Full disclosure: I love watching films. Independent films, documentaries, narrative features, shorts, films with an educational bent, foreign films with subtitles and films I’ve never heard of that just might deliver a one-two punch.
And so it is with great anticipation that I look forward to this year’s sixth annual Napa Valley Film Festival, Nov. 9 -13. Plan your schedule now with the just-released program guide at www.napavalleyfilmfest.org.
While staff was busily bringing the festival into focus, I caught up by phone with co-founder and executive/artistic director Marc Lhormer. I was curious how such an all-encompassing, mega-event is paid for, sustained over time, staffed on an annual basis and what part the local and visitor communities play in the festival’s success.
First, we talked budget, growth and partners.
“Our expenses and revenues have grown every year,” Lhormer said. “Year one (2011), the cash expenses were only about $900,000 with another $1.5 million of in-kind (donated goods and services). Our operating budget this year is $5 million comprised of $2.5 million in cash and $2.5 million of in-kind contributions.
“To cover the $2.5 million in cash expenses, revenues come from a mix of corporate, private and general public participation. About one-third is corporate sponsorship and entertaining; another one-third is private support from Patron Circle memberships offering VIP experiences; and the remaining one-third comes from sales of passes and tickets sold to the general public.”
Lhormer explained that the $2.5 million that doesn’t appear as “cash” is generated from a wide array of supportive local partners. “These include the lodging community, wineries, participating restaurants and chefs, plus a broad range of additional companies (printing, party and equipment rentals, marketing support) that contribute their goods and services or deeply discount them,” Lhormer said.
“While our revenues have kept pace with expenses and total attendance grows every year, what specifically doesn’t grow is the film program. We’re holding steady at 120 films,” Lhormer said.
“We’re not trying to further overwhelm people,” he continued. “The number of screening venues is about the same [13 this year]. We have expanded to a full six days giving attendees more chances to see the films by doing a full day of screenings on Tuesday, Nov. 8, Election Day. We’re showing films at one venue in each of the valley’s four festival villages, including four films at CIA-Copia.”
Lhormer sees growth in the quality of the experience and the festival’s burgeoning reputation. “Everything from the films, the caliber of the creative teams, more agents and publicists attending with their clients, more people paying attention,” Lhormer said. “There’s definitely growth in stature and impact from Hollywood’s perspective, and we’re complementing that with great events that showcase Napa Valley’s food and wine.”
Locally, there are sponsors and partners at every level of support, including two lodging properties at what Lhormer calls “the super high levels” – Meadowood Napa Valley and the Westin Verasa Napa.
Nationally, Lexus Short Films is back for a second year, which Lhormer describes as a “very interesting partner, not just in bringing in nice looking cars, but they are truly interested in film and with The Weinstein Company in supporting independent filmmakers.”
Stella Artois is back for the fourth year, and new sponsor Hewlett-Packard will be hosting giant displays of walk-up, interactive technology at select sites.
In closing our conversation, Lhormer shared a few nuts and bolts about the festival’s economic impact.
The nonprofit is currently in the black and completing its first full organizational audit. “There are no big secrets, nothing to hide,” Lhormer explained. “We have a year-round team of 15. Starting in August, we build our seasonal team of 25-30 people. By the time of the festival, we have 60 to 70 being paid and 600 volunteers.”
The cost benefit to Napa Valley, Lhormer estimates, is that the event brings in $5 million in terms of direct spending by attendees. There’s also the year-round impact of being here as a local business and employer, accounting for an additional $2 million. The cultural and educational impact for local residents and students is something on which he and his team have yet to attempt to put a dollar value.
“It’s a big show,” Lhormer concluded. “Lots of people put blood, sweat and tears into it. You plan for it all year long, and you hope that when the dust clears you have enough energy and a little money in the bank to turn around and do it again. We really want people to come out and enjoy the festival.”