Sunday, September 27, 2009

What the Hades Happened to Festivals?

I love film festivals; I think festivals are a wonderful venue for films, filmmakers & film lovers. However, my horizons are being broadened as I try to get my own film into festivals. Something has changed and I’m not quite sure why it did.

Festivals used to be the breeding ground for new films and by new I mean films that broke new ideas, new sub genres, new stars and new talent. The schedules were filled with diamonds in the rough that mass audiences had never heard of, even if the films became a hit at the festivals and the talent behind them were picked up the films would be hard for audiences to see until home video. El Mariachi, Reservoir Dogs, Swingers, Clerks, In the Company of Men and so many more films were all discovered on the festival circuit and the careers of the people in the films & behind the films were launched by the festivals selecting those films. Though we are now familiar with all the titles I listed, it took months, even years after those films were screened in festivals for them to become commonly discussed films – they were hard to find – rare gems not backed by studios or distributors until after the circuits.

Fast forward to the last few years. People have begun to grumble that big festivals like Sundance have gone “commercial” and we count a film like Juno as an independent film – a film that has millions of dollars behind it, a studio and recognizable stars. My question is what changed?

Suddenly films like Public Enemies, Kill Bill, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Zombieland & Up In the Air are getting play at film festivals. Major studio films are having premieres at festivals around the globe, and major films are being screened, films that are going to come out in theatres worldwide – sometimes less than a month after the festival concludes.

As someone that made a feature film with no access to the amenities of these films, this trend upsets me. My film is damn good, especially when one looks at the fact that I pushed, pulled and pried to make a high quality micro-budget film and didn’t have the convenience of any of the luxuries most moderately budgeted independent films now have. The problem is that when my film, or any film like mine is held up against a film like Men Who Stare at Goats there is no way our little films can hold up; we don’t have the polish, the recognition, or the appeal that a film with that kind of pedigree could have.

This creates a fundamental problem: how do small films get recognized? I truly think we live in a day where a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez would be ignored if they were just starting out. Their films would be pushed aside for one staring an A-List celebrity who got paid scale to make a gritty, “little” film that would bring the festival press.

I still hope to be proven wrong. I still hope that the real independent, rebellious film & filmmakers will come and blow everyone away, even the big guys. Until that happens I’m having a hard time reading film festival coverage, after all, if I’m patient I can just read the reviews a little while later when the films are released nationwide.


Adam said...

Yes, it's fairly evident that the festival culture has changed. However, as someone who's been part of the festival screening process, I can tell you that the majority of the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of submissions aren't that good and many of them are total crap. I have seen certain things (I shall refrain from calling them "films" in protest against their very existence) that made me wish that I had a gun in order that the experience might be over more quickly.

That said, a lot of it comes down to the programmer's taste. I saw at least 2 films that, in my opinion, should have been included in the festival, but were turned down. Now, mind you, these are very well-made films I'm talking about that obviously had a bit of money behind them. If they didn't make it in, it's not inconceivable that your film might have some problems too, as you didn't have the budget that you would have liked and had to fund a lot, if not all, of it yourself.

Additionally, remember that there are other factors included in the selection process, like how close the filmmakers/cast are to the festival site and how likely the showing is to sell out. I could tell you stories . . .

Megan said...

Trust me Adam,all that I know, but that's part of the problem. How can any little film pack seats when a few blocks away the festival is screening a film starring George Clooney?

A lot of festivals have moved away from what they used to represent. Most of the festivals now all allow films that have distribution to be allowed into the selection process. It jsut doesn't make sense. Nothing can be changed about it though and that's another problem.

Every festival wants different programming and each screener has different tastes, but should Zombieland or Indy 4 get a festival slot?

Adam said...

Well, in the case of Indy 4, while it premiered at Cannes, it premiered out of competition. Cannes has always had high-profile films anyway. Did it screen at other film festivals that my research hasn't told me about?

Chris W said...

Okay, I have to weigh in here as well because obviously this effects me the same way it does Megan. So much so that she beat me to the punch in putting up a post about it. I'm going to use the Fantastic Fest film festival as a perfect example. This is a fest that we REALLY wanted to get our movie into. So much so that we broke our back trying to get it done in time. Like Megan I've had to stop reading coverage because EVERY film I've read about is a film that was financed and produced by soem sort of studio and in many cases already has distribution! Sadly the world of independent film has drastically changed over the past few years and the film festivals are just represenative of that. I honestly think that at some point this is going to lead to a change in the culture. You're going to have enough film makers like ourselves that will get fed up and start doing festivals, etc. outside of the system that will then eventually grow big enough and get enough recognition to effect a change. At least that's my hope because no doubt something needs to change.

Anonymous said...

It seems like this was all building up since the 90's with the Weinstein brothers. I only see it getting more commercial.