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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Do we need film festivals anymore?

I skipped the Tribeca Film Festival again this year because most, if not all, of the films there worth seeing will be available eventually in some format — some are already available on demand. Cannes is in progress right now — as Alex Billington at FirstShowing.net describes it:

Although I love Sundance, there’s really no other festival like Cannes because it truly is the film festival for the entire world. There’s no other festival where I can see a Ridley Scott film one night, hop over to a crazy Korean film the next night, then Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps as well as a terrible British J-horror flick (Hideo Nakata’s Chatroom) the next day, and then catch the new Mike Leigh film (Another Year), Woody Allen’s latest film (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), then the Quebecois film Les Amours Imaginaires all in one day. And earlier today I saw that killer tire film Rubber, a Dutch video game film, and a crazy Japanese mobster film. Sure, other festivals have lots of world cinema, but that is some crazy variety.

Except that sounds like what you could do, in a general sense, not with this particular movies this week, in New York or Los Angeles or Toronto or London or Paris on any given day. Sure, that still leaves out the majority of the film audience, those who don’t live in a major city, but it’s more inclusive than Cannes. And anyone can have a festival of international cinema on DVD at home.

And there’s this tidbit in USA Today, about the ritzy Hotel du Cap:

Four-story yachts cruising the shallow waters of the Mediterranean send waves rippling toward the grounds of the 130-year-old Hotel du Cap. On flinty cliffs in the distance, paparazzi armed with telephoto lenses perch precariously on the rocks. The tops of immense cypress trees shiver as a private helicopter delivers a guest to his villa on the property’s peninsula.


Veterans of yesteryear Cannes say the days of decadence have faded at the Du Cap, where until recently guests paid for their week-long stays with stacks of cash — no credit. “You’d show up with a briefcase full of cash,” Douglas says with a laugh. “You know, it used to be wonderful here, up there in the bar. Great parties, debauchery. Now everybody’s concerned you’ll find your picture on some website.”

I’d argue that the Web is the reason we don’t need film festivals anymore. Yes, they’re great for publicity, except how much publicity do new films by Oliver Stone and Woody Allen really need? Smaller films by less known filmmakers are getting lost in that shuffle already anyway. And thanks to the Web, word of mouth on good films — even small ones by unknown filmmakers, never mind the endless chat about highly anticipated movies from the big Hollywood studios — are getting more coverage than they ever have before, regardless of whether they play at festivals or not.

I’m sure Cannes and Sundance are fun. But that’s another matter. Do we need film festivals anymore?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • I think it depends on who the ‘we’ is.

    If it’s reviewers, if looking at just the access to see the films, technically, probably not ‘need’ them. The film are or can quickly become available either in the city or eventually getting to be more and more available online or by other means. That’s purely just to see the films though, as festivals also often a point where people from many sides of the industry get together, from the filmmakers themselves right down to the general public.

    If it is the public, I don’t think they need it – but they certainly do *like* it. I think filmmakers would say they are needed, it’s a great opportunity to meet people and not only create but also maintain relationships on the festival circuit. I know there are certain people I only ever see at particular festivals, and I’m happy to get that chance!

  • Stewart Nusbaumer

    The primary purpose of film festivals today should not be to showcase films but to create a community, a temporary gathering of a tribe. That the Internet cannot do, well in any meaningful way. It can deliver content well, yet not give human contact.

    As for Cannes, the show is probably over. It’s a glittering dinosaur. At the same time, smaller, more intimate film festivals are proliferating. Ironically, the Internet is feeding this increase in festivals.

  • MaryAnn

    The primary purpose of film festivals today should not be to showcase films but to create a community, a temporary gathering of a tribe. That the Internet cannot do, well in any meaningful way. It can deliver content well, yet not give human contact.

    That’s an excellent point. Then maybe we need festivals with more of a community aspect to them. I’ve not often heard “community” as a reason for festivals to exist. But I could get behind that.

