Film festival disappoints

Even those involved with it will tell you: This year?s film festival was by no means a success. Attendance was a trickle, advertising was scant, and technical problems plagued film showings. But the real problem wasn?t with the class that was in charge of the film festival; it was with the way the festival was handled this year, the same problem that has plagued the festival for the last six.
The powers that be in CMU?s College of Humanities and Social Sciences have given the task of organizing a film festival to a different department each year. Originally, the festival was to run a limited number of times; but its occasional successes have extended that timeline. In the past, themes ranged from the Vietnam War to German film to rock ?n? roll; this year, the psychology department took on ?diversity issues in film.?
The course was to teach both the theories behind social identity and, hypothetically, how to create, advertise, and manage a multi-day film festival. But the balance between the two was botched, because the festival?s organization was haphazard as its opening night loomed. Very little advertising was done. No website appeared. And a member of the class showed up in front of Student Senate 30 minutes before the festival?s first film to ask for $1000 in special allocation funding. Each year, departments have had more trouble convincing professors to take the burden: Although the first three years saw tenured faculty teaching the courses, the last three have been taught by adjuncts. Gene Smith, last year?s Vietnam War film festival professor, left CMU after the 2003?04 academic year ? leaving this year?s organizers with one fewer resource for guidance.
The issue here is with the concept of ?organizational memory.? By passing the responsibility of a multi-day film festival from department to department each year with little structural guidance as to how a film festival is organized, advertised, or integrated into a course syllabus, each successive leadership is starting completely from scratch. Again. It?s no wonder that the success rate has varied so much since its inception in 1999. Who?s been guiding this ship, anyway?
There is often difficulty in trying to balance teaching course material with creating and managing the actual festival, and this balance has shifted wildly from year to year.
The professors that end up with next year?s film festival in their laps need to have clearer guidelines for the public elements of this course.
Finally, there needs to be some consistent avenue for funding. Different methods have been bandied about, but thus far, the most guidance has come from simply knocking on the doors of related disciplines, departments and organizations. Even that?s gone awry, though: the students in charge of finances for 2002?s German festival were infamous for being overly aggressive in their solicitations, often from organizations that might have nothing to do with film auf Deutsch. If more guidance was given on how to run the festival, no doubt departments and organizations would be more willing to donate; but it?s a chicken-and-egg argument, so both should be addressed at once.
It?s still valuable to pass the festival to a different department each year. Such an arrangement exposes an entirely new pool of students into the experience each year, and allows its subject to shift dramatically. But if the College of Humanities and Social Sciences expects to have a successful festival each year, it should throw some training wheels on before stranding a new department on the motorcycle.