AFCI Extends Its Reach--All The Way To Russia
Pictured in this AFCI Week photo are (l-r) AFCI president Jess Conoplia, Russian Office of Film Commissions CEO Val Kupeev, and AFCI Board chair Kevin “KJ” Jennings, who also serves as executive manager of New Zealand’s Film Otago Southland film office.
Filming transcends politics as choice of the host city for Cineposium attests; organization continues international growth
  • WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif.
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The Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) continues to extend its geographical reach, perhaps most dramatically with the selection of St. Petersburg, Russia, as the host city for this year’s Cineposium conference slated for September 13-16--concurrent with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly Meeting. The St. Petersburg decision was announced during Thursday’s (4/4) Physical Production Power Brunch, one of the varied events held during AFCI Week which wraps today (4/5) at The London Hotel in West Hollywood.

AFCI Board chair Kevin “KJ” Jennings, who also serves as executive manager of New Zealand’s Film Otago Southland film office, told SHOOT that Cineposium coming to Russia underscores that filmmaking can “transcend politics,” bringing film commissions together from around the world, united for a common cause and shared concerns.

AFCI president Jess Conoplia concurred with Jennings, noting “content is content,” a unifying force drawing film commissioners and producers together from all over the world despite any political differences. She added, “As the cultural capital of Russia, Saint Petersburg is an exciting choice,” which should prove to be an educational, horizons-broadening experience for attendees and speakers from the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world.

The annual Cineposium confab connects AFCI member film commissioners with production industry partners and policymakers globally. It is the only international conference focused on education and professional development with an emphasis on film commissioners. This year’s conference will mark the first time in Cineposium’s 43-year history that it will be held in Russia. Over the past decade, Cineposium has made its home in the U.S., France, New Zealand, Spain and South Korea.

The decision to hold Cineposium in Saint Petersburg followed a rigorous selection process in which prospective host cities were judged based on resources, infrastructure and commitment to hosting a world-class conference. The opportunity to be in Saint Petersburg in concert with the UN World Tourism Organization was also a factor given growing interest in locations that are featured in popular films and TV series. The growth of “film tourism” presents opportunities for AFCI to work with other organizations to expand Cineposium’s global reach and relevance.

AFCI will work closely with the Russian Office of Film Commissions and the Committee for Tourism Development of Saint Petersburg to secure Cineposium venues and develop programming.

Saint Petersburg’s nickname among Russians is the “Window to the West,” and at Cineposium 2019 it will also become a window into Russia’s film/TV production industry. The nation currently has 10 major studios, 113 sound stages, and labor rates up to 50 percent lower than other production locales.  It’s also a burgeoning technology center, with at least five Russia-based streaming platforms seeking international partners.

“International producers have a limited perception of filmmaking in Russia that usually involves stereotypical images of the Kremlin,” said Russian Office of Film Commissions CEO Val Kupeev. “We look forward to welcoming AFCI members and industry leaders from around the world for a stellar conference and an introduction to all that Russia has to offer.”

Eygeny Pankevich, chairman of the Committee for Tourism Development of Saint Petersburg, added, “Saint Petersburg is the birthplace of Russian cinema, so it is a great honor for our city to host AFCI’s first Cineposium in Russia. Hosting the conference here will bring lasting value and new perspectives to everyone involved.”

Pankevich also noted that St. Petersburg will soon launch its own regional film commission.

The Cineposium 2019 schedule includes the core conference, the 3rd Business-to-Business Industry Day and a Saint Petersburg cultural and production industry tour. Initial sessions and speakers will be announced soon. 

International expansion
The selection of Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city after Moscow, for Cineposium continues an expansive international dynamic for AFCI which over the past year, said Conoplia, has added film commissions from assorted countries to its membership, including Uganda, Barbados, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Mongolia and Uzbekistan. \

AFCI’s rank and file in the U.S. has also grown, noted Conoplia, with the addition of several film commissions, including the recently launched Cherokee Nation Film Office in northeast Oklahoma.

SHOOT caught up with Conoplia and Jennings at AFCI Week’s Taste of the World Locations Show, a four-hour Thursday afternoon (4/4) event set on an exhibit floor where the industry at large visited with film commissioners who showcased their incentives, locations, and other resources. This was the lone AFCI Week event open to the public. The rest of AFCI Week included a membership meeting, a Business-to-Business Industry Day, and the aforementioned Physical Production Power Brunch. At press time, the balance of the schedule was about to play out on wrap day (4/5), highlighted by an Education Day of panel discussions.

Conoplia and AFCI SVP of membership and industry relations Marjorie Galas are both based in Los Angeles, enabling them to dovetail with studios and indie producers, networks and various platforms, helping the film commissioner community to be more responsive to industry needs. A prime example of such responsiveness was the soft launch last year of the Global Production Tool on the AFCI website. Producers can via this Tool upload details of a planned project to the AFCI which in turn shares this prospective production with all its film commission members. If it feels like the right fit for the job, a film commission or commissions can respond with a package of locations, incentives and other resources for the producer to consider. Conoplia said that producers and scouts can through the Global Production Tool uncover options they might not have necessarily been aware of previously. 

Additionally, AFCI has partnered with TIME’S UP Entertainment to develop Best Practice Guidelines for film commissions worldwide, addressing such areas as inclusion and diversity. Conoplia anticipates these guidelines being unveiled by mid-year.

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