There are many reasons to participate in a film festival. For documentary filmmakers in search of an audience, festivals provide access to communities of interest and practice, and hold promise for distribution deals and broader public exposure. From the largest and best-known—think Sundance, Tribeca, and South by Southwest—to smaller, themed events like the Green Film Fest, there are many festivals to choose from; by some counts, this number is well in the thousands. Criteria such as reputation and popularity steer filmmakers and attendees toward the most prominent among them. But no two audiences are alike; the extent to which a film may or may not resonate with its viewers is, for many hopefuls, a great unknown.

It’s certainly not an easy nut to crack. Luckily, emerging methods from computational social science can help us begin to distinguish among festival audiences—and provide concrete information to help guide participants to those events most appropriate for their particular project.

This post marks the first in a series that will map film festival followers onto communities of interest. We’ve partnered with network scientists at Graphika to analyze audience attributes of 224 film festivals in relation to the 16 social issues featured in StoryPilot.


In each of the three subsequent posts, we’ll explore these landscapes from the perspectives of three cohorts: social issue advocates, film festival organizations and media makers. Each analysis is guided by the following research questions:

  • Social Issue Advocates (8/29): Who is talking about my issue online? Do these individuals cluster around specific topics? How do the various issue networks compare in size and structure? Which, if any, are connected to (or likely to be influenced by) film festivals?
  • Film Festival Organizations (8/30):  Which festivals are most prominent among social issue influencers? How does my film festival rank among others in terms of engagement with these groups? What social issue network(s) am I linked to already and which should I target in the future?
  • Media Makers (8/31): Which film festivals are most closely aligned with influencers in my subject area of interest? My time and resources are limited; what events or groups might I target to make the greatest social impact with my film?  

Before we start, we’d like to share a few notes on method. It’s important to keep in mind that we’re using a festival’s online community—specifically, Twitter account followers—as a proxy for reach. In other words, we should assume that the followers (or “nodes”) that populate our networks likely represent only a fraction of an event’s overall audience.

Our interest lies in analyzing publicly available data for insights into the volume and variety of festival followers in the context of issue-oriented communities. The issue maps are generated through an iterative process of crawling, adding, and pruning accounts, resulting in focused networks of the top several thousand individuals and organizations interested in a topic. Here’s an image of our Human Rights Issue Network, which will be analyzed in our next post: 


For more detail on this process, see our earlier blog post on the creation of the 16 issue-specific maps (The maps we’ll be discussing were made between April and August 2015; as such they present a snapshot of the Twitter relationships that existed at that point in time.)

As within any community, some voices are louder than others, and social media is no exception. These voices take the form of accounts that are well connected and drive conversations within groups of people who share and discuss a common interest online, from women’s rights to environmental conservation. We call these individuals social issue or “topic influencers”; their positions within and across specific network structures mean they have the potential to boost a film’s (or message’s) visibility more than others.

We also explore “group influencers,” or accounts that have significant influence on a certain group or sub-group. An account is deemed an influencer by a series of calculations that factor in the number of followers they have within that group, within the network as a whole, and their network position (accounts near the center of a group tend to reach a more widespread audience).

In the next post, we’ll walk through some concrete examples of these communities and their makeup. Stay tuned as we delve deeper into individual film festivals’ social networks; identify and compare the communities of interest they comprise; and demonstrate how this information can help film festival organizers, media makers, and social issue advocates reach groups they care about!

To read the rest of our “Social Issue Networks and Film Festivals” series, visit:

  1. Issue Advocate Analysis
  2. Film Festival Analysis
  3. Media Makers Analysis