FFY3: Film Festivals and East Asia

January 8, 2011 at 11:52 am

I am pleased to announce the publication of our new volume from the Film Festival Yearbook undertaking, the third one in a row. Co-edited by myself and Ruby Cheung, this one is dedicated to Film Festivals and East Asia and is available to order from our web-site; it is also possible to order it in combination with our previous volumes, Film Festivals and Imagined Communities and The Film Festival Circuit, at a special price. Working on this volume was extremely engaging and exciting. The collaborators were based all over the world, as usual, and we managed to gain insights into a little known but thriving area for film festivals.

The table of contents features:

FILM FESTIVALS AND EAST ASIA

East Asia: ‘New Localism’, ‘Full Service’ and Film Festivals
Dina Iordanova

Part I: Contexts

Asian Film Festivals, Translation, and the European Film Festival Short Circuit
Abé Mark Nornes

East Asian Film Festivals: Film Markets
Ruby Cheung

Japan 1951-1970: National Cinema as Cultural Currency
Julian Stringer

News for Whom?: Critical Coverage of the 10th Jeonju International Film Festival
Adrian Martin

Washington, Pusan, Rotterdam, Udine and Back: Programming East Asian Films for American Audiences
Tom Vick

Comrades and Citizens: Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals in China
Ragan Rhyne

Part II: Case Studies

Bulldozers, Bibles, and Very Sharp Knives: The Chinese Independent Documentary Scene
Abé Mark Nornes

Programming Southeast Asia at the Singapore International Film Festival
Felicia Chan and Dave Chua

Taipei Film Festival: Creation of a Global City
Yun-hua Chen

Tourism and the Landscape of Thai Film Festivals
Adam Knee and Kong Rithdee

North Korea’s Pyongyang International Film Festival
James Bell

Between Europe and Asia? A Chronicle of the ‘Eurasia’ International Film Festival (Kazakhstan)
Birgit Beumers

Part III: Resources

The Resources: Necessary Groundwork
Dina Iordanova

Interviews
1. ‘I believe in “film as art”’An Interview with Li Cheuk-to, Artistic Director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF)
Ruby Cheung
2. A Platform to the World: An Interview with Kim Ji-seok, Executive Programmer of the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF)
Seunghee Lee
3. ‘It’s very simple. We like to give the audience the chance to see good films’ An Interview with Hayashi Kanako and Ichiyama Shozo of Tokyo FILMeX
Chris Fujiwara
4. Do Vodka and Sake Really Mix? An Interview with Natalia Shakhnazarova, Executve Director of Pacific Meridian: Vladivostok International Film Festival of Asian Pacific Countries
Alex Fischer

Tables
Location Map (Alex Fischer)
Table 1: The Asia-Pacific Film Festival (1954- ) (Sangjoon Lee)
Table 2: East Asian Festivals by Decade (Ruby Cheung and Alex Fischer)
Table 3: Festivals Featuring Significant East Asian Cinema Content (Andrew Dorman and Alex Fischer)
Table 4: Film Festivals in Mainland China (Ma Ran)
Table 5: Film Festivals in Hong Kong (Ma Ran)
Table 6: Film Festivals in Taiwan (Yun-hua Chen)
Table 7: Film Festivals in Japan (Alex Marlow-Mann)
Table 8: Film Festivals in South Korea (Yun Mi Hwang)
Table 9: Film Festivals in Singapore (Dave Chua)
Table 10: Film Festivals in Central Asia and the Asian Part of the former USSR (Birgit Beumers)
Table 11: Documentary Festivals in Asia (Abé Mark Nornes)
Table 12: GLBT Festivals in Asia (Ragan Rhyne)
Table 13: Monetary Value of Awards at Top Festivals in East Asia (Alex Fischer)

Bibliography: Film Festivals and East Asia (Alex Fischer)

What is New in Film Festivals Studies Thematic Bibliography on Film Festival Research: Update 2010
Marijke de Valck and Skadi Loist

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

Australia’s ‘Touring’ Festivals

March 27, 2010 at 4:49 am

I am posting here and excerpt from our new volume: Film Festivals and Imagined Communities.

