Notes on Film Festivals vs. Industry Events

September 30, 2010 at 8:52 am

In the course of preparing the volume on Film Festivals and East Asia (which will be out in January 2011), I heard a variety of opinions on the matter if events such as the Asia Pacific Film Festival or the Taipei Golden Horse Awards and Film Festival should be included here. The same type of question kept springing up again and again: Are these industry-staged PR events actually festivals? And, more often than not, the answer was that we cannot really regard them as festivals and should not be studying them as such. The situation was further complicated by linguistic considerations suggesting that both should more adequately be described as ‘exhibitions’. (According to Ruby Cheung, the Chinese name of the Asia-Pacific Film Festival is ya tai ying zhan in Mandarin transliteration, which literally means Asia-Pacific Film Exhibition. Then, for the Golden Horse, we have jin ma guo ji ying zhan in Mandarin transliteration, which literally means ‘Golden Horse International Film Exhibition’).

The seemingly trivial matter of ‘exhibition’ as opposed to ‘festival’ is deeper than it appears and raises general questions about film festivals. Should we consider festivals that are openly run by and mainly staged for the needs of the industry in the same category as those festivals that are mainly organised for the promotion and enjoyment of cinematic art? Perhaps we ought to make a clearer distinction between the two? Independent critic and curator Neil Young of Jigsaw Lounge is a proponent of the view that Cannes should not be regarded as a festival as it is an industry event in the context of which audiences either do not figure or figure only as extras that serve as background for glitzy events (Young speaking at Tromsø IFF, Norway, January 2010). Similar views were floated at the St. Andrews workshop on festivals at St. Andrews (April 2009): also here Cannes was discussed more as an industry event of a different category (see Brown, 2009).

One of the fault lines between the two is the role of the audience: what live access is there for an audience of ordinary spectators in cinéphile capacity? Under this criterion, even a compromised festival like the one in Bangkok, staged mainly for the sake of tourists, would still qualify more as a festival than an industry event that is mainly staged with the industry self-interest as a guiding principle.

Further criteria that augment the fault line relate to matters of ‘nomination’ vs. ‘submission’: the members of the organisation that is staging APFF actually nominate the films that are entered at the festival; industrial considerations take precedence over artistic selection in the context of the Golden Horse awards as well.

In these matters, however, the Asian examples are only part of the story, which requires to be pieced together from a variety of angles. It is precisely along these lines that, while discussing the growing commercialisation of the Toronto IFF, Gabe Klinger recently observed that ‘the audience participation at TIFF has been configured as an industry think tank’; even if on the surface a festival like Toronto may appear to cater to local cinéphiles, concerns over the commercial motivation behind the event keep popping up. He further says: ‘The response of the public cased on attendance, walkouts, visible or audible reactions, etc., help buyers to decide if the film will be worthy for acquisition. Why do you think TIFF is so successful in industry terms? It is because of the public factor, not in spite of it… The industry already factors in the audience response in the way they will package their products…’ (Gabe Klinger, comment to blog post on Toronto at the Girish Shambu blog, August 2010. Available on-line: (30 August 2010). These comments were posted as part of an important wider discussion on the matter of commercialisation of festivals that I touch upon here.

Many film festivals around the world nowadays can be seen ‘phasing out’ their cinéphile constituencies, and they do this for a variety of reasons. National industry bodies were not only entitled to but also expected to nominate films for festivals like Berlinale until the not too distant past; Cannes had not dropped the national affiliation for films until just a few years ago. These are important matters that would merit further investigation in the context of film festival studies.

Brown, William (2009) ‘The Festival Syndrome’, in FFY1: The Festival Circuit, 216-25.

© Dina Iordanova
30 September 2010

The Only Popular Tax Ever Known: The UK Robin Hood Tax Campaign

April 13, 2010 at 2:59 am

The proposal to tax banking profits for the benefit of a variety of not-for-profit causes came to prominence with this short video, released in the UK in early February 2010, starring the ever popular Bill Nighy and directed by Richard Curtis, whose name is usually linked to feel-good British rom-coms like Four Weddings and a Funeral (which he wrote) and Love Actually (which he wrote and directed).

The argument in favour of the tax, an apparently grass-roots initiative, has now proliferated into a wider scale campaign (reportedly supported by more than a million activists) which is headquartered at an own web-site that represents a consortium of various activists and other non-profits (or ‘charities’, as they are called in the UK). It has been gaining momentum last week since the announcement of the coming elections on 6 May 2010. Supported by influential American economist Jeffrey Sachs (a man revered and loathed in different circles), the proposal is for a variation of the so-called Tobin tax, which makes provision for imposing a very small ‘spot’ levy on large financial transactions of the type that investment banks are regularly involved with.

Supporters of the tax were involved in events around Hyde Park’s Speakers corner last weekend. It all happens as Swiss-owned bank UBS is reporting a first-quarter pretax profit of 2.5 billion Swiss francs ($2.4 billion), compared with a loss of around 1.5 billion francs a year earlier. The campaign have just released a new video, starring Ben Kngsley as a banker (as well as a bunch of up and coming ethnic minority actors as the hooded boys who rob him in the ‘bank directors only’ car park).