    I’ve often thought that I’d like to organize a “film convention,” more in the spirit of a science fiction convention than a film festival. Maybe someday when I have some spare time. :->

  • Different festival have different vibes, and some have way more community than others. Toronto After Dark Film Festival is a great example – it has a *great* community of fans of all the crazy genre stuff from horror to action to cult to boot.

  • Stewart Nusbaumer


    Agree, they certainly do differ. I just went to 8 fests nearly back to back and they were quite different, constructed to be different, although sometimes their personalities were different from what their fest staffs wanted. My favorite was Big Sky in Montana because it was intimate with excellent films, and with 10 days, you had the opportunity to form real relationships.

  • This is what SF/F/H, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who conventions are all about. There’s no artistic reason people should get together by the hundreds to hang out, but it’s fun to do every once in awhile to get rid of the filling that you are alone in your enjoyment of the show.

  • God. My wife and I went to Toronto a couple years back for TIFF and we loved it. Film Festivals are wonderful — it’s fun to wait in line and just chat it up with strangers about what films you’ve seen, which ones you’re going to see, and what you think about them.

    Plus Viggo was there! In the rain!!

  • Nothing like the lines at TIFF – I know people that have met their future husbands/wives in line there.

  • Film festivals are important for all of the reasons outlined above. They provide a platform to films that may otherwise be ignored, they allow auiences to interact with filmmakers, and they allow lovers of film to come together in an environment where cinema is taken seriously. You write “Yes, they’re great for publicity, except how much publicity do new films by Oliver Stone and Woody Allen really need?”, but that’s a side issue. The fact that those films hog the headlines (personally, I don’t think films like Robin Hood or Wall Street 2 should be anywhere near Cannes) doesn’t change the fact that these festivals do allow us to discover films from around the world that we might not get a chance to see otherwise. I’ve seen great films at festivals over the years that were never released theatrically.

  • Stewart Nusbaumer

    You can discover great films from around the world on your computer, seen on your widescreen, a lot cheaper than by trekking to film festivals. As these others platforms evolve, it seems to me the film aspect of film festivals will become less important and as our society continues to be more atomized the community festival aspect will become more important.

    On the other hand, the best publicity is by word of mouth, and festivals excel at this. So filmmakers are not going to be losing interest in showing their films at festivals anytime soon; although it’s not a money maker for the vast majority.

    One thing should be noted. The diversity in film festivals is huge. If you don’t like how they open a festival with a Hollywood film, using it as a hook to broaden the audience of the festival, then go to another festival. Also, focus on the type or genre you like. There are hundreds of festivals out there and most show quality films. Also, most of the time there is a direct relationship between intimacy of community and size of festival.

    In my humble opinion, Cannes is a glittering relic, and turning more silly every year with journalists’ now having “slapfights” and festival staff working hard to keep two female “stars” separate — blah blah blah. Get a life!

    Film festivals are about indie film, and the indie film community, but when the greedheads get their hooks into a festival they immediately start broadening the audience and downsizing the quality. I had a festival director of a prestigious documentary film festival tell me she was all excited about the potential of social games. Well, she hasn’t destroyed her festival yet, but she’s certainly working on it. So, just pick and choose your festivals and have a great, stimulating time.


    anyone ever been to or heard of the Manhattan Film Festival?

  • Stewart Nusbaumer

    awesome, thanks!

  • Stewart Nusbaumer

    I have heard or read about it but I’ve never been there. It’s a rather small fest, but they can can be fun. I live in the neighborhood, so if I’m here I’m definitely going.


    Nice! My friend has a film in the festival this year, so just wondering what the atmosphere is like. Thanks Stewart! Do you go to a lot of festivals?

  • Stewart Nusbaumer

    What is the film? Yeah, I have been going to a lot, want to cut back this summer. I’m curious about the MFF. Going out to LA FF and Palm Springs, but I’ll be back in July. Also, you know there is the Brooklyn IFF, which is from June 4 to 11. I’ll catch some of that.

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