This is an exchange with Australian film critic and academic Adrian Martin on the matter of distribution entrepreneurship and cultural diplomacy, one of the areas explored in the book.

Dina Iordanova: ‘Like most other major territories,’ writes Sandy George in Screen International, ‘Australia has a clutch of festivals dedicated to spotlighting cinema from a single territory, of which the French, Italian and Spanish film festivals are the biggest’ (‘Spreading the Foreign Word’, 29 May 2009: 34). In the case of Australia, however, this seems to be an interesting case where cultural diplomacy and film distribution related to overseas cinema work together. According to George, the touring French Film Festival is organised by Alliance Francaise and the French Embassy, yet one-third of the thirty or so films that it showcases do have an existing local distributor attached, thus the event can be regarded as a specific distribution set-up. Distributors have been taking ‘a slice of all festivals receipts’ since 2006, she notes, and have recognised that festivals showings assists them in reaching out to wider audiences than the normal art house circuit. Jean-Jacques Garnier, the French Embassy’s cultural attaché, dubs as an artistic director for the festival (George 2009). Apparently, there are also a German, an Italian, and a Spanish film festival, all of which seem to tour the same range of cities (Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane), thus covering the territory with an array of nationally-themed film festivals, all quite highly placed within the ‘vertical mosaic’ of festivals here. I was struck to discover the advanced level of coordination of these festivals. It is only here that we so regularly see national film festivals that are listed as ‘touring’; they always seem to go to the same set of cities, and they all seem to have a web-site that is set up in a uniform way (e.g. Spanish Film Festival; Italian FF, Greek FF). So I wonder if there is any special cultural policy context in which this is taking shape with such uniformity? Admittedly, we have got some varieties of this in the UK (e.g. French Film Festival and Italian Film Festival, run by the same group, that go to a selection of cities) but ‘touring’ here usually involves a combination of mixed cities, whoever has come on board, really, rather than a showcase systematically covering the big cultural centres, whereas in the Australian case it always seems to be a cluster of the same cities. Would you like to comment about this observation?

Adrian Martin: Yes, the situation of the touring national film festivals is peculiar to Australia, and for a very specific reason. It all has to do with a distribution/exhibition company called Palace, which has been running since at least the 1980s and is still essentially a ‘family business’ run primarily by husband (Antonio Zeccola), wife, and their grown-up kids at various levels of the organisation. Palace is among the few surviving ‘independent’ distributor-exhibitors of the twenty-first century scene in Australia, partly through savvy business sense and also through their various deals with the major commercial distributors. Palace has managed to extend into several states of Australia. Hence the spread of state-venues you have noted. Palace has always had a strong connection to (mainly European and ‘old school’) art cinema. Their exhibition venues are known to the public as ‘boutique’ or ‘arthouse’ cinemas, and the actual programming mixes typical arthouse fare (Haneke, French comedies, Jarmusch, etc.) with films from the majors like Tarantino and suchlike.

So, Palace has always been involved — as a matter of Italo-Australian national pride, partly! — in certain high-profile festival-events that are very successful for them: especially Italian and French. This goes back (in my recollection) at least to the 1990s. Palace have a technique that works well for them: when they programme these festivals (by sending their own reps to Italy and by having contacts with the likes of Unifrance), to avoid problems with booking and availabilty of prints over the entire haul of the national tour around Palace cinemas, they actually buy the rights to about a dozen of these films. So they have one or two 35 mm prints that screen really only for the duration of the event (and afterwards can be made available for Australian cinematheque and other special screenings). A year or so later all the films are released on Australian DVD (‘bare bones’ style, subtitled in English but with no extras) in a ‘box set’ called something like ‘Italian Film Festival 2008’. Palace also have a relation to a music-publishing company, so there are also CDs that help to promote these events, e.g. ‘Soundtrack to the French Film Festival’, which is usually just a lot of current pop tunes with little relation to the films! But the CD sells well with the ‘world music’ crowd in Australia.

