UNSCRIPTED with Greg Hacket of London Mountain Film Festival - A Journey from Control to Community
Updated: Nov 2
From a single large centralised film festival to multiple small film festivals organised by various communities across the globe - with each running its event in its own unique way to create a direct impact on local communities.
"It's empowering. It was like setting it free. It felt like a movement, almost totally changing the model. We're giving people access to things they wouldn't be able to get otherwise," says the founder of the London Mountain Film Festival (LMFF) - Greg Hackett in a candid conversation with Adam Malik about the festival's transformative journey.
This article delves into the key moments, challenges, and insights that have shaped this unique event platform.
Greg Hackett initially envisioned the London Mountain Film Festival as a traditional event, drawing people to a central location to experience adventure films. The Royal Geographical Society was booked, and plans were in full swing. Then the pandemic hit, derailing everything. The proverbial silver lining swiftly followed.
London Mountain Film Festival Going Digital
Faced with the challenge of COVID-19, Greg took the festival online. While this move was successful in terms of viewership, it lacked the revenue model and the sense of community that a physical event could offer.
Greg found himself at a crossroads, questioning the sustainability and impact of a purely digital event. “Part of the difficulty”, he says, “is that I was looking down the wrong end of the telescope. I believe most event organizers have yet to successfully adapt to and adopt digital because we tend to overlay digital on what is predominantly a physical event model.”
He adds, "We need to put the telescope down, pick it back up and look through it from the point-of-view of, say, the customer or somebody who does not know anything about physical events, and then you get a very different picture.” Enter attention-by-design.
Listen to the full Unscripted Interview Here or now on Spotify
The Digital Dilemma: Attention vs. Engagement
Greg admits that it took some time before he adjusted to the digital realm, even without the blinders on. “I think what I was doing then was just looking for ideas in digital to keep me afloat until such time as I could run a physical event again and then revert to type.”
Fully navigating the digital realm was a new experience for him after spending years in the physical events industry. In a physical event, once people are there, the job is done. We call this attention-by-default thinking.
But in the digital world, engagement is a constant challenge, where we are always one click or swipe away from losing our participants’ attention. For Greg, the initial digital events were a learning curve and a realization that something was missing.
Handing Over the Reins
The turning point came when a filmmaker from a small mountain community in Kentucky reached out to Greg, asking if he could screen some of the festival's films for his community. This eventually led to the idea that the festival could be decentralized, empowering communities to host their own mini-events and embrace the opportunity to curate screenings and share the joy of adventure films.
“We could have hundreds of people doing that - he’s in Kentucky - I’m here in London and he’s watching films that I’ve collected from across the world,” he explained..
Putting communities at the forefront had been germinating for a while, and this model sat well with his values - a large crowd is not great for the environment, with hundreds or thousands of people traveling to one place? So instead, why not deliver what they want right to their doorsteps? Everybody wins.
“I’ve got a guy in Kentucky, watching with his friends and I’ve got filmmakers bowled over that their film has reached right into the depths and the heart and soul of another community in a part of the world where they’ll never even go.”
The Starling Model: Freedom and Flexibility
The revitalized LMFF is the genesis of one of Adam Malik's sustainable Digitising Events prototypes: the "Starling" model. This model is about giving communities the freedom to engage with the festival in their own unique ways. It's not about control but about enabling and empowering.
It allows communities to engage with the festival uniquely, creating a decentralized network of mini-events. This model resonated with the festival's core audience, who value the spirit of adventure and freedom.
“And that is a complete reversal from where I started - from bringing as many people as I could to one place and doing it my way, to ending up saying: let’s just stream the films to as many people who want to do it their way, where they already are,” says Greg.
Resetting The Role of Tech
One of the hurdles in this transformation was the role of technology.
Initially, Greg thought about what technologies are out there, how to make them work, and the opportunities they could create. “Having been a manager in the events industry, when people start to introduce tech the first question you ask is: ‘Why? It sounds expensive, can you get it cheaper’? And you start to immediately worry about it and lose sight of the reason why you’re doing it.”
However, the focus shifted to understanding what people wanted and adapting technology to serve that need. “The tech came afterwards. And it was more about figuring out how to make the tech work to support the new outcome that I’d imagined… It’s as simple as that. But it’s really hard to see that when you’re brought up a certain way where you might only look at tech for say, marginally improving established models.”
Measuring Success Beyond Numbers
While the number of community events is an empirical measure of success, the real metric is their impact on their communities.
Greg: “A lot of the time, those physical events are measured in terms of numbers, margins, and all that stuff. But we measured ours in fun… If I’d run 20 events and they were all boring, I would have given up. But really, they were fun to run, people had a brilliant time. They were just blown away by it.”
For instance, one of the early community events enabled by LMFF was with the Mountaineering Club of Kenya for a 2-night event to raise money for the Mt. Kenya Trust. The organization raised a few hundred pounds for a cause perfectly aligned with what the LMFF is about, looking after the mountains and the environment.
And this is what the Starling is about. Are they fundraising? Are they creating memorable experiences? Were they able to cultivate genuine engagements? These questions now define the festival's, and by extension, a Digitised Event's success.
A Journey from Control to Community
The London Mountain Film Festival has evolved from a control-centric model to a community-driven platform that values freedom, engagement, and impact over numbers and revenue. It's a testament to the power of adaptability, the importance of understanding your audience, and the endless possibilities that come from letting go of control.
Greg says in the LMFF case: “I think we’re selling freedom. We're saying to people: ‘Do it however you like!’ As long as they're raising money for a good cause and enjoying themselves."
At the heart of sustainable Digitising Events is autonomy—empowering organizers, participants, and sponsors to have the freedom to do what matters.
For Greg Hackett, people enjoy themselves if they have the freedom to do what they want and in the way they want it done. "The reason that that works in my market is because that's what adventure is!"