I think that five years is an ideal time: long enough to put your stamp upon the festival, but not so long that you - or it - become stale. I made a point of saying I'd do five years when I took the gig in 2001, and I actually believe that there should be a compulsory five-year limit on these things - it should be written into the contract. Otherwise you become one of these desperate old men (and they are invariably men), clinging on forever to something which, frankly, would be better off without them: renewed, regenerated and revitalised. As Edinburgh now will be, under Hannah McGill. And rightly so.
(It may not surprise you, however, to learn that this is not a popular view among my peers: during a dinner in Cannes last year, sitting at a table of other film festival directors, when I tried gently to outline this point-of-view they stared at me with the expression akin to Cardinal Bellarmine listening to Galileo propose the heliocentric cosmos.) (italics mine)
Way to go Shane! I agree completely, and I practice what I preach, having left the Atlanta Film Festival after getting close to my five year anniversary. I wish more people in the world felt this way, especially in arts and film. All of us can think of festivals that are doing great jobs, but that could move in new directions with new blood. And this doesn't always mean young blood, just a fresh look at the direction. It applies to things other than festivals as well - nonprofits, program officers at foundations, curators, distribution execs and critics, to name a few.
I've explained this thinking many times over the years, and with a few exceptions, I have always gotten the same expression that Shane so eloquently describes. There is this odd sense of holding on to these careers, instead of viewing them, as I feel they should be seen, as steps on a journey.
This attitude would be fine, but it is contributing to great problems in the field. People are holding on to jobs and not allowing a new generation to move forward. Leading festivals, which set the agenda in many ways for the field, don't change and adapt to the times - and this means that we see the same films, the same players and the same themes instead of going in new directions.
Thank you Shane for leaving - now, I just hope that your move to Berlin takes you to another five years somehow involved with the cultural sphere, so that we can all run into your (new) work again.