Now we come to the next part of this process, which has been occurring in recent years. Palace does its own festivals, but it also ‘hosts’ others, responding to advances from small cultural groups in the Australian, Spanish, German and other communities: a Spanish group named ‘Filmoteca’ (a monthly film society), for instance, or the Goethe-Institut. Palace becomes a partner in programming these events, sourcing prints and doing promotions and sets up the national touring, which is the big drawcard for these small groups. Palace has a say in how the event unfolds. If it has just bought, for example, The Baader-Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel, Germany, 2008) or some other new high-profile title, it will propose that it is the showcase Opening Night presentation in the German Film Festival, and Palace will bring down the actors and/or director for promotional purposes.

To sum up, this whole phenomenon is not at all a ‘cultural policy’ initiative of governments (although some of the small ethnic-interest cultural groups I have mentioned may receive various government subsidies – but nothing like what it takes to do a national film tour). It is purely an ‘enlightened business initiative’ by a company that itself started as a small, independent business and has held on to some of its cultural goals to showcase international art cinema — even if still in fairly mainstream terms.

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)

Buy from St. Andrews Film Bookshop by clicking through here.

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Book Is Good But Film Is Better: Tromso International Film Festival, Norway

January 26, 2010 at 3:59 am

‘Book Is Good But Film Is Better’: this is what a bookmark that I picked up at the festival, featuring the raindeer-horns logo of the festival, reads. I agree.

Located on a fjord more than 200 miles north of the Polar Circle (the Nowegian classic Ni Liv was shot in the area) and thus perhaps the northernmost festival in the world, the International Film Festival in Tromso (Norway) celebrates its twentieth anniversary with this edition, which this year is called Frozen Land-Moving Images. Started in 1991 by a local cinema exhibitor, Focus cinema’s Hans Henrik Berg (who died two years ago), the festival has grown to become one of the largest most important events in Scandinavia. Originally taking place in the cinema that Berg was running, it now uses multiple venues around town: the six-screen multiplex, the old cinema (a 1915 building), as well as various other adapted locations; it is amazing that all these were fully available to the festival organisers for the duration of the festival and that all were really high quality venues with excellent seating, accessibility and visibility. The former cinema building is no longer used for screenings but it has been remodeled into a light-filled library which is one of the architectural landmarks of the town, displaying the traditional clean lines of Scandinavian design. The new FocusKino multiplex is just down the street. During my stay in Tromso I could not help thinking of St. Johns, Newfoundland, on a daily basis — so closely do these two towns resemble each other that they should be twinned, in my opinion. The weather was not particularly cold for the duration of our stay (it would have been colder in Newfoundland), but still it was nice to be able to order food in the local eateries by dispensing of food vouchers that were reading ‘Frozen Land/Hot Food’.

The festival takes place in mid-January and is thus one of the earliest events on the global festival circuit. This is the period when the sun has not really shown up here for a few months; it is not really dark all the time and there is a period of daylight over several hours. Simply the sun never comes above the horizon during this period; it was scheduled to be welcomed on 21 January but the morning was foggy and the promised ceremony never took place as nothing of the sky was to be seen, so thick was the fog (the husky ride did not take place, either, as the snow on all the tracks was melting this January). Tromso is also known as the best place in the world to observe the Northern Lights, but we did not get the chance to see them, either. Still, our caring host Randi took us on a wonderful cable car ride to a nearby mountain, from where we could look over the area and the island.

