Film Festivals and Catwalks: Life on the Red Carpet

February 21, 2009 at 3:32 am

Speaking on BBC 4 in 2008, fashion queen Vivienne Westwood complained of the exhausting treadmill of the fashion world: as soon as the showcase of the season is over, she said, the new ‘treadmill’ cycle kicks in, and designers are expected to come up with fresh new ideas all the time. This excessive pressure on incessant creativity is something she identified as a downside of the profession. In this, Westwood’s remarks are in direct dialogue with festival veteran Moritz de Hadeln’s description of the film festival business as an exhausting cycle that compares to a ‘conveyor belt’.

Indeed, the world of film festivals is, in many respects, comparable to the fashion industry (including its hierarchical structure that distinguishes between haute couture and prête-à-porter). Film festivals, however, have difficulties keeping the right balance between the periodical nature of the event and the steady flow of supply of product (films). Unlike the film festival business, the fashion industry is perfectly vertically integrated in a sense that whatever is made in the ateliers is sure to be showcased at the catwalk, and the continuity of supply is steadily linked to a guaranteed cycle of showcasing opportunities. In that, the events of the fashion industry exist for the purpose of servicing the output of the industry: whatever is made, is shown. In the case of film festivals, however, the linkage between film production and film exhibition is much looser and conditional.

Similarly to the fashion week cycle of catwalk events, the festival business is in the category of ‘event management’. Both thrive on excess and celebrity, both rely on limelight attention and media coverage, and both need a constant supply of (seemingly) new product. They are both likely to be affected by the economic downturn as well, yet recent writing I see in places like Financial Times or Business Week has made it evident that journalists are surprised to realize that, amidst all the gloom of the financial downturn, both the catwalk and the film fest red carpet seem to not be particularly affected so far.

The redness of the red carpet at the film festival steps and, frequently, at the catwalk, is yet another aspect that invites comparisons. It is a similarity that has been discovered and is already exploited in the context of some media: A few months ago, for example, I came across an hour-long show on a TV channel called Fashion TV, which usually broadcasts endless fashion shows. This time around, however, it was not a fashion show but rather a lengthy reportage from the glamorous Rome festival, naturally mostly focusing on the arrivals of celebrities and their few minutes-long presence at the red carpet. (There weren’t any high profile celebrities featured in the show, but the ones that were shown were usually good looking Italians of superb elegance, thus the programme was more fashion than cinema; it can be viewed by clicking here.) Likewise, the comparisons abound when one watches the new documentary on Karl Lagerfeld (Lagerfeld Confidential, 2007), which contains a number of scenes where the camera closely follows the designer in his numerous catwalk appearances: it is as if navigating through the space of a top tier film festival.

The catwalk skills of fashion people have been occasionally exploited by film festivals: In 2005, for example, designer Nino Cerutti was invited to serve at the jury of Berlinale, and a Lagerfeld photo exhibit was on display at Moscow IFF in 2008 (this was their way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Cannes Film Festival). It may be a link that should be exploited on a more regular basis, however: Tilda Swinton makes for a perfect jury head at a festival, but I can see Viviene Westwood in the same role equally successfully as far as the PR aspect of the business is concerned; Lagerfeld, respectively, can easily upstage many seasoned red carpet players. Only I have no idea if Westwood/Lagerfeld and their likes actually like the movies…

© Dina Iordanova
21 February 2009