broad-strokes overview of how the pandemic affected cinemas and festivals in the UK and their response, and how they’re looking forward.

10:15am-10:45am MST:

Opening: A Fireside Chat with Dr. Larry Brilliant

FFA Board Member and Executive Director/Founder of California Film Institute Mark Fishkin, will chat with world-renowned epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant about what cinematic organizations can expect from 2021, a timeline for regathering around film, and his work as a consultant on the movie Contagion.

11:00am – 11:45am:

Marketing: Ally or Antagonist: Presented with Queering the Cinema
For a minority community that ceases to exist in the studio system, festivals and art houses provide a rare cinematic landscape to see the LGBTQ+ community on screen. Queer voices continue to be underrepresented, misrepresented, and only selectively integrated in the larger festival and cinema circuit. At a time where we are actively talking about who gets to tell which stories, this panel seeks to explore the intersection of programming and community partnerships. Despite the best intentions, many common practices may be preventing queer voices from being properly represented. In trying to reach queer audiences year-round, there is much that can be done to promote films without forcing queer segregation.

12:00pm – 12:45pm:

Development: Next Level Grant Writing
Grants for film exhibitors can be difficult to find and even more competitive to receive. Now, during COVID, grantmaking has become even more challenging. How can film exhibitors craft compelling grant narratives that best position their organizations for funding, while also doing the hard work of making the case for more grants for our sector?

1:00pm – 1:45pm:

General Assembly: Humane Resources
What does it really mean to “take care” of your staff during times of crisis and critical change? We’ll hear from organizations who kept human capital front and center during the epidemic and how it served their festivals and cinemas.

2:00pm – 2:45pm:

Operations: Getting Physical: The PPE Story
From government assistance to Costco runs, purchasing PPE is a necessity and we’re running through it, fast. In this session, we’ll talk about what goes into keeping your cinema up to code during a pandemic, the costs of PPE, and how you’re getting it. We’ll also discuss the new procedures you’ve had to establish to accommodate the new-and-ever-changing guidelines for your cinema, and what this means for festivals who will return to them in the future.

3:00pm – 3:45pm:

Programming: Being A Good Neighbor to Fellow Exhibitors & Filmmakers
The Pandemic Fest Landscape has been a bit like the Wild West. For better or for worse, not all of the programming protocol carried over into the virtual circuit. As we move forward with cyber-programming – an inescapable part of our future –  what does it mean to be a good neighbor? Is geoblocking a necessity or a protectionist relic? As it becomes easier to collaborate, does new virtual competition also hang over us? Why can’t we all just get along? Or at least let the pretending to get along be based on inherent truths.

4:30pm – 5:30pm:

Happy Hour: Distributor Edition
This is Meet the Distributors…but with a twist!

5:30pm:  Dinner & A Movie

Join GQue Films for a special preview screening of NORA HIGHLAND w ith an evening event “Dinner, Dish, & Drunken Queer Trivia”  to coincide at FilmEx on Tuesday, January 12th at 5:30 pm MST.

Director Ryan Spahn has shared his favorite recipe for the Dinner portion of the evening. Click here to get the grocery list and stock up before FilmEx, so you can enjoy Ryan’s favorite salmon and sweet potato meal, while we Dish!

Check your email for an exclusive link to the film ahead of the festivities!

Wednesday, Jan 13.

9:30am – 10:00am

Remote Operations During & Beyond the Pandemic

In order to create safer working conditions, New Orleans Film Society has closed their office for 9 months and counting, necessitating new investments in tech tools to work efficiently from home. Executive Director Fallon Young will share a case study of the new tools NOFS needed to run the non-profit, the festival, and filmmaker professional development programs, remotely, from online bill pay solutions, virtual receipt management, membership management, productivity tools, online accounting, collaborative design software, and voice over IP phones. NOFS will share the systems/services they put in place to make it possible to work efficiently remotely–– changes that benefit us during and beyond the pandemic.