The most interesting screening programme is the one that takes place daily in open air. The photo I display above is showing one of the screenings, but it is from a past year. Things look even nicer now, with the screen being entirely cushioned in snow, like a giant snowy sculpture, and with other snow sculptures and an igloo standing next to it. It is not very warm to watch a film here, true, but it is perhaps one of the most interesting open-air events that I have come across*. This year the main attraction is the screening of Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, with a special musical score by Swedish composer Matti Bye. On Thursday morning, 21 January, just at 9 am (still before dawn), I passed by to see a group of little citizens of Tromso, 6-7 year olds, preparing to view a film in open air. Some of them were being seated by their teachers on bean bags in front of the screen, on the icy ground, while others were orderly seated at the three-tier seating area that had been cut out of ice at the back of this improvised open air theatre.

The festival awards a range of trophies; I most liked the description of The Norwegian Peace Film Award which ‘is awarded a film spotlighting direct, structural or cultural violence’, as the festival organisers believe that ‘films that focus on oppression and abuses of power can make a difference’ (this time around it has gone to the Georgian The Other Bank, which has won a host of international awards since I wrote of it in March 2009). The festival sells over 50,000 tickets, a particularly noteworthy fact, given the population of Tromso itself is about 65,000 in total — and indeed, local people are to be seen at all screenings, even at those taking place at 9 am. Another noteworthy detail is that the six-screen multiplex in town is entirely dedicated to festival screenings during the week of the event, a rare instance where commercial interests and obligations are suspended in order to make way to public service type cultural activity (ultimately possible because the city has got a big say in the way the cinema is run). We were invited here by director, the beautiful Martha Otte (pictured), a transplanted American who has lived here for more than thirty years and who has run the festival since 2005. My own involvement was in a panel discussion on film festivals which was never publicly listed for some reason, and at which I participated along Jonathan Rosenbaum, Christoph Mercier from Fox Searchlight (who told us how Hollywood strategically utilises festivals by rolling out new titles through a careful selection of a circuit of festivals where these films are entered in order to enhance their subsequent box office performance in Europe), and Variety’s Jay Weissberg. It was also an opportunity to meet the transnationally-operating programmer Neil Young who blogs on festivals and films out of Sunderland at Jigsaw Lounge (that is, when he is not busy with his equestrian day job).

Too many films to mention here, so I will skip writing about this. From among the screenings I attended, I feel I ought to mention one though: It took place at the oldest functioning film theatre in Northern Europe (built in 1915), this showcased two recent documentaries (the second one not yet finished) by locally-based Knut Eric Jensen (best-known internationally for his cult documentary Cool and Crazy**). There was also a discussion with the director, of which I could not understand much as it was in Norwegian — the cinema was full and before entering the theatre, the line stretched all across the pedestrian street in front of the building. I can barely recall another event where I would have seen such unanimous and excited expression of approval and admiration to a filmmaker like the support I witnessed during this screening; I do not know how he does it, or perhaps such sincere expressions of unreserved admiration may be a feature of the Nordic character. In any case, the ovation the director received was quite something and was clearly meant to express support for the person, not so much for the specific films that were being shown.

* Kay Armatage has written a piece on the theme of open air screenings at festivals, published in the special issue of Film International on festivals, 2008.
** See Bjorn Sorenssen’s excellent analysis of this film in the 24 Frames: Scandinavian Cinema book.

© Dina Iordanova
26 January 2010

Ron Holloway (1933-2009)

December 19, 2009 at 4:35 am

It was less than a year ago, in February 2009, that I saw Ron Holloway and his wife Dorothea, at the FEST in Belgrade, where Ron and Slobodan Sijan had organised a round table on women-filmmakers in Eastern Europe. I knew that he was not well, but did not expect that he only had months left to live. He seemed as busy and as active as always, passing around copies of his ubiquitous publication KINO: German Cinema, which he had been publishing for many years (since 1979, as it seems) and which highlighted German and East European cinema and festivals. I just received the publication that resulted out of this project about ten days ago; one feels like life continues and that Ron has not left us.

