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The Reel Paddling Film Festival: Jon Holmes and Rapid Media

By Monica Friedman August 9, 2012

Bringing Outdoor Sports and Nature Inside

Jon Holmes is the World Tour Coordinator of the Reel Paddling Film Festival. Produced by Rapid Media, this film contest awards prizes in 10 categories, compiles the winners and the shortlisted film, and screens them in 100 cities around the world to an audience of over 35,000 outdoor adventure enthusiasts, who come, Holmes says, “to catch the best paddling related films of the year, to enjoy a social event with fellow paddlers…to get pumped up for the upcoming season, or to remember great times on the water.”

With the purpose of inspiring “more people to explore rivers, lakes, and oceans; push physical and emotional extremes; embrace the lifestyle and appreciate the heritage of the wild places we paddle,” the festival came about “because we saw the success that other film festival were having at getting people together to celebrate other outdoor sports and nature.” The organizers “wanted to provide that kind of bonding and socializing aspect for the paddlesports market.” In addition, “We also wanted to encourage and support our paddling film makers and producers and to give them a venue to shine.”

History, Adventure, and Friendship

Niche film festivals are a great way to communicate the excitement of your subject matter and inspire newcomers to get involved. At its heart, Holmes explains, the festival is “all about supporting and growing the sport and the lifestyle of paddling in all of its forms.”

Kayaking and canoeing, he says, “offer people the opportunity to get out and explore some of the worlds most amazing locations and natural beauty in the form of lakes, rivers, oceans, and waterways.” Paddlesports can be relaxing or thrilling, friendly or exciting. The experience can build camaraderie amongst companions or make history come alive (“water navigation,” Holmes reminds us, was integral in the “earliest exploration of our country and a vital means of travel for may of our Native America tribes”). Of course, paddling also provides a great opportunity to catch fish.

At the Heart of the Community

Rapid Media is “founded and staffed by paddlers,” and also publishes 4 paddling magazines: Canoe Roots, Adventure Kayak, Kayak Angler, and Rapid, which are all available in print, digital download, and in iPad and iPhone formats. This keeps the film festival at the heart of the community, providing, “the connections necessary to make sure we have access” to those creating the best new paddling films.

Keeping your finger on the pulse of the community is a prerequisite for creating something great, but even a vast love of the subject matter and a strong and encouraging presence within the group is not enough. “I think someone trying to create a niche film festival needs to plan realistically,” Holmes says, “and to know that it takes time for a festival to build and grow.”

Print Publicity and Digital Sales

With four print magazines to spread the message, the Reel Paddling Tour pretty much covers its traditional advertising base. “We offer print media templates for our hosts to use,” Holmes explains, “but my sense is that very few take advantage of this.” Instead, they support the people hosting their film screenings through print advertisement in the magazines. They also use newsletters, websites, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, and, to some extent, Twitter, to hype the tour. In additions, “hosts are responsible [for] additional promotion in their local markets.”

This all adds up to great attendance. The tour uses Ticket River to set up their virtual online box office, which allows them to coordinate and track sales all across the country. According to Holmes, it’s “been a great tool in our tool bag to help our hosts promote and sell their events.” It’s a really simply system that allows users to set up pages for their events in about five minutes. The site then sells tickets, collects money, and tracks sales with no extra effort. Everyone involved “really appreciated the model and the ease of use.”

Great Paddling Films

For Jon Holmes, the thrill of whitewater paddling is enough of a draw. “I always love seeing the latest hardcore white water films,” says Holmes. “This year I really enjoyed Chasing Water for its environmental message.” The fun of discovery adds some spice to his job. “I always love watching the films for the first time as they go through the selection process,” he says.

For the audiences, shorter films, under 20 minutes, seem to be the most popular, provided they contain the elements of a great paddling film: “story and humor…characters they can relate to and some great paddling footage and scenery.”  Reel Paddling seems to be doing it right, creating a tour that appeals to its intended audience and has become a thriving annual tradition. For Holmes, the proof is in the response from those who partner with Rapid Media to make this tour a possibility. He says, “I love hearing from successful hosts who have met their financial and attendance goals and really had a great time hosting their events.”