Despite my user name, I’ve never actually made it to the Venice Film Festival – arguably the birthplace of the concept of ‘global cinema’ in the immediate post-war years when films from Asia, particularly from Japan, began to carry off prizes (Gold Lion for Best Film and Silver for best director). I’ve not made it yet, but I live in hope. We do have plenty of festival-going experience on the blog, however. Keith is an annual visitor to Pordenone, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato) and Göteburg and Rona often attends Edinburgh and Berlin. We all make at least some visits to Bradford’s three festivals (Bradford Film Festival, Bite the Mango and Bradford Animation Festival), to Viva in Manchester or the Leeds International Film Festival. We hope to bring you the occasional report.
In many countries, and especially the UK, the only chance to see some films in a cinema will be at a festival and at a major festival with a ‘film market’ there is the chance that popular festival screenings can help to secure a distribution deal. There is always a debate about which festivals are most important in this respect. Here is one possible classification.
The Premier League
The major festivals (the ‘A-List’) are carefully placed in the calendar and each has a film market and some prizes. The three premier festivals are Berlin, Cannes and Venice. Toronto also ought to be included in this league – although it doesn’t have market.
These four grab the attention of the international film industry and are widely reported. Berlin happens in February. The Berlinale offers two major prizes – the Golden Bear and the Silver Bear in various categories. Recently the Berlinale has developed a reputation for mixing some Hollywood glamour with smaller, more independent and ‘socially-minded’ films from around the world. The education officers from the UK’s specialised cinemas often attend to see one of the best selections of children’s films – sadly neglected elsewhere.
Cannes is perhaps the most glamorous of the four majors and grabs the headlines in May. It also offers a range of distinctive prizes headed by the Palme d’Or. Major stars appear on the red carpet and Hollywood films and filmmakers are often featured, although the top prize usually goes to a ‘specialised film’ of some kind. The film market in Cannes has grown to become a major event in its own right.
Venice takes place in late August/early September. It is organised as part of the ‘Biennale’, an overarching festival of all the arts. Venic does indeed offer the Gold and Silver Lion to films in competition. In recent years, the Venice winner has often been a film straddling ‘art’ and ‘popular’ that has gone on from Venice to attract large audiences. Mike Leigh won with Vera Drake in 2004 and Ang Lee won twice with Brokeback Mountain in 2005 and Lust, Caution in 2007. Like many other festivals, Venice also has a ‘Retrospective’ section – an attempt to show all the work of a specific director or films from a particular genre.
Toronto follows Venice very quickly in September and offers something different. Toronto is not about prizes as such – it is much more about giving a wide variety of films a first North American screening and the chance to get a critical and popular audience airing. This gives the opportunity for Hollywood studios to show films that might be expected to be contenders for Oscars and other awards. Shown at Toronto, these films can create an early buzz which helps a platform release in the Autumn leading up to a possible wide release as nomination time appears.
Other major festivals
Other festivals receive less extensive media coverage so their aim is usually to find a particular niche or specialism. Often this will be a focus on their own national cinema (just as Toronto promotes Canadian cinema in the face of massive representation of films from over the border). In the UK, the UK Film Council has now decided to give backing to just two UK film festivals in an attempt to get them accepted as A List. Edinburgh has now moved away from the main arts festival in August and rescheduled in June. Once known for its important retrospectives and championing of smaller and more ‘left field’ films, Edinburgh has gradually emerged as an essential promoter of British Cinema with the annual Michael Powell Award for ‘Best British Film’ – won by Somers Town in 2008.
London is set to be given the biggest boost by the UKFC (and new BFI director, Greg Dyke) who would like it to move to a new setting to rival Cannes and Venice. At the moment, the London Film Festival spreads itself across many venues in the West End as well as on the South Bank. It has traditionally been a non-competitive ‘festival of festivals’ with a huge number of screenings over a fortnight in October, many of which have already been seen at Cannes, Venice etc. and others that are due to open in the Autumn. Although still primarily aimed at the general public, London has been increasing the attractions for industry delegates. (London is the unofficial capital of the international – as distinct from domestic, North American – film industry.)
More specialised festivals include Sundance, held in Colorado in January and targeting independent cinema. Originally set up by Robert Redford, Sundance has grown as the ‘indy’ sector has become dominated by studios searching for pick-ups. Rotterdam, also in January, is important for this site because it tends to support aspects of global cinema, particularly from Asia and often from the more ‘extreme’ directors. It also invests in new films through the Hubert Bals Fund. This is an important function of some festivals and is sometimes the deciding factor in films getting made and exhibited.
National and regional festivals
Tokyo has an important festival in East Asia in October and with Hong Kong (which hosts the Asian Film Awards in March) performs the same kind of function as Toronto. Pusan, the port city in South Korea, also hosts a major festival in Asia and to some extent mirrors Rotterdam in its attempts to get involved in production as well as sending a group of Asian films to the Netherlands.
In Africa there are two major festivals which alternate annually in Carthage and Ougadougou. Eastern European films often get their chance to be seen at the long-standing Karlovy-Vary in the Czech Republic and in Latin America at the major festivals in Havana.
India has several festivals including International Film Festival of India (recently in Goa) and Mumbai as well as the more art/’world cinema’ orientated ones in Kolkota and Trivandrum (the Kerala International Film Festival).
There are numerous other European, North American and Australasian festivals as well as many specialist film festivals and in time we will try to list more. You can discover the extent of festival coverage across the globe via the following links:
FIPRESCI – The International Federation of Film Critics (which offers prizes at some festivals)
FIAPF – The International Federation of Film Producers’ Associations. This organisation accredits fifty of the most important film festivals, giving them film industry status. You can download a list of accredited film festivals from the website.
Our first posting specifically about festivals was from Cannes 2008. It proved to be quite contentious. Read it here.