My first encounter with Ron was through a book of his, Bulgarian Cinema (1986), which I read in the early 1990s. It strikes me that, like the cinema to which it is dedicated, this book is now being almost forgotten. It is not mentioned in the obituaries I read, and yet it is one of Ron’s most serious academic efforts. It is a systematic and deep study, in which he introduces the concept of Poetic Cinema, a key term that was adopted later on by Daniel Goulding and other academics and gained currency through its wider application to the cinema of Eastern Europe at large. This study remains probably the most academic study of Ron’s. I am deeply grateful for it as it greatly influenced and shaped my own scholarly interests.

I had several opportunities to work with Ron over the years. One of the projects was special issue on Bulgarian cinema which I edited for the on-line journal Kinokultura in 2006. Here is a link to the article we co-authored, entitled Hoping for a Bulgarian Film Revival.

There were several occasions over the years that Ron shared with me his dismay with Bulgaria’s film bureaucrats who had invited him in the early 1980s and had helped him to view all the films he needed in order to write his book. Later on, however, he felt ignored by them as, in the 1990s, they seemed to have had completely forgotten his existence and commitment to the cinema of this country. I tried to explain that governments had changed, that the new people were most likely considering everything done by their predecessors as worthy of destruction, and so on — yet, I can see very well why he was feeling so bitter. I would feel the same in his place. His death is not being reported in the Bulgarian newspapers as far as I can tell, writing this from Sofia where I am visiting at the moment.

During our encounter in Belgrade in February 2009 I kept pestering Ron with questions about his long life as a festival goer, to me he is probably the prototypical individual who I describe in my writing on the ‘Festival Circuit’ when I talk about ‘the festival treadmill’. He was a man living for an at film festivals. I very much wanted to learn, in particular, about the film festival of non-aligned nations, mostly from the Third World that the Soviet Union was trying to rally culturally, that had been taking place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (USSR), during the 1970s and the early 1980s, a festival that no longer exists but which he had visited many times. He did not manage to tell me as much as I wanted to know, and promised to talk to me about it at a later point. With Ron now gone, the feeling is that a whole era has disappeared.

It is only now, from his obituary issued by Interfilm, that I learn about Ron Holloway’s involvement with the Cuernavaca (Mexico) centre for intercultural learning, run by de-schooling ideologue Ivan Illich, another person who has had a shaping influence over my thinking over the years.

© Dina Iordanova
19 December 2009

International Film Festivals Workshop, Part II: The Event

April 24, 2009 at 12:28 am

So here we are, having finally convened for what proved to be a really interesting day of discussions on matters of film festivals. This is the ‘scene’ of the event, at the Lawrence Levy studio on the top floor of the Byre theatre in St. Andrews. Seated in the picture are, from left to right: Lucy Mazdon, David Slocum, Janet Harbord, Skadi Loist, Marijke de Valck, Richard Porton, Dina Iordanova, Nick Roddick, Ruby Cheung, Michael Gubbins, Irene Bignardi, Lindiwe Dovey and Nuria Triana-Toribio. Stuart Cunningham, who had initially sat on this side of the table, had moved to the audience side as he found the lights too bright (same for me, I wore Nick Roddick’s sunglasses while moderating the first session). The man whose back faces the camera, is John Orr who had come for the day from Edinburgh. Another twenty or so people attended, such as David Archibald, Emily Munroe, Matthew Lloyd, Melanie Phillips, Apple Zhang, Dorota Ostrowska, Victoria Thomas, as well as our colleagues Leshu Torchin, Will Brown, Saer Ba, and the PhD students Yun-hua Chen, Serazer Pekerman (who took all these potos), Yun Mi Hwang and Spela Zajec. Thomas Gerstenmeyer ensured that it all run smoothly. The image on the background, which also carried information on the event’s sponsors, featured a scene from the open air screenings at Piazza Grande during the Locarno Film Festival (one of the most logistically challenges for the festival organisers, as Irene Bignardi, former director of the festival, shared — as it rains almost every night).*

