Film festivals in the evolution of a common transnational identity

Cultural production and identity shaping

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Cultural production and identity shaping

The development of the mass media has been one of the main characteristics of society since the beginning of the 20th century. Its relation to culture led Adorno and Horkheimer to coin the concept of ‘cultural industry’ in a chapter entitled ‘The Cultural Industry - Enlightenment as Mass Deception’ of their book Dialectics of Enlightenment, published in 1944. Most of their arguments can apply to the analysis of what we now call the ‘creative industries’, including television and film (Raunig 2007). Of course, these media have tremendous influence on people and often serve commercial interests. It is no wonder, for instance, that Patrick Le Lay, CEO of TF1, the main French TV-channel, has stated ‘in principle, the job of TF1 is to help Coca-Cola sell its products. (…) And, in order that a commercial gets noticed, it is necessary for the viewer’s brain to be accessible. Our programmes are designed to make it available: that is to say, to entertain, to relax, to prepare it between two messages. What we sell to Coca-Cola is available human brain time.’

‘Creative industries’ not only help to make brains ‘available’, they also shape them with their programmes. The main international film festivals are important to them because they offer a showcase of recent trends in the cinemas of the world. Deals are concluded during the informal discussions at the festivals and the associated film markets in Cannes and Berlin (it led Mark Peranson to a distinction between ‘business’ and ‘audience’ festivals, see Peranson 2008). At the same time, festivals are places where capital exchange takes place. The symbolic capital earned by festival awards, good critiques or even internet buzzes is transformed into economic capital (English 2008). Since films can also get bad publicity if they do not receive an award, those by established directors are sometimes shown ‘out of competition’, a choice often made by film producers.

Moreover, festivals are held over a relatively short period of time in a confined area that gathers an important cosmopolitan audience with tremendous press attendance. Many individuals or groups try to take advantage of this situation: some unemployed actors walk with t-shirts with ‘Actor needs job’ on their backs (PHOTO), minorities use the festival to demonstrate in a festive way (e.g. gays on the Croisette in Cannes (PHOTO)), others just show off (PHOTO)and sometimes sects take the opportunity to entrap new members (PHOTO).

The identity of a city is also marked by festivals. The Lido in Venice is commonly known as the venue of the Mostra, like the Croisette in Cannes. Both have become ‘lieux de mémoire’ in the sense of Pierre Nora (‘memory site’). In a section of her book on ‘the Mostra and cultural Memory of Space’, Marijke de Valck writes:

Festival memories are lost time that go through a Proustian retrieval each year during the festival because the historical locations trigger the past. The vaporettis (sic) or water taxis between the Lido and the mainland, instantly remind of earlier festivals, as do the –lines of beach houses along the south shore of the island.’ (Valck 2007, 138)

During the Venice Film Festival, a public transport service operates a special vaporetto line (PHOTO). In Cannes, it is the street furniture which is marked by the festival (PHOTO).

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