I’ve been ‘attending’ the Melbourne Writers Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival over the last 10 days.  Though I haven’t moved from my home, they have been surprisingly rewarding experiences.  Is this the way of festivals – and other mass idea exchange forums – in the future?

A ‘Festival’  is an ‘Ideas Exchange’

Why do people attend book and film ‘festivals’?  They want to be stimulated, to be challenged.  This concept also applies to conferences around issues or for expert groups.  Essentially, what each offers is an ‘ideas exchange’ between the content and the attendees.

The Melbourne Writers Festival Experience

I listened to 9 writer sessions, including 2 from overseas.  Although there wasn’t the same choice that there is in Adelaide (59 sessions in 10 days  compared with 168 sessions in 6 days), there was almost enough.  I can’t quite see why there was less, as the cost per session to the organisers is virtually zero.  Most sessions were pre-recorded Zoom or Youtube sessions, with no transport or accommodation costs for the presenters or the interviewers.

The sessions were excellent, the variety good, the interviewers satisfactory and books could be purchased. On the principle of pay whatever you wish, the cost varied from free (which matches Adelaide) to whatever per session.   What’s missing was actually meeting the authors and getting them to physically sign the book, but that’s not important to me personally.

The Melbourne International Film Festival Experience

This program was more difficult to  navigate, with no chronological program, but the information was well presented, the booking process easy (though a number of films were ‘sold out’ – which is hard to understand when you are actually renting the film, not watching it live).  Streaming was more flexible than the program implied.  You didn’t actually have to watch the film at the advertised time in most cases but had something between a few hours and a week or so to stream it.

I chose 5 films, all from different countries.  I haven’t been to the Film Festival for many years as many international films are now (or were!) widely available in cinemas.  This may account for what I perceived as less interesting films than in the past, but they were challenging and thought-provoking.  Some discussion session attached would certainly improve the value, but the actual film cost ($14 or $20 for the ones I booked) was very reasonable, especially given two of us could have watched the film and I had no transport, associated food or time costs.

Advantages of the ‘New Normal’ Experience

Talking to friends about their experiences of conferences during covid, they confirmed my views about the unexpected advantages of these ‘ideas exchanges’ in the ‘new normal’:

  • Costs are low. There are no transport or accommodation costs and no other incidentals (eg food and drink)
  • Convenience is great. There’s no time lost to get there.  Sessions can often be viewed at one’s own convenience rather than the stated time

In addition, other potential advantages include:

  • You can access the best ideas and people wherever they are
  • For organisers, much greater audiences are possible than if limited to a specific physical location

The Future:  A New Model for ‘Ideas Exchanges’?

What this leads to is this – a new model.  I could go to the Sydney/New York/Sundance/Berlin/Cannes writers/film festivals – or any other location for any desired ‘idea exchange’  using the same approach…without having to travel….at much lower cost, for better ideas!

Wouldn’t this be a better way to access the latest and best writers/books/films/other arts festivals/ideas exchanges than waiting for something to come physically to Melbourne or any particular physical location?

The organisers of both the Festivals I ‘attended’ have a model that works!  It’s different, but it could easily be tweaked and customised to make it much better.  The potential audience for each is MUCH GREATER than the audience that could attend physically…  There’s a new model for idea exchange organisers here…for those that can integrate technology with their particular interest focus.



  1. Lots of advantages for virtual attendees, as you point out Graham, but I guess there are lost opportunities for the physical host venues in terms of accommodation, meals and other economic benefits obtained when people travel and stay. Perhaps provide for both – physical festival first, with an option to “view on demand” later for those unable to attend or preferring the virtual experience?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s