In addition, here is a short video, again featuring Bill Nighy explaining why is this a good idea (as ‘no one is targeted, no individual is being punished’, and ‘it could be the only popular tax ever known’) and asking that people keep an eye on the campaign that appears to be gathering pace.

Film Festival Yearbook 2: Film Festivals and Imagined Communities

February 23, 2010 at 12:54 am

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new volume on film festivals, co-edited with Ruby Cheung, a research associate of the Dynamics of World Cinema project and an alumna of our PhD programme in Film Studies at the University of St. Andrews. The book is the second in the series; the first volume, the Film Festival Yearbook 1: The Festival Circuit, was published in 2009.


FILM FESTIVAL YEARBOOK 2: FILM FESTIVALS AND IMAGINED COMMUNITIES

Edited by Dina Iordanova with Ruby Cheung
ISBN: 978-0-9563730-1-4 (paperback) £17.99; 304 pp. , 2010.

Film Festivals and Imagined Communities, the second volume in the Film Festival Yearbook series, brings together essays about festivals that use international cinema to mediate the creation of transnational ‘imagined communities’. There are texts about the cultural policies and funding models linked to these festivals, as well as analysis of programming practices linked to these often highly politicised events. The case studies discuss diaspora-linked festivals that take place in Vienna, San Francisco, San Sebastian, Havana, Bradford, Sahara, South Korea, and London and that feature cinema from places as diverse as Nepal and Kurdistan, Africa and Latin America. Authors include Lindiwe Dovey, Ruby Cheung, Michael Guillén, Jérôme Segal, Miriam Ross, Roy Stafford, Yun Mi Hwang, Isabel Santaolalla and Stefan Simanowitz, Mustafa Gündoğdu, and Dina Iordanova. The Resources section features an up-to-date bibliography on film festival scholarship (by Skadi Loist and Marijke de Valck) and an extensive thematically-organised listing of a variety of transnational festivals.

CONTENTS

Introduction (Dina Iordanova and Ruby Cheung)


PART I: Contexts

Mediating Diaspora: Film Festivals and ‘Imagined Communities’ (Dina Iordanova)
Directors’ Cut: In Defence of African Film Festivals outside Africa (Lindiwe Dovey)
Funding Models of Themed Film Festivals (Ruby Cheung)

PART II: Case Studies
Bite the Mango: Bradford’s Unique Film Festival (Roy Stafford)
Under the Migrant Lens: Migrant Worker Film Festival in South Korea (Yun Mi Hwang)
A Cinematic Refuge in the Desert: The Sahara International Film Festival (Isabel Santaolalla and Stefan Simanowitz)
Diasporas by the Bay: Two Asian Film Festivals in San Francisco (Michael Guillén)
Film Festivals and the Ibero-American Sphere (Miriam Ross)
Film Festivals in the Diaspora: Impetus to the Development of Kurdish Cinema? (Mustafa Gündoğdu)
Identities and Politics at the Vienna Jewish Film Festival (Jérôme Segal)

PART III: Resources
Thematic Bibliography on Film Festival Research – Update: 2009 (Skadi Loist and Marijke de Valck)
The Listings: Transnational Film Festivals (Dina Iordanova)
1. African Film Festivals (Lindiwe Dovey)
2. Latin American and Ibero-American Film Festivals (Miriam Ross)
3. Asian Film Festivals (Andrew Dorman)
4. Jewish Film Festivals (Jérôme Segal)
5. Palestinian Film Festivals (Serazer Pekerman)
6. Turkish Film Festivals (Serazer Pekerman)
7. French Film Festivals (Ruby Cheung)
8. German Film Festivals (Ruby Cheung)
9. Greek Film Festivals (Serazer Pekerman)
10. Taiwanese Film Festivals (Yun-hua Chen)
11. Overseas Film Festivals in London (UK) (Andrew Dorman)
12. Overseas Film Festivals in Los Angeles (U.S.) (Andrew Dorman)
13. Overseas Film Festivals in San Francisco (U.S.) (Andrew Dorman)

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Film that created the most wealth?

October 30, 2008 at 12:27 am

Writing in Financial Times, on 16 May 2008, John Authers reported on the Film that Crated the Most Wealth. According to Nobel Prize in economics winner Prof. Robert Mundell (pictured here receiving his award from from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in 1999), this is supposed to be Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976).

According to Mundell:

” Taxi Driver is the most important movie ever made from the standpoint of creating GDP. It’s the movie that made the Reagan revolution possible. That movie was indirectly responsible for adding between $5trn and $15trn of output to the US economy.”

How did it do it? Reporting from the annual gathering of the CFA Institute of chartered financial analysts in Vancouver, Authers describes the line of thought that Mundell follows in making this claim.

John Hinckley, the deranged would-be assassin who attempted to kill US president Ronald Reagan in 1981, claimed that he was inspired by it. He said that his action was an attempt to impress Foster. (The movie features a scene in which a mohawked De Niro attempts to assassinate a politician.) According to Mundell, the wave of sympathy for Reagan that was engendered by the assassination attempt deterred Democrats in Congress from voting against his proposed tax cuts. Because of this accident of history, the US administered a big fiscal stimulus at the same time that Paul Volcker at the Federal Reserve was administering tight money. This, for Mundell, was vital in creating the era of prosperity that followed.

