Beyond a cult-following: Informing the content, and programming of genre-film festivals, and improving their reputation and long-term financial sustainability
There has been a recent expansion in genre-film festivals across Europe that focus on horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Yet despite their growing economic importance as cultural attractions, these events are often forced to operate within tight financial constraints, largely due to the popular misconceptions of funders and mainstream audiences regarding the ‘cult’ subject matter. Working with three leading European genre-film festivals, Northumbria University’s research informed new educational programming which transformed the profile, reputation and the financial sustainability of Kurja Polt in Slovenia, Offscreen in Belgium, and Abertoir in Wales. The festival-tailored, comprehensive educational activities increased genre-film fan engagement and attendance, attracted expert speakers, and enabled the festivals to promote professional validation for genre-film artists and genre film culture more broadly. Kurja Polt has become one of the fastest growing and most significant international film festivals in Slovenia and is regarded as an exemplar of good practice.
Genre and cult cinema are notoriously difficult to define. Historically prodigious production levels and varied geographical origins have meant drawing boundaries around what counts as cult- or genre-film is a complex, fluid, and ephemeral process. Combined with the nature of the subject matter that genre-film typically explores, this complexity has led to accusations of creative irrelevance among funding bodies and film professionals. In response, research undertaken by the ‘Moving Image, Popular Media and Culture’ Research Group at Northumbria has demonstrated the cultural, political, and social value of genre-cinema and the important function of genre-film festivals in sharing those insights with the public at large.
At a time when critics have been arguing festivals in general are unsustainable, these collaborations enabled the festival stakeholders to better understand the dynamics of their sustainability and the commercial necessity of developing rigorous, supplementary educational activities, informed by critical film analysis, to attract increasing audiences and open up new sources of funding. Northumbria’s research led directly to the creation of new festival-tailored educational programming that has enhanced the practices, profile, and financial sustainability of leading, European genre-film festivals, specifically those who give particular attention to exploring and promoting the horror genre. This work allowed the festival management teams to better promote genre-film culture (including transforming one festival, Kurja Polt, into one the most significant international film festivals in Slovenia), and provided genre-film artists (directors, screenwriters) with a new sense of professional validation and recognition.