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Navigating the New Wave: Insights from Gotham Week Expo 2023

The following guest post was submitted by Brittany Franklin, founder and president of Minorities in Film (MiFILM). Franklin and MiFilm participated in the recent The Gotham Week Expo, a program of Filmmaker‘s publisher, The Gotham. — Editor

The energy was palpable at The Gotham Week Expo Sessions on October 4th and 5th, as filmmakers and industry visionaries converged to exchange ideas, share insights and forge connections. Among the many enlightening sessions, Minorities in Film (MiFILM) had the pleasure to present two panels: “Amplifying Your Independent Film: Effective Marketing Techniques for Targeted Audience Engagement” and “Advocacy for the Independent Filmmaker Through Community,” co-presented by Brown Girls Doc Mafia, Islamic Scholarship Fund and the New Orleans Film Society. 

I moderated the “Amplifying Your Independent Film” panel, which brought together Mariah Sanchez, strategist and performer, and Kyra Knox, producer and director of Bad Things Happen in Phillidelphia, for a panel of marketing professionals with their own unique perspectives on independent filmmaking and impactful marketing. The room was filled with enthusiastic creators eager to learn, share and amplify their projects.

One recurring theme that resonated was the challenges faced in marketing and advertising independent films. Both audiences and panelists registered confusion and frustration surrounding the intricacies of growing an authentic online audience and effectively navigating the ever-evolving landscape of social media. MiFILM believes marketing is the key to increasing visibility, and the right techniques can elevate a film’s message, all while maintaining authenticity and consistency. “Bad Things Happen in Philadelphia partnered with a local organization that received a direct donation of $20,000,” said Knox of leveraging social impact campaigns, similar to Ava DuVernay drawing awareness to harmful rhetoric perpetuated in the 2020 election. But that’s not the only technique indie filmmakers can employ; other effective strategies include guerrilla marketing (i.e The Blair Witch Project) and collaborating with artists and creators across various disciplines to create visually striking and immersive marketing materials. The latter is an easy and cost effective approach that enhances the overall aesthetic and appeal of their films. And for those simply have not cracked the code of social media, Sanchez, who’s also a Junior Strategist and ad agency suggests,  “hire someone, or find someone young.”

Expanding Communities Initiative: A Year of Strategic Innovation

For over a year, global organizations with a shared passion for diversity and inclusion have come together under the Expanding Communities initiative. Through countless meetings, discussions and collective brainstorming sessions, we’ve forged new strategies that promise to reshape the landscape of independent filmmaking. Some new strategies include creating accessible festival content (screenings, panels, etc) for those with disabilities, restructuring grant and funding opportunities and revitalizing the impact of Filmmaker Labs. 

MiFILM’s ongoing participation in the Expanding Communities program underlines the film industry’s awakening to the need for diverse voices. This initiative stands as a testament to what can be achieved when like-minded visionaries join forces, transcending boundaries and working toward a common goal. By providing resources, community spaces and industry access to individuals with disabilities, and Black, Indigenous, PoC and LGBTQIA+ creators, this program continues to shatter barriers and opened doors. 

Gotham’s Unwavering Commitment to Communities

In a resounding affirmation of their dedication to communities, the Gotham Week Expo embraced the Expanding Communities initiative with open arms. By providing a platform for these organizations to curate panel discussions, they demonstrated a rare and admirable commitment to amplifying underrepresented voices and perspectives within the industry.

One of the standout moments of the expo was witnessing the collaborations between Minorities in Film and The Gotham’s Expanding Communities partnering organizations. The Gotham allowed each organization to submit a proposal for panel discussions, curating panels that addressed topics of interest from their collectives and bringing it to the fold in a two-day session. The impact of such an inclusive program in today’s industry climate cannot be overstated. It brings fresh voices to the forefront and demonstrates that diversity isn’t just a checkbox—it’s a transformative force that enriches storytelling and empowers underrepresented communities.

MiFILM’s Mission: Elevating Authenticity and Consistency

MiFILM’s closing panel—”Amplifying Your Independent Film: Effective Marketing Techniques for Targeted Audience Engagement,” with Sanchez and Knox—emphasized that marketing your independent film isn’t about cold strategies and metrics. It’s about forming connections, sparking conversations and leaving an impact. MiFILM’s approach focuses on authenticity and consistency as the guiding stars. 

Our panelists stressed the importance of understanding your audience inside out. This involves a deep dive into demographics, interests and viewing habits, utilizing platform features in Instagram, TikTok and Twitter to analyze your page’s performance. Filmmakers can go even further by using platforms like Google Trends and  Nielsen ONE to understand their audience within global media offerings. Knowing your viewers helps tailor your marketing efforts and ensures you connect with those who resonate with your film.

Knox, a seasoned filmmaker and advocate for diversity in storytelling, highlighted the role of storytelling authenticity in marketing. She emphasized that your story, the heart and soul of your film, must shine through in every marketing effort. It’s not about creating hype but conveying your narrative’s essence.

Sanchez, a marketing maven with a knack for creating and analyzing viral moments, shared her experience using the power of the internet to amplify films. She underlined the importance of creating content that resonates with audiences, evokes emotions and fosters discussions. The viral nature of online content can lead to increased visibility and anticipation.

Gotham Week Expo: A Haven of Learning and Networking

The Gotham Week Expo was a testament to the industry’s progress. The panels were brimming with speakers from various backgrounds, all contributing their unique perspectives. What stood out was the diverse audience—primarily women and BIPOC creators. This gathering wasn’t just about learning; it was about building a community, asking the right questions and sparking thoughts that could move the industry in the direction we’re all striving for.

In the end, it’s not just about making films; it’s about making a difference. MiFILM, with its focus on authenticity and community building, exemplified the idea that marketing isn’t just about numbers; it’s about stories that move hearts and minds.

A Bold Step Towards a More Inclusive Future

As I reflect on my experience at the Gotham Week Expo, it’s clear that we are in the midst of a transformative era in independent filmmaking. One couldn’t help but feel the seismic shift that’s underway in the independent filmmaking landscape. The Expanding Communities initiative, with its year-long journey of strategic innovation, stands as a beacon of hope for an industry that’s evolving toward greater inclusivity and diversity.

By embracing the collaborative spirit of Expanding Communities, Gotham Week has not only set a remarkable precedent but has also issued a call to action for the entire industry. As we move forward, it’s clear that the future of independent filmmaking is in the hands of those who are unafraid to break boundaries, amplify unheard voices and redefine the narrative.

As we left the Gotham Week Expo, we carried not just knowledge but a sense of purpose. I look forward to the next gathering, to more storytelling and to amplifying our voices, one film at a time.

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