HIFF sets focus on patrons, future

Oct. 4, 2013 | 1 Comment In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
"The Wind Rises" is this year's opening night film at the Hawaii International Film Festival. (Courtesy HIFF)

“The Wind Rises” is this year’s opening night film at the Hawaii International Film Festival. (Courtesy HIFF)

BY MIKE GORDON / mgordon@staradvertiser.com

A lot of what marks a successful film festival has to do with the glamour of actors and the genius of directors. The beautiful stars, eccentric visions and gala premieres draw attention and accolades.

The Hawaii International Film Festival has those things — usually several times over. However, the success enjoyed by this year’s edition of HIFF, the 33rd in its storied history, may be tied to something quite ordinary: a market research survey.

The research, conducted by SMS Research last fall, created a new blueprint that HIFF organizers used for this year’s festival, which will run from Oct. 10 through Oct. 20 in Honolulu and Oct. 24 through Oct. 27 on the Big Island and Kauai, said Robert Lambeth, the festival’s deputy director.

Hawaii International Film Festival

» Where: Various locations, including Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18, Consolidated Koko Marina 8, Doris Duke Theatre and Hawaii Theatre
» When: Oct. 10 through Oct. 27
» Cost: $8-$12 ($15-$20 for opening night film)
» Info: (808) 447-0577 or hiff.org

“We wanted to know what our patrons wanted from us,” Lambeth said. “It was important. … We use it in our team meetings almost every week. We gauge how we are doing against the data we gathered.”

The research was the largest survey of festival practices in HIFF’s history, and it produced a diverse set of changes, Lambeth said.

For starters, there are fewer films this year — 209 compared with more than 260 last year — but almost all, nearly 95 percent, will screen more than once, Lambeth said. Last year only 60 percent of the films were shown more than once.

“We wanted a leaner program,”*Lambeth said, “with the objective of having at least two screenings per film so people would have a higher chance of seeing them.”

With the changes, festival organizers stayed within budget even as screening fees rose about 28 percent over last year, Lambeth said.

One of the survey’s “astonishing” discoveries was that fewer people knew about the film festival, as well as its depth of programs, than organizers realized, Lambeth said. For example, when attendees were asked whether they also attended HIFF’s spring showcase, 72 percent said they had never heard of it, Lambeth said.

In response, HIFF expanded its online presence, particularly with social media, Lambeth said. As a result, attendance at the 2013 spring showcase rose 62 percent. HIFF also released its fall schedule online about six weeks earlier than previous years.

With the film titles announced, phones have been ringing for ticket sales, Lambeth said.

“We more than doubled our box office staff to be able to service the increased numbers,” he said.

The survey asked those who hadn’t attended HIFF what it would take to get them to a screening; many said they wanted more venues. So HIFF organizers added screenings at Consolidated’s Koko Marina complex and the Doris Duke Theatre, Lambeth said.

It’s a return to a practice in earlier days of the festival. In the 1980s and 1990s, the festival was spread across Oahu; it consolidated to Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18 in 2000.

HIFF also used the Hawaii Theatre occasionally but until the 2012 festival had not used it in four years. It’s on the venue list again this year.

Lambeth said the $16,000 for the survey was the best money ever spent by the festival. He should know what he’s talking about, too. Lambeth worked for the festival from 1996 to 2000 but left for a decade to work in the finance industry: first at U.S. Bank in Portland, Ore., then for Lloyd’s Banking Group in London.

He returned to the festival in 2011 with a keen desire to better understand HIFF.

“I am a firm believer in knowing your market and knowing your patrons, so I didn’t want to assume anything,” he said. “I found that the reputation of HIFF locally was good, (but) it was about 10 years outdated. Most people did not realize or have a full understanding of the all the things we do.”

May We Suggest…

There are many highlights on this year’s Hawaii International Film Festival schedule, including the U.S. premiere of Korean-language action film “Mr. Go” (screens at noon Oct. 13 and 11:15 a.m. Oct. 20 at Dole Cannery), with its bat-swinging CGI gorilla and young circus ringmaster testing their mettle in the world of big-league baseball.

