[FOLLOW-UP] ⯈ How do you launch a festival in the middle of a pandemic?

Rebecca May

Last month, GCN Talent spoke to Greg Hackett, the Festival Director of the London Mountain Film Festival. Formerly MD at Informa/IIR Telecoms and Clarion Events, Greg left the B2B events sector and later set up this B2C event for the climbing/outdoor adventure market – but then the COVID-19 pandemic loomed its ugly head and threw a spanner in the works.

When we previously spoke to Greg, he was making preparations to run his year-one event during a global lockdown, which meant taking it online and making it virtual in a very short space of time. We caught up with Greg again now that the festival has run – and it truly is a positive tale!


How did the online London Mountain Film Festival go?

We reached the summit! The attendance was superb – about three times what we hoped – but what really surprised us was the depth of engagement. Films watched per person, and comments left per person were way higher than we thought they would be. We clearly underestimated the lockdown effect!


What has the feedback been like from both visitors and filmmakers?

The filmmakers have loved taking part. Usually it costs them to be involved in film festivals, but because of the circumstances we were able to drive some donations for them for a change. Also, they don’t normally get a lot of public feedback at a physical event, but we were able to provide them with loads of comments praising their films that they can now use in their marketing. And they totally joined in as visitors too.

Visitors completely got it – of course there were lots of comments in support of the idea we were providing something in lockdown, but the positive feedback about the event in its own right will help enormously in communicating the impact of the event in the future.

There were many frosty messages after the event that it hadn’t gone on for longer – as far as we are concerned, that’s a good sign, and exactly what you would want from a physical event, too.


As the organiser, were there any highlights for you?

Many! My personal favourite was on Sunday night a few hours from the end of the event we got a Facebook message from a healthcare worker in Canada who was working all day and desperate to watch the films. So we just decided to ‘Stay up all night for Canadian Katie’, but it turned out to be a popular move with everyone!

The learning point, of course, is that with digital you can make all sorts of live decisions that you wouldn’t consider in a real venue – it’s important to be constantly vigilant about what people are saying and doing so you can react.

Now that you have run this virtual event successfully, is there anything that you would do differently next time for a virtual event?

Absolutely – our set-up was pretty simple because of the time we had to prepare. Our plans are hybrid, but if forced again to be purely virtual then I would be integrating on-demand content with live streaming, potentially through social media broadcasts and with networking tools.

Of course, there are platforms that can provide all of this in one go, but you can also knit together something robust yourself – I wouldn’t underestimate the fact that a lot of social technology that’s freely available, whilst it might be ubiquitous and ordinary, is recognisable to your audience.


Has this virtual experience helped with planning the (hopefully) physical festival for next year?

We have more data to do a post-event survey than we would otherwise have had. We also have a great story to take to the market. There is still a lot to wade through, but I have already done some analysis regarding content engagement that will help enormously with programming our content next year.


What’s next for the London Mountain Film Festival?

Lots of research and a strong mug of tea.


The London Mountain Film Festival will be back in spring 2021. You can register on their website for updates on the next festival here: www.londonmountainfestival.com


Interview conducted by Rebecca May, Marketing Consultant for GCN Talent

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