The 5-day Independent Television Festival is moving to Duluth

DULUTH — A festival that could bring representatives from the likes of Netflix, HBO, Writers Guild of America and Bravo will be held in Duluth next fall.

The 14th annual Independent Television Festival is scheduled for Oct. 9-13, 2019, and is a space for writers to show off independently produced work to executives, directors and producers. It could draw up to 1,500 people.

The festival was first held in Los Angeles before moving to Manchester, Vt., in 2013.

Festival director Philip Gilpin Jr. said he was looking for a long-term home in a place that could come to define itself as the home of independent television.

“We need that partnership with a location and a community that has a love for the arts and the financial resources to want to grow as an arts community,” he said. He said he was drawn to the Historic Arts and Theater District on Superior Street. “That was what vaulted Duluth to the top of the list.”

The move happened quickly. Gilpin was at Minnesota WebFest in Minneapolis in September. He told Melodie Bahan, executive director of Minnesota Film & TV, that he was looking for a new home for the festival and she suggested Duluth. Riki McManus of the Upper Minnesota Film Office made a pitch to local officials, business owners and arts organizers.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said independent television is a match for the city, where there is a “robust” creative economy — the creative arts bring in about $40 million annually.

“They had reached out to us, a city that has a cultural scene, a city where their creative arts are encouraged and inspired,” she said during a news conference Monday afternoon, Dec. 10, at the Visit Duluth offices. “A place where visual storytellers and narrative storytellers could be inspired by one another and by the geography, and it felt like a great fit.”

The Manchester (Vt.) Journal reported in late November that the festival was looking for financial support to help grow the festival — $250,000 a year for five years and $200,000 up front.

The city isn’t committed to a “strict financial transaction,” according to Larson. The city will be working with the Minnesota State Arts Board and supporting a budget request at the legislative session — something similar to Snowbate, which offers a cash rebate to TV and filmmakers who work in Minnesota.

Larson said they are putting together private investments and sponsorships and that the city is open to considering the tourism tax as a way to support the festival — especially with a long-term commitment from the organization.

“This is not one of those financial red carpets we’ve been asked to roll out,” Larson said.

The festival is billed as a chance for networking, workshops, panels and talent seeking. It ends with an awards gala.

McManus is hoping it also becomes a place for inspiration.

“Imagine a first-timer that has this creative ilk looking at that big body of water,” she said. “The park system we have, the outdoor areas we’re so proud of. Having someone like that see what we have here — I just have to think we’re going to be seeing Duluth on the screen. On the little screen.”