As I have been quite busy with other things, it has taken me quite a long time to come round to do this second post on the Workshop. We have now moved on. The Film Festivals Yearbook I: The Festival Circuit will be out in May 2009, bringing many of the ideas discussed here into the public space and containing a detailed report by William Brown that focuses on the workshop specifically. There are also reports on the workshop forthcoming in Film International, Senses of Cinema, Scope and probably Screen, so it will be covered extensively for those who are interested to read more of the ideas that were discussed during the day (the photo here shows, left to right, Marijke de Valck, Richard Porton and myself, during the workshop). So I have decided not to write a report on the event, especially as I was so involved in it that it would take me quite a long time to cover all aspects. Having read some of the forthcoming reports, however, I thought there is one aspect that needs mentioning here. Namely, the issue that was brought up by Lucy Mazdon and David Slocum on the matter of defining what IS the film festival, or probably coming up with some taxonomy of film festivals, as this would naturally be a good starting point for building the field.

Here are some thoughts on the taxonomy of festivals, mostly triggered by matters related to the incessant proliferation of film festivals nowadays. I thought this could be linked with my view of the festival circuit as consisting of a number of parallel smaller circuits that function independently from each other (they also can be taken as the basis of a possible taxonomy of festivals). We wondered what would it be if festivals were to suddenly stop taking place. What would such collapse mean?

If some key festivals were to fail entirely or in part, such collapse may indeed have dismal consequences for the industry itself, including people and businesses, but it would not really affect much the other festivals, because their modus operandi is not part of a structured network. Similarly, the current proliferation of festivals does not seem to crowd the festival calendar in any troublesome way. It is more about escalation in festivals of parallel type, mostly taking place outside the group of large competitive festivals, not within it. The events that constitute these parallel circuits form pronounced networks between themselves. Thus, while highly ‘porous and perforated’ (Elsaesser), we are also looking at a structure where some parts can easily exist without the others. There is a clear division between the different circuits, and they follow parallel and overlapping cycles over the globe and around the year.

These parallel circuits are so many that it is difficult to even begin listing them. For example, the global circuit of festivals of the Soviet sphere during the Cold War (Moscow, Karlovy Vary, Tashkent, Havana, etc.) existed for decades without much interface or interference with the system of festivals in the West. A list of various parallel circuits could include networks of type (short film, ethnographic film, animation, documentary), genre (comedy, mountain films), target audience (children, seniors), or social concern film festivals (human rights, women’s, gay and lesbian). Then there are festivals of local survey (Brazilian film in Paris), regional survey (East Asian, Eastern European, Mediterranean), diasporic festivals (Bosnian film in Chicago, the network of Jewish Film Festivals around the world), or even events following their own idiosyncratic agenda, like my favourite one in the tiny sardine-factory town of Douarnenez in Brittany, France, which has persisted over more than three decades with its interest in minority cultures from around the world. There are festivals with significant commercial activity (Cannes, Berlinale, Sundance), festivals of festivals (Toronto, London), commercial showcase festivals (Deauville’s American Film Festival), thematic festivals (slow food, fashion), tourism-enhancing festivals (Bahamas, St. Barth, Marrakech), festivals promoting cinephilia (Pordenone, Telluride), festivals promoting film professionalism (cinematography in Bitolja, Macedonia; screenwriting in Cheltenham, England). Wherever there are networks, they are formed around specific agendas that revolve around fostering and showcasing (and not distributing) a certain type of cinematic product.

© Dina Iordanova
25 April 2009

* Another interesting note regarding the open air screenings at Locarno was that they usually attract not the well-to-do high class tourists who frequent the Ticino area of the festival (near Lago Magiorre in Switzerland) but the poorest backpackers. Thus, the claim that film festivals give a boost to local tourism as they bring significant revenues from visitors was put to the test: Bignardi was far from sure that the potential revenues from backpackers would offset the cost of setting up the free screenings on the Piazza.