The films below were recommended by HIFF’s executive director, Chuck Boller, and programming director Anderson Le:

‘The Rocket’
Directed by Kim Mordaunt; screens at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11 at Consolidated Koko Marina 8, also 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 and 11 a.m. Oct. 20 at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18

Described as “sensitive and uplifting,” this Australian production shot in Laos is one of Le’s favorites at this year’s festival. It’s the story of a boy who is believed to bring bad luck to everyone around him because he was the surviving twin from a difficult birth. The boy decides his only hope of redemption is to enter the exciting and dangerous Rocket Festival.

“The Rocket Festival’s sole purpose is to shoot people into the sky to inform the rain gods to make it rain,” Le said. “The boy decides to build a rocket himself and bring rain to the area.

“It’s great, it’s really fun. It’s kind of like a Tom Sawyer kind of story where he is a misunderstood kid, kind of mischievous. He hangs out with mischievous characters; but it is very universal, and it’s shot in this exotic land.”

‘About Time’
Part of EuroCinema Hawai’i; directed by Richard Curtis; screens at 2:15 p.m. Oct. 20 at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18

“It’s a British romantic comedy from the director of ‘Love Actually’ and ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral,’” Le said. “It’s about a kid who finds out from his father that the men in their family have a gift and can travel through time.

“So he does and meets the love of his life. He meets her and screws up so he has to travel back in time to correct it. But because of the abuse of that, he changes the timeline and they never actually meet.”

‘Monsoon Shootout’
Directed by Amit Kumar; screens at 9 p.m. Oct. 18 and 11 a.m. Oct. 20 at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18

Kumar’s debut feature has been described as a taut thriller about police violence, corruption and a moral quandary.

“When you think of Indian films, you think of Bollywood, but now there is this emergence of crime thrillers coming out of India,” Le said. “This is from a young director. It’s about a rookie cop who faces this life-or-death situation.

“It’s an interesting narrative. He has to make a decision within a fraction of a second — and from that point (the plot) splits into three different scenarios.”

‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’
Part of EuroCinema Hawai’i; directed by Felix van Groeningen; screens at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12 and 2:45 p.m. Oct. 17 at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18, also 9 p.m. Oct. 14 at Consolidated Koko Marina 8

This Dutch love story between a banjo player and the owner of a tattoo parlor follows their stormy, passionate roller-coaster ride through life.

“It’s a love story between a working-class guy and a working-class girl,” Le said. “It appeals to me because it is about the bluegrass scene in Belgium. It’s very much like the bluegrass scene in the American South.”

‘American Dreams in China’
Directed by Peter Chan; screens at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 12 and 6 p.m. Oct. 16 at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18, also 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at Consolidated Koko Marina 8.

Dubbed the Chinese version of “The Social Network,” the film follows three friends who meet in college and build an empire around teaching English.

“It’s this emerging trend in modern Chinese films these days, to set stories in the 1990s,” said Le. “It’s a commentary on a bygone era, of idealistic youth. They totally romanticize it.”

‘The Wind Rises’
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki; screens at 6 p.m. Oct. 10 at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18

The Hawaii premiere of the animated film is the festival’s opening-night selection and the latest film from director Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirted Away”). It’s billed as “a work of ethereal complexity and immense beauty.”

The main character was inspired by two people who existed in real life: Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Zero fighter plane, and Tatsuo Hori, who wrote a novel that bears the movie’s name.

“It has gotten great reviews,” Boller said. “Miyazaki is one of the finest animation filmmakers in the world and has always been highly regarded. This is supposedly his last film, but I don’t think that came into our thinking when we chose this.”

  • rarnedsoum

    Have followed HIFF for over 15+ years.
    Used to be a member, and attend both Spring and Fall.
    I even volunteered and know some of the execs and key sponsors.

    But for us tech savvy folks, harder and harder to justify, as many of the films have already been viewed, or available online, or on DVD at local japanese/korean video rental shops, by the time they are programmed into the festival schedule.

    Back when admission was $8, not too bad, I actually would end up renewing my membership at the fest, and spending over $100 for my family to go see a ton of films.

    But at $12 today, HIFF would be hard pressed to have me attend even one, which would cost me $48+, when I can download and watch for free, with subtitles on my 80″ Vizio, with microwave popcorn, pizza, and buffalo wings. Yum. Pause button for phone and bathroom is a beautiful thing.

    If I was part of the market survey, I would have said to keep the price low, and have more attendance, much like subway sandwiches, and blow the big boys, like the golden arches, out of the ‘Kai’ (water).

    Good luck Fall HIFF!