Reel World

Money Talks
"They were the last clean pair of pants in my closet," protested S.F. International Film Festival Artistic Director Peter Scarlet, spotted sporting a pair of Dockers Khakis. The telltale logo on Scarlet's hip -- matching the one on the festival guide -- a sign that the SFIFF is in the pocket of its first-ever "grand sponsor"? "I've been catching flak all day," Scarlet laughed. Meanwhile, readers of the current Castro calendar might have noticed June's Dockers Khakis-sponsored Classically Independent Film Festival, set up to benefit S.F.'s Film Arts Foundation. What's going on here?

Welcome to the Corporate '90s, when declining government and foundation funding is putting brand names on everything from public TV shows to college bowls. As longtime FAF Director Gail Silva notes, "It's a rare nonprofit that can operate without any outside help."

All of which fits in well with Dockers Khakis' -- an offshoot of S.F.'s Levi Strauss & Co. -- moves to expand its sizable market beyond the baby boomers who made the brand the official pants of Casual Friday. Gen-Xers are a tricky group of consumers, however. "The people we're trying to reach don't like to be marketed to in a big way," says Dockers Senior Marketing Specialist Amy Rosenthal. So the pants purveyors opted for a somewhat subliminal strategy of acquisition of cachet by association, recently sponsoring the Fuel indie film tour as well as the trade organization Women in Film.

And now the film fest. SFIFF Director of Development and Marketing W. Stewart McKeough, who arrived four months ago from the Toronto Film Festival and negotiated the Dockers contract, divulges that the company is kicking in a minimum of $100,000 in cash besides picking up the tab for a radio ad campaign and the downtown festival box office at Macy's. In return, the company gets its name on 300,000 schedules plus additional minor considerations. "They have an enormous promotion and marketing machine, so they can create an awareness of our festival that we can't afford to do on our own," McKeough says. At the same time, its name on the guide "is great for Dockers because they can claim ownership of something."

As for the Classically Independent Film Festival, comprising newly struck prints of 15 indie films, from "classics" like Clerks to newer Sundance fodder, Dockers is four-walling the Castro and flying in several directors and stars. Dockers is also funding three 45-second shorts (at $3,000 each) by local filmmakers and giving the FAF $20,000, which the organization will split into four $5,000 completion grants to be awarded this year and next. Says Director Silva: "It's important to get money to makers, absolutely, and it's important to do it in a way that's respectful of their work."

Although one can certainly debate values of a society that seems to be putting a logo on everything, villains are elusive in this story. Dockers has made no attempt to influence the SFIFF program and CIFF programmer Gary Meyer (former honcho of Landmark Theaters and now a consultant-for-hire) was not dictated to either. The Parker Poseys of the indie world are invited to the CIFF purely as guests, with no explicit quid pro quo, although any photo ops will doubtless include a Dockers logo. ("She doesn't do endorsements," Posey's agent told the company. "Are you expecting one?")

Dockers' Rosenthal says, "We're trying to weave ourselves into the fabric of the community -- the Bay Area and the film community -- in a meaningful way." She's had experience in the film biz and Dockers VP of Marketing Robert Hanson has volunteered at the S.F. International Lesbian & Gay Film Fest, so they have firsthand knowledge of the struggles of independent filmmaking. And they're talking about long-term deals. From the beginning, Rosenthal advised her company, "When you're in, you have to stay in for the long haul." Hence, Dockers Khakis intends to expand the CIFF to five cities next year and 10 cities in 2000. As for the SFIFF, although it's too early to say, Dockers will presumably return next year. Plenty of time for Peter Scarlet to do laundry.

By Michael Fox
foxonfilm@aol.com

 
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