The Field of Film Festival Studies and thoughts on ‘the field’ of Media Industries in general

April 8, 2009 at 12:29 am

In the aftermath of the Film Festivals workshop which we held here in St. Andrews on 4 April 2009, my colleague Leshu Torchin sent me a link to an interesting interview which Henry Jenkins had posted on his blog just days earlier. It is called Studying Media Industries: An Interview with Jennifer Holt and Alisa Perren, a posting in two parts, which can be accessed by clicking through to Part I and Part II. This is also the place to note that Jennifer Holt and Alisa Perren are the editors of the new edited collection on Media Industries (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) shown below.

Even though I believe that the field of Film Festival Studies that we were trying to outline during the workshop is different than Media Industries as it is marked by a range of specific features, I could not help finding the discussion of items in this interview particularly pertinent, maybe because it relates to methodological issues on matters of defining the field. Many of the same and related questions were in the centre of our attention last week as well: What is the role of historical investigation? How can one bring different approaches in dialogue with each other? What is the current state of research in this emerging field? How do the dramatic technological developments affect production, distribution, administration, policy and audiences? Can we study festival production meaningfully without constantly referencing the work on festival audiences? How about integrating the work done on these matters in the field of management studies? How can increase the visibility of important work already being done by our contributors?

And last but absolutely not least: How to highlight the fact that significant work being done outside of the academy by journalists and activists is of particular importance and influence, especially, as Jennifer Holt puts it: ‘some of the most insightful and informative analysis of media industries can be found in the popular press, the blogosphere and trade publishing, where journalists and critics have generated a tremendous amount of momentum’. Didn’t this become most obvious by the great interventions that people like Nick Roddick and Michael Gubbins made in the course of the Festivals Workshop last week?

In short, I found all issues that were brought up in the context of this interview of direct relevance to our concerns in relation to the field of Film Festival studies. Read the interview! I am planning to read the book next.

© Dina Iordanova
8 April 2009

International Film Festivals Workshop, Part I: The Press Release

April 5, 2009 at 10:58 pm

…PRESS RELEASE… PRESS RELEASE… PRESS RELEASE…

AROUND THE WORLD IN 2,000 FILM FESTIVALS
Film festivals under the microscope at the University of St Andrews

The global boom in the film industry has resulted in almost 2,000 film festivals taking place all around the world, according to a leading expert in film studies.

Professor Dina Iordanova, Director of the Centre for Film Studies at the University of St Andrews believes that the next decade will see the study of film festivals become just as important as the study of film itself.

The researcher will be joined by film critics, festival practitioners and fellow academics to investigate the phenomenon at a special event in St Andrews this weekend (Saturday 4 April 2009).

The group of experts will gather for the one-day event to examine why a twenty year surge in the interest in films and film-making means that France alone has one festival for every day of the year. The event is part of a two-year project, Dynamics of World Cinema, sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust. The project, lead by Professor Iordanova, is currently looking into the distribution and exhibition of international film.

Professor Iordanova, who is convening the workshop, explained, “Over the past twenty years film festivals have proliferated all over the world. It is difficult to provide an exact figure for the number of festivals in operation, but it is well over 1,000 and more likely around 2,000.

“Just as the study of museums and galleries is central to our understanding of arts and heritage, the study of festivals is central to understanding the true scope of global cinema. It is logical, therefore, to expect that in the course of the next decade the study of festivals, a growing yet scattered field, will become central to film and cultural studies.

The workshop is hosted by the Centre for Film Studies at the University and takes place at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews this Saturday (4th April 2009). The discussion, moderated by leading critics (Richard Porton of the Cineaste, Nick Roddick of Sight and Sound, and Michael Gubbins, former editor of Screen International) and academics (Professor Iordanova, Professor Stuart Cunningham of the Australian Film Commission and Dr Ruby Cheung of the Dynamics of World Cinema project) will evolve around festival programming, distribution, funding, digitisation/new media, and cultural policy.

