Movie News & Reviews

SLO film festival sees higher attendance, drop in ticket sales

Opening night at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival in 2014.
Opening night at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival in 2014.

Attendance and festival pass sales at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival saw a significant boost this spring, while revenue from ticket sales took a dive.

The festival, which marked its 22nd year in March, drew about 9,750 people — up 11 percent from 8,750 in 2015 — according to festival director Wendy Eidson. Between 20 and 25 percent of attendees were from out of the area, while the rest came from San Luis Obispo County.

Eidson said revenue from sales of festival passes shot up 28 percent to $35,140 in March, compared with $27,420 last year. But revenue from individual ticket sales plummeted about 43 percent to $49,755 this year, from $87,014 in 2015.

Eidson attributed the drop to the fact that the festival did not hold an event at Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Last year’s fundraiser, which featured the first-ever screening of “Citizen Kane” at the former estate of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, grossed $45,000.

That particular screening was an unusual stand-alone event, Eidson said. “It’s money in the bank that we have as padding for this year’s festival and future festivals.”

Overall, ticket and pass sales grossed $84,895 this year, compared with $83,659 in 2014 and $114,434 in 2015.

“We’re in a really good place and we’ll be spending (the) profits from this festival or even previous festivals on increasing our marketing and personnel,” Eidson said. “We’ve been working with a shoestring staff for quite some time.”

Eidson, the festival’s only full-time employee, was aided this spring by two part-time staffers. In addition, she said, “We have a great, great core of volunteers that other festivals would have to pay people to do.”

This year’s festival, which boasted a new logo and marketing campaign by photographer and graphic designer Barry Goyette, featured movie screenings, red carpet events, workshops and more at venues in Avila Beach, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo.

Ann-Margret, the two-time Academy Award nominee, was awarded the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival’s highest honor by actor Alan Arkin in March 2016.

“Bye Bye Birdie” star Ann-Margret received the King Vidor Award for Filmmaking Excellence, becoming the second woman ever to receive the festival’s highest honor. “Sherlock Holmes” screenwriter Anthony Peckham was the recipient of the festival’s Spotlight Award.

Other festival highlights included a packed preview screening of the documentary “Lives Well Lived” and the sold-out Surf Nite in SLO, which featured a showing of the documentary “Ocean Driven” and appearances by big wave surfer Chris Bertish and Pismo Beach resident Dana McGregor’s surfing goats.

Eidson said the festival received roughly as many submissions as last year — about 700 — but took in $16,000 in entry fees, compared with $18,700 in 2015. She said organizers offered more fee waivers to entice selected filmmakers this March than in previous years.

A series of fundraisers held in fall netted about $20,000, compared with $30,000 in 2014. However, Eidson said film and event sponsorships increased by 30 percent.

Earlier this month, MovieMaker magazine named the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival one of its “50 Top Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.” The festival first made the list in 2014, but did not snag a listing in 2015.

Work is underway on the next festival, which will be held March 14 through 19, 2017. For more information, visit