Tuesday, May 26, 2009

MIFF Changes in 2009

Taking a look at the MIFF mini mag, which arrived in the mail today (and, as posted yesterday, downloadable as a PDF), I noticed that the Closing Night film (Bran Nue Day) and celebrations are taking place on Saturday 8 August, leaving another day of screenings before the festival actually closes. Now, I've had double tickets to the Closing Night screenings and celebrations for the previous two years and not used them. Being held on Sundays has been a put-off for me. After two and a half weeks of screenings with a full festival pass (and seeing around 40 films), the thought of a Sunday night film with work the next day holds little appeal. So for me, this represents a change for the better.

In the past, MIFF members received the full festival guide a day before its general distribution in The Age newspaper. This year I'm delighted to see that members get the opportunity to receive it a full four days earlier. The general release is Friday 10 July and the festival launch will be Monday 6 July. That's a good head-start on thrashing out what's on offer when, and beginning the daunting task of distilling some 250 films down to a 40-film program over 17 days.

A potentially contentious change this year is that full festival passes are no longer open to the general public. One must now be a MIFF member to purchase a full pass, a strategy obviously designed to increased festival membership. This follows last year's decision to provide priority entry to screenings for MIFF members, a strategy that resulted in a tripling of members. Some complained that this is not very egalitarian while I, as a member, had no problem with it. I also feel similarly about this latest change. MIFF involves a massive endeavour and costs that require a lot of support, which ultimately benefits the supporters. Membership benefits MIFF, and the member benefits outweigh the costs. I see it as a win-win situation. What about you? Any thoughts for or against?


Brad N said...

It makes sense to offer priority entry to MIFF members.

But this latest move is crazy. MIFF members aren't in a better position than last year regarding ability to buy a passport but non-members are forced to pay an $83 fee in order to buy the passport which is already expensive.

It seems greedy and coercive, especially if you are not interested in the MIFF membership benefits. Also probably not a good idea in an economic downturn. I suspect people will just opt for the minipass.

Paul Martin said...

Fair comment, Brad but really, if you're going to get a festival pass, you're presumably going to see 25+ films, otherwise you may as well just buy one or two mini-passes. Even then, you'd save $25 on each mini-pass as a member. So if you bought two passes, your savings as a member cover the lion's share of your membership cost.

If you're going to have that kind of hard-core festival experience that a full pass allows you, wouldn't you want to spend $83 ($67 concession) to become a member for no other reason than to get the priority queuing for all those sessions? This is the #1 reason that most members joined up in the first place. As I posted, membership numbers tripled last year for that reason.

Aside from that benefit, as a member you get invites to at least 8 advance screenings for you and a guest during the year. For me, that's reason enough to become a member, even if there were no priority queuing. Mind you, I was a member, prior to priority queuing, so it's been a big bonus for me.

There's other benefits that might mean more to others (but not so much me) like discount entry to Nova, Palace, Kino and other cinema, theatre discounts, discounts on festival products and festival lounge food & drinks.

It might seem greedy but think it's a need to stay alive. There won't be much money in it, as most full festival pass holders would already be members. I think it's more about expanding the membership base, to increase the year-round interest in and support of MIFF.

To compare with Sydney Film Festival, which is running for only 12 days, a 10-ticket pass is $130, a 20-ticket pass is $240 and a 30-ticket pass is $330. A MIFF mini-pass is $140, which includes 10 tickets + 3 for use during business hours (granted, not everyone can avail themselves of those). Two mini-passes (20 + 6) will be $280 and a full pass is $330, with which one could see up to nearly 100 films. Looking at those numbers, I think most punters would either opt for one mini-pass or a full festival pass, as there's not much price differential between two mini-passes and one full.

Paul Martin said...

On a slightly different subject, I've noticed that MIFF's service fee for booking tickets online is $3.85. It's the same whether you purchase a mini-pass (as I did for my missus) or a single ticket (and the cost of those hasn't been published yet). That fee sounds a little high, though ostensibly it goes to the e-commerce company that provides the service. You can avoid the fee by booking at the Forum Theatre, but that's for mugs. I hate those massive queues.

The interesting bit is that SFF's service fee is only $1, the same amount that Palace Cinemas charges for online transactions. Now there's something to gripe over, huh?

Anonymous said...

Why should there be a 'priority' for admission to screenings? Shouldn't all patrons be considered of equal status, or are some more equal than others? And what is MIFF Membership - what are you actually becoming a member of?? At one time members could vote for the Board, and attend AGMs. Does MIFF still have AGMs. Do 'members' participate in the operations of the company, do they vote for the Board? Is it still democratic, like when it was set up? or is it being run by an elite and the so-called " membership" just a cash flow marketing device! ATt MIFF, it is bad enough having to queue -- without having someone jump in front of you just because they have more bukaroos!!