10:15am – 10:45am:

OpeningA Conversation with Gina Duncan

From Art House to Film Festival, during a pandemic, we’ll hear from Gina, the Producing Director of the Sundance Film Festival, about the changing exhibition landscape. In conversation with  Sean Weiner, Director of Programs, Media Arts Lab at the Jacob Burns Film Center.

11:00am – 11:45am:

Marketing: Analyzing Data: Turning Data Sets into Actionable Items presented with Together Films
Virtual screenings give us access to more data than ever before. Which numbers are the most valuable? How do you translate this data into something useful to share with your stakeholders? From impressions to play starts, we’ll discuss how to sift through this newfound information and make the data work for you.

12:00pm – 12:45pm:

Development: Building Organizational Transparency from the Ground Up presented with Alliance for Action
A case study for building organizational sustainability using tools of collaboration and transparency, presented by Alliance for Action. FFA serves as the temporary fiscal sponsor for A4A.

1:00pm – 1:45pm:

General Assembly: The Future of Indie Exhibition Looks Like Us 
Sahar Driver, author of The Ford Foundation’s Beyond Inclusion research report will moderate a conversation with BIPOC decision-makers about the importance of diversifying organizational leadership.

2:00pm – 2:45pm:

Operations: Staffing Sustainability: Retention in the Age of Covid
We all wear a million hats as is,  and we’ve all taken a hit during the pandemic, especially when it comes to staffing. Now, we face the challenging reality that there may not be enough resources to keep every position at our festival or cinema. In this frank session, we’ll discuss the challenges and strategies for retaining our remaining staff at a time where we are mission-critical to survive while simultaneously asking so much more of our staff, and imagining what a new org chart might look like.

3:00pm – 3:45pm:

Programming: Rethinking Programming Categories & Removing Barriers
Think about the last film you watched for fun and enjoyed. Now describe it in your head. More than likely the words you conjured up were not international narrative film world premiere or US documentary film. Yet often categories like these are how we present films to our audiences. Outside of not being the way people normally engage with film, the attachment to these categories belies a colonial approach to film programming. The Pandemic Fest landscape has presented a perfect opportunity to change how we categorize film. This session will look at ways we can revamp film categories both to reflect how audiences actually pick what to watch as well as decolonize our programming choices.

4:30pm – 5:30pm:

Happy Hour: Filmmaker Lounge: Audience UX, presented with Festival Formula, LLC:
This special edition of FFA & Festival Formula’s Filmmaker Lounge will engage a selection of festival and art house cinema patrons from across the country to hear what they really think of virtual programming and get a glimpse into their user experience.

5:30p: Evening Event: Karaoke: TBA

Thursday, Jan. 14

9:30am – 10:00am:

Fair Use: What Do We Need to Know:
Filmmakers deal with fair use in every edit, but what do festivals need to know about the ethical negotiations filmmakers make with producers about what they need permissions for? What should raise a red flag for you as your organization and programmers and how do exhibitors protect themselves?

10:15am – 10:45am:

Opening: Presentation & Analysis of FFA Filmmaker & Audience Survey
Avenue ISR’s Woody Smith will present survey results from FFA’s 2020 Audience Survey with key data sets and year-in-review analytics; and FFA & IFP’s 2020 Filmmaker Survey.

11:00am – 11:45am:

Marketing: The Social Media Conundrum: Is it Working & Alternatives 

In recent years, event marketing has had a heavy reliance on social media. Speak to your audience through a Facebook post, boost said Facebook post, gather them through a Facebook event… Is it even effective anymore and what are the other, and best options for getting your message in front of consumers to drive attendance?

12:00pm – 12:45pm:

Development: Balancing Sponsorship in the Virtual & IRL Worlds 

Eyeballs in the virtual world and butts-in-seats in the physical world should be valued the same, shouldn’t they? Or maybe not. The shift from in-person to virtual can have a substantial effect on sponsorship, from identifying benefits to the value of in-kind, to the sponsors’ ROI. How are you retaining long-term sponsors and how are you developing new sponsors? This panel will dig into the challenges and opportunities of the Virtual and IRL worlds for your sponsor relations, and the impact on your bottom line.

