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UNICA : Designing the future - Concept and Strategy

July 2013

Portrait of Georges Fondeur.Thoughts and comments on the questionnaire attached, drafted on the basis of the document submitted by Art Hovanessian.


The proposals submitted by Art Hovenessian seem to be based on a prerequisite: if UNICA aims to go on playing a major role tomorrow and beyond on the international non-professional filmmaking scene, the institution should be prepared to call into question its own structures and organization.

The essential question is as follows: what kind of  UNICA do we need for tomorrow, how should UNICA be structured in the near future ?

The reasoning is obviously calling for the elaboration of a new concept, supposing we share the opinion that the present-day concept has little or no chance to promote its own development by itself. The progressive ageing of existing structures - associations, clubs and their members - combined with growing financial difficulties in many countries and severe cuts on subsidies for cultural activities, in particular for the non-professional scene, should indeed be a major cause of concern for us.

These concerns are all the more justified when we see how difficult it is in general for the affiliated countries to make recruits among the young people even though we never had so much filming as is currently the case, especially by young people, be it with a video camera, a photo camera, a mobile phone or a tablet. To put it short, there is little doubt that changes will have to be introduced into our structures - be it in clubs, associations, and even UNICA - in the foreseeable future, and a new approach should be promoted and applied if we do not want to miss the boat to the future.

1: What kind of UNICA for tomorrow and beyond?

For whatever concept to be successful, it requires a strategy for dynamic development. After examining the 'what sort of' dimension, we have to tackle the 'how' question. Giving priority to a forceful campaign using the tools of marketing to gain new members may be a way towards success. However, can UNICA absorb many new members in its ranks before changes have been fully implemented among "long-time members"? Should this appear to be the way, then we should probably have to investigate to what extent a strategy directed to new countries can be reconciled with the present-day concept?

There is no point at that stage in going on reflecting on this. However, anyone among us who is vested with a share of responsibility should give some thought and contribute to the elaboration of this new concept along modern lines. The drafting of a White paper with a catalogue of proposals and possible actions makes sense only if all the people involved have a clear idea of which umbrella organization will in the future be in the position to represent the interests of filmmakers and their national organizations worldwide.

These basic considerations should primarily serve to provide a clear picture of the as-is situation (current state) and suggest in which direction it could possibly develop (target state) while opening up some avenues to be explored to reconfigure the institution on the basis of some of the basic ideas in the White paper. Should we have a large majority - hopefully close to consensus - about the need to implement such a reform project, be it to full or only limited extent, a provisional document could then be submitted in Piestany as early as 2014.

This preliminary stage - consulting and collecting opinions - will be decisive for the shaping of the strategies for the future, including aggressive marketing campaigns, gaining sponsorships, reaching out east and west, restructuring our annual competition.

The Paper submitted by Art Hovenessian contains indeed some interesting clues and suggestions for the future and it will take a deep-going analysis to identify which ones can be translated into practice and show the way to the right conclusions to be drawn and the right decisions to be made.

Anyway we cannot accept that UNICA as it now stands could be tempted to adopt and implement isolated parts of the reform proposals in the White paper without thinking deeply about possible consequences on the present-day concept and considering the damage that could possibly affect the ideas and objectives that were defined for UNICA by our forefathers 75 years ago and have carried it on the way to success. A concept is a whole and, as such, should not be cut into fragments and modified accordingly.   

2 Organizational and strategic reorientation

What kind of initiative should UNICA consider at the level of the federations and clubs so that young filmmakers would feel attracted by the existing structures ? This entails the question whether these institutions are appropriate to serve to young filmmakers as a platform or stepping stone on their way to a successful career as a filmmaker. There are indeed various paths in this multimedia age that are more simple and straightforward to access a large public and even millions of people. Furthermore, there are specific festivals dedicated to only young filmmakers where they meet and are involved in an event reminding of a happening, acclaim each other's works and, with assistance from public and private sponsors, can be awarded valuable cash prizes.

