Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why Film Festivals Matter

Property of The Daily Gamecock

Film festivals are wonderful things. They give emerging filmmakers the chance to showcase their first projects and let veteran directors and producers generate word of mouth about their latest work. It's a major breeding ground of the industry's business, where the filmmakers and the businessmen mingle, make deals, and get their voices out.

Two major film festivals usually mark the first half of the year. The first, Sundance Film Festival in Utah is one of the premier spots for new filmmaking talent to get exposure. Films like "Little Miss Sunshine" and "(500) Days of Summer," which were made independently and thus had no guarantee of national theatrical distribution, debut here, attract critics and audiences, and eventually get the notice of an executive who can finance a future for these kinds of films.

Places like Sundance have become the epitome of the American independent scene, a place slightly divorced from the Hollywood studios but still very much a part of the business.

The second is the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France, which has had a long tradition of attracting the most anticipated international projects since 1946. It's a showier affair that supports exhibiting both premieres of mainstream films and new independent work in and out of competition for their coveted "Palme d'Or" - or Golden Palm - award.

Right now, the film world is eagerly on edge as it enters a major marathon of national and international festivals, with major journalists and bloggers alike chomping at the bit to see all the new films they can and start generating buzz about that next great find.

The Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival are just two of at least half a dozen major festivals happening around the world in the next few weeks.

These festivals have been growing year after year into major events where filmmakers can unveil their work for the press and their peers before moving on to limited or national theatrical engagements.
Okay, that's all well and good, but wouldn't most of these movies grab some kind of distribution deal even without a festival? After all, powerful names like Michael Moore, Steven Soderbergh, and George Clooney just premiered work at Venice.

As true as that may be, executives and journalists also long to "discover" the next great film. Last year, Fox Searchlight rescued "Slumdog Millionaire" from a direct-to-DVD fate after a festival premiere, and used escalating word of mouth from the festival circuit to help net its eight Academy Awards.

Film festivals are fast becoming the place where dreams come true, a vital outlet for the creative survival of the medium, where movie stars and clamoring artists alike can unite to celebrate and discuss their art. They afford space for press conferences and roundtable discussions with filmmakers and journalists.

If the moviegoer inside you sighs heavily at "The Final Destination" yanking box office receipts left and right, don't give into that rage you want to spew at Hollywood for "turning out the same predictable junk week after week."

Look instead to Venice, that beacon of hope on the horizon of the upcoming awards season, and remember the movies aren't just a dollars and cents business.

Remember that someone could get the chance to make it big and finally feel that spotlight. That's entertainment.

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