Other participants include: Irene Bignardi (Film Italia, former artistic director of Locarno International Film Festival), Lindiwe Dovey (SOAS, University of London), Janet Harbord (Goldsmiths College, University of London), Skadi Loist (University of Hamburg), Lucy Mazdon (University of Southampton), David Slocum (The Berlin School of Creative Leadership), Núria Triana Toribio (University of Manchester), and Marijke de Valck (University of Amsterdam).

Professor Dina Iordanova continued, “This workshop provides a rare opportunity for productive conversation about the state of the field and current research agendas. I am happy to see the enthusiastic support from so many renowned film scholars and critics. I hope that this event will inspire more and more related events and scholarly work in the field of film festival research.”

6 April 2009

The Closing of Pyongyang International Film Festival, September 2008

March 26, 2009 at 12:34 am

I came across this interesting item on You Tube, featuring the closing ceremony of Pyongyang’s IFF last September (see also Jamie Bell’s piece on the history of this festival, in a recent issue of Sight and Sound). The festival has been in existence since 1987 and clearly is one of the festivals that has got an idiosyncratic and interesting agenda.

I also re-post here the report that comes along on You Tube, which tells us of the films that won awards — mainly Chinese and Iranian titles (a film by Xiaogang Feng and by Rakhshan Bani Etemad), but also The Counterfeiters (Austria) and Elizabeth I-The Golden Age (UK) and Atonement (UK), as well as Czech Empties. The first two films also won awards at the Oscars and at the BAFTAs, while Jan Sverak’s film got the audience award at Karlovy Vary last year. So, not much difference in the taste of North Korea’s comrades and that of audiences and academies in the West. And the range of exposure to international titles is not much worse than the one viewers at most festivals in the West would get.

Pyongyang, September 26 (KCNA) — The 11th Pyongyang International Film Festival which opened on September 17 was closed with due ceremony at the Pyongyang International Cinema House on Friday. Present at the closing ceremony were Yang Hyong Sop, vice-president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Ro Tu Chol, vice-premier of the Cabinet, Kang Nung Su, minister of Culture who is also chairman of the festival organizing committee, Pak Kwan Ho, chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee, and others, foreign delegations and delegates and members of the international jury of the festival. Present there on invitation were diplomatic envoys of various countries, embassy officials and staff members of missions of international organizations here. At the ceremony the results of the screening of the films presented to the festival were announced by the jury and awards were conferred upon the successful films. According to the results, award for the best film and directing and technical awards for full-length film were conferred upon the Chinese film “Assembly”, award for scenario of full-length film upon the Iranian film “Mainline”, award for shooting and fine art upon the British film “Atonement”, award for acting upon the actor who played the main part in the Bosnia-Herzegovina film “It’s Hard to Be Nice,” award for acting upon the actress who played the main part in the Iranian film “Mainline” and award for music upon the Indian film “Tale of a River”. Award for directing documentary and short films went to the German documentary “Chamame – Music, People, Poetry”, award for composition to the DPRK children’s film “The Oriole’s Song”, award for shooting to the British documentary “Earth”, special award of the International Jury of the Festival to the Czech film “Empties” and the Chinese documentary “The Imperial Garden”, special award of the Organizing Committee of the Festival to the Russian film “The Irony of Fate ” (continuation) and the Chinese film “The Tender of Feeling”. Awards for special screening were conferred upon the German film “The Counterfeiters”, the Russian film “Mukha”, the Swiss film “Vitus”, the DPRK film “The Kites Flying in the Sky”, the Chinese film “Good Man”, the French film “Aurore”, and the British film “Elizabeth I-The Golden Age”.

© Dina Iordanova
26 March 2009