Ep 79: How a Film Festival Impacts Community Building (with Evelyn Colbert)

by Joan Garry

Learn more about the birth of a film festival and the superpower of this type of non profit in building community.


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In the 34 years my wife and I have lived in Montclair, NJ, we have watched arts and culture blossom. That’s due in large measure to those who call this place home. People like my guest, Evelyn Colbert, who is one of the founders of the Montclair Film Festival.

A film festival is a different kind of nonprofit, with a lot of upfront energy and intensity. If it catches on, a festival can develop a year-round presence.

I wanted to know more about this rather unique nonprofit form, to understand the unique gap it fills and what I consider to be its superpower – its ability to build community. As the Executive Director of the SF Film Festival said, “Cinema is one of the most powerful community organizing tools we have.”

I thought you might like to know more about this too.

About Evelyn Colbert

Evelyn McGee Colbert is a founding board member of Montclair Film and currently serves as the President of the Board of Trustees. Ms. Colbert is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Montclair Kimberley Academy and is also a board member of the International African American Museum in Charleston South Carolina. She is an independent film producer and the Vice President of Spartina, a production company that she co-owns with her husband, Stephen Colbert.

Ms. Colbert was formerly the Director of Development for the Remains Theatre in Chicago and, prior to that, the Director of Development for the Drama League of New York. She is a graduate of the Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York and holds a B.A. in English and Theatre from the University of Virginia.

She lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her husband, Stephen, and their three children.

In this episode:

  • What kind of town welcomes a film festival?
  • What is the requisite background to be on the board of an arts festival?
  • Who’s on first (development, capital campaign, committees…)?
  • The power of storytelling in cinema to build empathy and promote conversation.
  • Can a small town provide sufficient accommodations for a film festival?
  • What does a high-functioning board look like?
  • What are the challenges of sudden growth?
  • Finding new revenue sources that allow for stability.