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.