The Wisdom to Survive: Gathering our audience

Wisdom to Survive jpegA film no one has heard of. A small town (pop. 6,000). A Wednesday night in early December. 4 weeks lead-in. No marketing budget on the venue side.

This post is about how we drew a decent audience for The Wisdom to Survive, and-–what is more—turned the evening into a regional gathering of like-minded & engaged people.


Rosendale, NY is 90 miles north of NYC, and 7 miles from the college town of New Paltz. It’s an unusually eccentric and activist community, partly because of the cross-pollination of locals and transplants/weekenders from Brooklyn.
The Rosendale Theatre is a community owned & (mostly) volunteer-run Collective. It seats 260.

rdale ext betterI’m a volunteer, and one of 6 active members of the Program Committee. This month our schedule ran from Captain Phillips to Blue is the Warmest Color. We have a strong track record with environmental films: sustainability, health, agriculture. In May we screened Symphony of the Soil and skyped in the director Deborah Koons Garcia ( ).

Y’all Come!

Here is the email invitation (in part) I sent out about 2 weeks in advance of Dec 4.
The goal of the evening is to raise awareness about environmental activism in the Hudson Valley–and showcase the opportunities for people to get involved.

As a local leader, we would love for you to:
1) attend and bring friends, colleagues & kids
2) agree to be introduced preceding the film
3) and join in the discussion following the film

Here’s the evening schedule:

7:20 Welcome the audience. Introduce the filmmakers (John Ankele of Accord and Anne Macksoud of Woodstock VT).
Introduce reps in attendance from our sponsoring orgs and local office holders.
7:30 Show the film (length: one hour)
8:30 Q & A with John and Anne. Sponsoring reps & pols can fold their comments into the Q & A.

Wisdom Keepers

The film title–taken from the poem by Wendell Berry–means that we have the wisdom. The trick is to translate that into the will and the work needed to navigate climate change.  In introducing the evening, it was easy to make the point that everyone present is a “wisdom keeper.”  And that this screening is yet another opportunity to recognize our collective will and work.

Filmmakers John Ankele & Anne Macksoud

Filmmakers John Ankele & Anne Macksoud

Our box office sold 124 tickets at our regular price of $7.  The (small) lobby filled a half-hour before the program began. It was a conversational din. The audience was not just healthy in numbers (i.e., the house felt “full”) but also in energy and engagement.

To get to that, we essentially re-cast the event from: “Here is a good film we think you will like…won’t you please come?”

To: “This is more than a movie screening. This is a gathering of Hudson Valley activists. You will know many of the other people attending. You will want to be there to represent your org. You will not want to miss this opportunity to be present as a member of this tribe.”

Affinity marketing

A friend likes to joke: You can’t go knocking on doors an hour before show time, grab people by the collar and drag them to the theatre.

Our personal email invitations defined their self-interest; in follow-up phone calls I highlighted the evening as a networking opportunity with other influencers (you know who you are…).

IMG_0885The response to that message was strong. Nearly every group we contacted wanted to send at least one rep. I’d say a good half-dozen others wanted to come but couldn’t due to inevitable conflicts.

Still, it’s hard to build an audience one person at a time! So a second goal was to get people to bring a friend: other staffers, board members, family members. (We particularly wanted kids to come–even on a school night).

It was a terrific evening. At least 80% of the audience stayed on for the Q & A. We ended the evening well before the questions and discussion were played out. People left the theatre energized.

We wanted to give people the opportunity to connect to something larger than themselves—the wisdom to survive–and it felt like we did.


Note: I wrote this as a guest blog at the invitation of MocaMedia: Strategic Engagement Consultants (“Connecting content creators with their audience”).  The filmmakers engaged them to help with marketing their film.  Thank you Gwendolyn and Angela Alston for a great job!


About John Wackman

A writer since I learned to hold a pencil (no, not like that...hold it like this!). Long-time writer/producer for television, now organizer of Repairs Cafes in the Hudson Valley (13 & counting!) -- Program Manager of Solarize Hudson Valley, non-profit, state supported, community sponsored renewable energy program. We're all re-inventing ourselves. It's a sci-fi world, isn't it?
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