I wish I had been in attendance in order to find out more on the cognitive method that underlines this line of reasoning. On the one hand, it sounds like a fascinating deduction (or maybe induction?), and it is constructed so neatly that it could be turned to a movie. It has certainly impressed me sufficiently to make me keep Authers’ articles on file for months until I got the chance to come round and write on it today. On the other hand, I wonder how stable are the assumptions on which the argument is based? Don’t we tell students in our teaching that most of the studies on influencing through the media have shown that there is no conclusive evidence that someone can be influenced one way or another by the novies? Haven’t barristers fought over the years against the use of such presumptive judgment on the actions of their clients in court? I remember a controversy involving a ban on The Godfather in some country, as it had allegedly inspired a mafia-style assassination; the move triggered serious objections that argued no direct causation between the workings of the criminal mind and the cinematic narrative to which it has been exposed could ever be established with full certainty. Why is it then that an even more daring construction like this one (involving a number of assumptions related to the film, the killer, the victim, the sympathy, the Congress, and at the end the tax policy and wealth) would be acceptable and newsworthy?

Prof. Mundell is a top league economist and I am sure he has got much better evidence on how things have evolved back in the 1980s regarding tax policies and wealth accumulation. But I admit feeling somewhat uneasy seeing an increasing number of writing from economists who use material from the realms of popular culture in a way in which they would not use material from within their own disciplines. In the area of economy of culture there is a Tyler Cowen, who has made a name for himself with statements that appear knowledgeable but are often fairly speculative. Most of all, however, I experience these doubts and unease when reading the witty but ultimately contrived arguments offered by writers such as Tim Hartford in the UK and Steven Levitt in the USA.

© Dina Iordanova
30 October 2008

And End of an Era? Popular cinema, Gordon Gekko’s ‘Greed is Good!’ and the collapse of Wall Street

October 7, 2008 at 6:51 am

Twenty-one years on, Gordon Gekko, the stockbroker that preached ‘Greed is good!’ in this famous speech from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987), is topical again.

This time around he pops up in The New York Times columnists Tim Arango and Julie Creswell’s article entitled Goodbye to All That: The Wall St. Lifestyle (October 5, 2008) in which they cover what they have wishfully termed an ‘end of an era’. The article abounds with stories of the lifestyle of excess and exclusivity, illustrated with pictures of pop culture financial abuse legends such as Michael Milken and Ivan O. Boesky, linked to the crash of 1987. Most of all, however, the authors are trying to make references to today’s situation. As the more recent names to name and pictures to come along for those leading the financial extravananza are still not really ‘short-listed’ as of yet, there is a photograph of a fleet of glossy black S-Class Mercedeses parked in front of the Lehman Brothers building on the day of their noisy bankruptcy a few weeks ago (there was an article in the Financial Times on 4 October 2008, on the art collection of Lehman Brothers’ Richard Flud and his wive, which is to fetch millions in a forthcoming sale at Sotheby’s). The main question that Arango and Creswell asked in their article is: in what ways the demise of Wall Street will trickle down into popular culture.

I am also interested in this question. The authors quote from an interview with Oliver Stone, the morality guru, who apparently has been clear about the true essence of Gordon Gekkos throughout. The illumination of the deeply criminal nature of the Wall Street ethos apparently has come to him long before he made the film, in the context of researching for his script for Brian de Palma’s Scarface in Miami in the early 1980s. ‘What shocked me,’ Stone reiterates, ‘was I met with all these guys who at a young age were making millions and they were acting like these guys in Miami […] There’s not much difference between Gordon Gekko and Tony Montana.’

While I write this, my TV is on, it is morning here in Chicago. CNN just showed Obama saying that the current financial crisis is due to the years of greed that has ruled America (this was almost literally repeated in another clip they played immediately thereafter, featuring McCain). It is an interesting moment to realise to what extent articulations that have first come about in the context of popular culture, in films such as Wall Street and The Bonfire of Vanities, now reemerge to define our understanding of the modern age.

These days I am staying on campus at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. The waitresses in the nearby Medici cafe wear T-Shirts that say ‘Obama eats here’, and the shops in the vicinity offer Obama merchandise; his house is not far. The TV brings in more and more of gloomy financial news, banks and markets continue collapsing on both sides of the Atlantic (it seems it is RBS’s turn today, 39% further down from the bottom it had hit yesterday). Yet at the same time it is all very relaxed: there is central air conditioning where I am staying. I am the only person staying on this floor with eleven guest rooms and yet the AC keeps working on full speed and it cannot be controlled or stopped. It is October, for God’s sake, it is not really necessary to use up so much energy to cool down an empty place, right? On the street polite and cheerful campaigners are asking you to ‘save the planet’ by separating your rubbish for recycling. It all gives me an interesting feel of a smooth descent into a post-financial apocalypse.

© Dina Iordanova
7 October 2008