Paul Martin said...

Them's the breaks, Anonymous. It's a bit like the rest of society, I suppose. You get what you pay for.

Paul Martin said...

I don't think it's unreasonable to for a not-for-profit organisation to give priority to members over non-members. FWIW, at Melbourne Cinémathèque - also a NPO - you have to be a member to attend any screening.

Anonymous said...

Okay the points I was making were:
(1) 'priority'admission to screenings? Okay, MIFF is a public exhibition event 'open' to general public > 18 years. If (as you suggest) you get what you pay for, why shouldn't any patron just pay more for the session and then jump the queue. Perhaps a Gold Class queue - MIFF could even have a roped off section of the cinema for those who pay for the privilege. You could even have corporate boxes. Why not! Concurrently, you could argue that any 'truly genuine' supporter of MIFF would buy individual tickets and pay more and thus support MIFF, rather than try to pay less per session and then have the gumption expect certain privileges - like, hey buddy I paid less then you to attend this film, but I want to get in first, okay!!!

(2) And what is MIFF Membership - what are you actually becoming a member of?? Okay, at one time members could vote for the Board, and attend AGMs, there was an ongoing effort by MIFF to involve those interested in participating in the operations of the festival - and a real voting membership of the company was one way. But, is MIFF's membership anything more than a Cinema Moviecard club now? And the way you've described the value of MIFF membership is by the benefits received, rather than the contribution that can be made.

Finally, no comparison with the Cinematheque - as its admission is by 'membership only', not general public.

Paul Martin said...

Anonymous, what is your specific grievance? Is it that you resent the priority queuing? That it's not egalitarian? That you can't afford membership?

Any organisation has the right to make its own rules and we have the right to an opinion about those rules. In my case - perhaps it's because I can afford membership and can take advantage of the rules - I support them. Obviously you don't. Such is life.

Anonymous said...

4 legs good, 2 legs bad.

GGBlog said...

Hello Paul, Tragically I don't have the time to attend MIFF under a full Festival Pass - a minipass has to suffice. I take your point about funding etc, heaven knows film & the Festival don't get enough funding- but forcing an $80 membership just to obtain a full pass leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Perhaps though folks who can make the most of a pass are just as likely to make the most of the membership. (I confess that if I could, I would - its great value).
As to priority queueing (how do you spell that word?), let me make two points : 1) the cinemas (esp Forum) are excellent venues to watch from, whether you are nr the front or in the back row; in the center or in the wings; it doesn't matter if you are last in, there is always a seat somewhere 2) the electronic scanning of tickets means that queues just whip through as soon as the doors are open. What's not to like? I have found waiting to be a minimal issue. Well done MIFF.

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for the comments, Robert. I agree about the Forum, and the same can be said of the Kino and ACMI, and I see most films at these venues. Greater Union, however, is the absolute pits and I avoid it as far as possible. The Regent is great, when it's available, which it's not this year because of the Wicked production - ironically, its season ends about the same date that MIFF finishes.

I have an aversion to large crowds of people, so queues are an issue for me. It's one of the reasons that I rarely go to the cinema on Saturday evenings; I prefer off-peak sessions. For that reason, I avoided MIFF for many years, and loved going to the Kino (when it wasn't involved with MIFF) and being the only person in the audience. So I find the priority queuing great.

For what it's worth, I have the highest level of MIFF membership, which entitles me to reserved seating - this year that privilege is at all venues for the first time. So priority queuing makes no difference to my ability to get a good seat. But like I said, crowds and queues freak me out. It's not claustrophobia, but something similar.

As for the 'bad taste in the mouth', if this system had been in place for several years, I don't think anyone would think twice about it. It would seem quite normal. It's always a difficult thing to change rules or policies, because people are accustomed to things being a certain way, and if you're adversely affected by a change, there's bound to be resentment. People sometimes resist change, but once they're used to it, often find they actually prefer it. I actually work in this area (in information technology). Maybe there'll be initial resentment from some at being forced to becoming a member, but then taking advantage of the benefits should counterbalance that.

Anyway, I'm no defender of MIFF and have had my own criticisms. In fact, I document them each year and send an extensive Word document listing them. I've also volunteered to come into MIFF and sat down with the staff with suggestions on how to improve the website, and attended other focus group sessions. Some of those suggestions have been implemented, and some of my criticisms remain. Such is the way of things.

Dr_Rudi said...

Hi Paul,

Slightly tangential, but I'll add this to your most recent MIFF post. Will you be endeavouring to identify which films have a cinema release already slated ? Thanks.