How to grow a local event into a global phenomenon

Zurkow Festival Speaker international collaboration

I’m Olivier van der Hoeven, the Festival Director of the SHNIT world wide shortfilm festival. Which you probably don’t know. So let me tell you more about it.

Let’s start at the beginning

The festival was founded in 2003, so we’ll celebrate our 15th anniversary this October.

The festival started very local, here in Bern, Switzerland – in a very small screening room with space for maybe 50-60 people. It was very popular right from the beginning.

At that point, I was just involved as a filmmaker and also as an adviser, be cause a friend of mine actually started the initiative.

It was this time sightly before YouTube

The was no platform for the Bernese filmmakers before this festival. We could show what we do, because there was no actual space for shortfilms: not on the internet, not on TV,  not in cinemas.

After the first two editions, my friend asked me if I wanted to be more involved and I said: “Yes. But only if we’ll build a serious festival. It shouldn’t be just one evening. I want an award, a catalogue, a proper website, a jury… like a real festival!”

And the year after we organised it together and it became this festival over four days. We had more days, more programmes, more shows… That was really cool.

Shnit shortfilm festival bern zurich krakow zurkow olivier avn der hoeven startup

Going international

We try so hard to make the best programme, yet all these great shortfilms are only seen by 100 people if the show is completely booked. That’s nice but… it could be ten times more, right?

But how do we reach that? You can only grow organically and only from year to year. You can’t force people to come to your shows.

So we thought, maybe another city could be interesting. It was really hard at first but then, in 2009, we set up this two-city festival with a city in Germany.

And after that, we got a one liner e-mail:

What do I have to do to bring SHNIT to Capetown?

Shnit shortfilm festival StartUp event switzerlnad poland

That’s how the truly international journey started. From there on it grew and grew. Now we have eight locations, which – actually – is just a part of the festival. We have twelve days of festival at those eight locations: San Jose, Buenos Aires, Bern, Cape Town, Bangkok, Moscow, Cairo and Hong Kong. All of these locations have a national competition and a national jury. So the local influence that SHNIT had from the beginning is still present to this day.

In addition we founded the “SHNIT Cinemas” in 2014. 50 cinemas in 20 other countries run part of the programme. And the finale is in New York City, where the international award ceremony takes place.

International collaboration

The coordination of the festival, because it’s on all continents has some components which are easy and good, because we all share the same passion. In that sense, we all speak the same language.

But the actual language can sometimes be a challenge. Most people speak English as a second language. But speaking the same language, doesn’t mean you understand the same. That’s a barrier we’re facing. A lot of communication is handled in a written form, so people have time to re-read it.

The other challenge is time zones. I could be working on SHNIT 24/7 because people everywhere have questions and things to organise. So we streamlined this communication into one channel, to make it as efficient as possible. That’s one part. The other part is working with reports. This take a lot of weight from general communication, because it’s an automatic update.

Most important are international meetings. Once or sometimes twice a year, all the regional managers get flown out to one location for a few days, to make sure we’re all on the same page and to shape the vision.

So that’s what my work life looks like all year. We have more than 400 people involved in organising the festival each year. It’s growing still and it’s already kind of huge.

But still, you probably haven’t heard about the festival, because shortfilms are still a niche.

I would love to meet you at the festival and share my passion with you!

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Leran more on and come to Olivier’s talk at the zurkow StartUp Festival to learn more about international collaboration.