Festival’s impact more than film | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Festival’s impact more than film

Susan Wood

The Oscars may have stolen the spotlight Sunday, but local businesses should be laughing all the way to the bank in two weeks when the Lake Tahoe Pioneering in Film Festival takes off for its second year.

The film fest features some of the best comedies ever made taken from the American Film Institute’s “100 Years … 100 Laughs” list. AFI is working as consultants to the local festival staff to program the event.

The showing of “Airplane!” at the Caesars Showroom on April 8 over the three-day event should be quite interactive, with leading man Robert Hays on hand to introduce the film and airline peanuts given out to each guest. Guests are encouraged to recite the film’s famous one-liners.

The action goes far beyond what is seen in the darkened screening rooms staged in a variety of venues planned.

Celebrities and film buffs are expected to come from all over the nation with much of the concentration of guests from California and Nevada. Last year’s attendance was estimated at 2,300 people. Thirty percent came from Northern California, another 30 percent came from the northern end of the Silver State, 20 percent came from the Southland, 10 percent scattered across the United States and another 10 percent locally.

But it’s not just where these people live but how free-wheeling they are with their disposable money that makes this demographic so attractive to the Lake Tahoe Basin economy.

Denise Sloan, executive director of the film festival, characterizes the target audience as an affluent demographic aging in the early 40s, those who enjoy cultural enrichment and staying active – essentially Tahoe’s middle name.

“We have created an elegant and sophisticated event, one in which people can come and learn about the art of filmmaking,” she said.

She anticipates this demographic to bring at least $750,000 into the local economy. Expecting double the number of attendees this year that figure is based on a three-night stay, meals, shopping, skiing, and festival passes. Festival pass sales last year were nearly $12,000, not counting individual screening tickets.

And come early April, that’s music to the ears of businesses hanging on to their bottom lines in anticipation of the summer season.

“We specifically looked at staging the event during the shoulder season to increase tourism,” said Sloan, a 30-year South Shore resident. “We don’t need another summer event. We don’t need another 4th of July event. These businesses are dying in early April.”

There are 510 film festivals held every year in the United States, and the Tahoe Daily Tribune entertainment editor wanted to make this one stand out.

First, it starts with the name.

“Independent film festivals are a dime a dozen. We needed a theme to set us apart. We chose pioneering, so we can honor pioneers from silent films to the talkies to the modern pioneers. It doesn’t restrict us to the classics. The themes are endless,” she said.

Last year, legendary film actress Janet Leigh received special recognition for her role in the film industry, a nostalgic turn of events considering Leigh was discovered at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort 54 years ago.

During the tribute, Leigh admitted to the captive audience that she still won’t take a shower after making the terrifying Hitchcock classic “Psycho.”

Sloan said she was “surprised, thrilled beyond belief” over the success of the film festival’s first year.

She figured the film festival generated about $95,000 in media exposure in publications such as Sunset Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Via Magazine and the Las Vegas Review. The festival organizers hired a clipping service to collect articles on the event. The $95,000 was arrived at, Sloan said, by finding the advertising rates for each publication and applying that dollar amount to the space given to stories on the film festival.

“My goal is to bring a cultural event to the South Shore – to let people know there is more than gambling and the lake. The cultural aspect is important to the art of cinema. And what a perfect place to do it, at Lake Tahoe, where we have all these wonderful venues,” she said.

But success requires teamwork and synergy, she said, stressing that it’s a “community-wide” event in terms of venues and support.

The event has collected $22,500 in grant money through the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and the Nevada Commission on Tourism for 2001. She’s also coordinated 100 volunteers lined up eager to serve.

Zephyr Cove Resort Director of Sales Kris Long is eager to work the festival for the second consecutive year slated for April 6, 7 and 8. She’s especially looking forward to pulling out her cowboy hat and belt to dress the part for Friday’s showing of “Blazing Saddles.”

“It’s fun. I’m amazed by how much work it takes to put together,” Long said, adding she’s proud to take part as a volunteer.

She was thrilled to serve as Leigh’s escort last year.

Pete MacRoberts, who runs the Viking Motor Lodge and served on the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association board, expects the popularity will grow every year like a snowball.

“It starts small like a snowball, then the next thing you know, you have a snowman,” he said.

South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce Director Duane Wallace believes the film festival fills a cultural void. And like good acting, the timing is right because tourism slows down before Easter.

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