1:00pm – 1:45pm:

General Assembly: The Filmmaker POV presented with IFP
We’ll hear from three filmmaking teams about their 2020 festival strategies, and then ultimately their journeys, and what a festival premiere means to filmmakers in these changing times.

2:00pm – 2:45pm:

Operations: What is the New Break Even?: Redefining Success from An Experiential POV
Success is regularly judged by an organization’s ability to stay out of the red and in the black. Line items are meticulously studied to quantitatively evaluate the levels of our success. In a year where our organizations and customers alike have struggled with balancing the budget, we discuss the value of recognizing success from a customer experience perspective, through the lens of customer satisfaction, accessibility, and affordability.

3:00pm – 3:45pm:

Programming: Building An Exhibitor Responsibility Tool Kit
Programmers and organizations have a responsibility to filmmakers – in particular BIPOC filmmakers – to present their work authentically and ethically to audiences, without the interference of commercial viability and other institutional barriers. This workshop will cover basic accountability issues that every presenting organization should consider for future programming.

4:30pm – 5:30pm:

Happy Hour: Critical Thinking: Talking Indie Exhibition with Film Critics 

Indie film critics, who cover the festivals and art house programming, will discuss their view on the changing distribution landscape, the importance of festival premieres and markets, and the value of art house cinemas and the regional film festival circuit.


Evening Event: Dance Party
What would FilmEx be without a dance party? Join your host DJ Keith Garcia (Denver Film) as he spins in the FFA zoom room.

10:00pm – 11:00pm: Midnight Session: TBA


Friday, Jan. 15 

10:00am-10:45am: Opening: 

Expanded Universe: 2020 As a Turning Point for Film Lovers

As we look towards 2021 with a glimmer of hope, we need to ask ourselves, how will the hybrid model really work?  How do festivals and cinemas co-exist virtually when we’re all in the same playing field for the first time ever? How do we work together and support one another as we move towards a new in-person model? What are our new relationships with filmmakers, distributors, and audiences? This session will attempt to answer some of these burning questions.

11:00am – 11:45am:

Opening: FFA Annual Meeting
FFA will present its annual state of the organization, including an overview of 2020, a look ahead at 2021, and the announcement of new board members.


Desk Yoga
Join fellow attendees for a brief and relaxing yoga session, as you inhale and exhale the week.

12:00pm – 12:45pm:

Board Diversification & Accountability
How do you responsibly include diverse voices within your Board of Directors without tokenizing them?

1:00pm – 2:15pm:

Looking Forward: A Hybrid World, presented with Art House Convergence
As we look towards 2021 with a glimmer of hope, we need to ask ourselves, how will the hybrid model really work?  How do festivals and cinemas co-exist virtually when we’re all in the same playing field for the first time ever? How do we work together and support one another as we move towards a new in-person model? What are our new relationships with filmmakers, distributors, and audiences? This session will attempt to answer some of these burning questions.

2:30pm – 4:00pm:

Reimagining Film Festivals Workshop with Full Spectrum Features
In this collaborative design session, participants will generate new, disruptive, and even radical ideas for how to reinvent film festivals. Reading materials will be provided ahead of time for participants to come into the session with a framework on how to contribute to this emergent discussion. This session will tap into the group’s collective knowledge and curiosity to challenge convention and imagine a new future for film festivals.

4:30pm – 5:30pm:

Happy Hour: Best of the 2020 Pivots
Let’s close out a week full of great sessions and ease into the weekend with a game designed to bring us all closer together. Come ready to pivot -and play Never Have I Ever like you never have before: The festival and arthouse pandemic edition!

Saturday, Jan. 16


Film Festival Day, in Partnership with Firelight Media
FFA will present its first Film Festival Day of 2021 to celebrate the culmination of a week of gathering, and the dawn of a new year. The event includes a film screening hosted by FFA member festivals and a filmmaker Q&A. Proceeds benefit both the festivals and filmmaking teams.