The following question has then to be considered: is it sufficient to reduce the number of medals awarded during the annual Festival to boost their attractiveness and value? Experience has shown that participants tend to turn down a special prize in the form of an award in goods if it can be replaced by a medal of whatever colour and independent of the total number of medals.

Awarding cash prizes to the best is not wrong in itself: it may even be considered as an additional incentive to some authors. But then, where should the money come from ? This question calls for serious thinking. We can hardly imagine that national associations or organizations will give funds for the cash prizes to be given at UNICA festivals, at the expense of the budget earmarked for their own national contests. We should keep in mind that, in many affiliated federations, various selection criteria apply for the national competition, supposing that such an event is indeed organised. UNICA, as a world-wide umbrella organisation has rarely, if ever, the opportunity to gain the loyalty of "well-off" sponsors, the more so as the host country for the annual festival changes every year and this can hardly be modified by reinforced marketing actions,whatever their scope may be.

3 Marketing - Expansion of UNICA

A marketing campaign in grand style, including inviting delegations from countries that are not UNICA members yet, meeting the costs of travel and stay for the annual Festival, or calling on VIPs from the world of film may be a good idea in PR terms as it will contribute to reinforcing its image and boost its visibility in the world of professionals and the media. However, such actions are most likely to fail due to the problem of affordability. Nevertheless, marketing actions or similar efforts can be helpful for some local organisers of the annual festival their quest for sponsorship.

Printing advertising material or using other multimedia information documents is more realistic but it also takes time and money and requires volunteers who are prepared to devote themselves to this task. Committing private companies for this action is at the present time unthinkable, given the lack of resources. We should also bear in mind that such actions could be a cause of dispute between the UNICA and local organisers.

An enhanced promotional campaign via the social networks or a specific website targeting new interest groups can indeed lead to winning over some new members for UNICA and national federations.

To do justice to UNICA's claim as a world-wide movement for non-professional filmmaking, it would also be appropriate to expand the presence of UNICA, in particular on the Asian and North and South American scenes, and facilitate, not only to form new national organisations, but also help them to become members of our Union. Various factors should obviously be taken into account in this process, whether geopolitical tensions related to hotbeds and conflicts, or religious issues that may impose considerable limits to the freedom of film creation and/or film screening.

Finally, we should not underestimate the impact that enlarged membership may have on the programing of annual festivals, including reducing the screening time allocated to national selections, having cuts in the general program or extending the length of the event by one day or more.

Final remarks

However sceptical - and even at times negative - the above remarks may sound, it does not invalidate the fact that it will be necessary in the foreseeable future to reconsider many aspects of non-professional filmmaking if we want to avoid that UNICA and its current structures - founded on solid and well-organised national institutions that are themselves based on numerous and active clubs - begin to run out of steam, due to dwindling membership and club associated with the loss of several enthusiastic and talented authors, in other terms the "pure amateurs." Curbing this movement with an initiative entailing that only one category of films would be presented during the UNICA festival, regardless of the conditions of creation, be it by professionals, children, young people, film schools or "pure amateurs", and then rating all the entries in a single ranking list, does not appear to be an relevant way to raise the general level of film quality or ensure greater fairness in the evaluating process, and - what is probably most important - offers no guarantee that it would safeguard the existence of non-professional filmmaking and its organizations in the future.

We should therefore consider this practical suggestion: what about appointing a trustworthy person having good knowledge and expertise in this area, and commissioning him/her first to collect the opinions submitted by the federations in response to the questionnaire, then work in peace and in a strictly neutral spirit to assess all proposals for structural reforms and innovations recognised as necessary and yet affordable, and finally submit a report with a list of initiatives to be taken and implemented within the limits of a reasonable timeline.

This would definitely represent a step forward towards common conclusions, so that the decisions to be made to reflect the position expressed by a large majority - close to consensus - of national federations.

With best regards
Luxembourg, July 2013
Georges Fondeur, President