For Creativity, Themed-Festivals Are Better Than Solutions-Oriented Conferences

I founded the SF Urban Film Fest (SFUFF) to show how storytelling can help explain complex urban planning problems and solutions. Our audience growth indicates people are hungry for stories that help them understand how cities grow and change.

In addition to growing attendance, there is something else happening at the SFUFF that I did not foresee but I think will be its most important contribution to creative problem solving in cities. The programmatic structure of our events generate conversations about difficult topics that are organic, free-ranging, and often between folks from very diverse backgrounds. This creative networking has directly led to innovative projects and alternative careers birthed at the SFUFF. In other words, SFUFF events not only generate insightful conversations but these conversations lead to outcomes, often in accelerated timeframes of 8–12 months.

Here are some examples:

- At the SFUFF 2015, a non-profit that provides showers for the homeless connected with an urban design firm and together they created a project in 12 months that had not existed before — homeless services pop-ups all over town.

- A documentary filmmaker jazzes up a video recap of an executive training conference to grow next year’s attendance. Previous videos merely recorded the sessions (and never get watched although they are posted all over YouTube), but the filmmaker’s cinematography and editing skills added flair and story that participants could relate to.

- Inspired by how tech and story can forge social change, a marketing college grad undertakes building a film festival website from scratch with no coding background, decides afterward to attend an intense coding boot camp, and lands a full-time job in less than a year as a front end engineer.

Because the SFUFF events are loosely arranged around a high-concept theme instead of a narrow solutions-oriented question, people who attend the festival come with an open mind. It’s easy to see how if you come into a situation with an open mind, you are more likely to arrive at ideas and solutions that you would have not considered in the first place. A film festival focused on the theme of social justice can produce more varied outcomes than a conference focused on transportation and mobility solutions, even if the conference sessions deal specifically with how transportation is part of the solution to income inequality. That’s because the conference is structured so that the solution is presented as a done deal. The conference participants are not “asked” to engage in generating new ideas, merely to sit and learn. As the world, and cities in particular, become more complex, creating new networks and generating innovative projects will become more important than learning about existing solutions.

Embark on a creative journey and join us at the 3rd annual SF Urban Film Fest is next week November 14–20, 2016. Hurry to our website at www.sfurbanfilmfest for festival details and tickets.