Film festivals in the evolution of a common transnational identity

Festivals in the distribution of films… and ideas

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Festivals in the distribution of films… and ideas.

In the press conference to present his selection in 2006, the director of the Venice Film Festival, Marco Müller (PHOTO), drew on his cinephilia and his extensive experience as a director of other films festivals (Rotterdam, Locarno and Pesaro) to assess the role of international film festivals for the film industry, which always combines art with business:

‘The pessimism of reason should lead us to declare that the time for festivals is coming to an end. Whether we like it or not, we must accept the fact that we will see many festivals continuing to brood over their own touristic and promotional original sin, that of being a window display and launch pad for the most visible, often most showy part of film-making. A sin to be remitted by providing a temporary surrogate for lacunae, for the lacks in the distribution and information circuits. The optimism of willingness, on the other hand, leads us to focus on a fracture, which in the past has perhaps been knowingly overlooked, among the most usual idea-festivals and the philosophy in movement (it should constantly be undergoing redefinition) of an (international) Festival of (cinematographic) Art. Not all the attempts at renewal are destined to fail: without hypothesising a palingenesis (it is not yet time for that), this “non-festival” of ours, the Venice Festival, might finally find some autonomous space, ephemeral perhaps but truly autonomous, a moment marking a break with the balances crystallized by conformity, vested interests (and lack of), and by the vice of habit. A point of breakage of customs, a starting point for knowledge and investigation, the vision and discussion of manifestations of bradeyism [slow-earthquake], stirrings and ferments which still, at irregular intervals, manage to invest the various ways of making films to the North, South, East and West.’4

This remarkable lucidity on the role of film festivals, threatened by various economic interests (tourism and the commercialization of cinema), could have caused chaos at a time when the renewal of the director’s mandate was becoming an issue. The local correspondent of Variety wrote the following year: ‘Though not impossible, a second mandate would be a feat unprecedented in Venice’s recent history, which, since the 1970s, has seen Italy’s revolving-door governments and their pork-barrel pois tap a long list of bosses to head the Lido’s parent org, the Venice Biennale. Each Biennale prexy has, in turn, appointed a different Venice fest topper’ (Vivarelli 2007, A2).

In 2009, Müller denounced ‘market censorship’ and challenged the very idea of a festival:

Why continue to believe stubbornly in festivals, given that the formulas for these have so often taken the form of outdated concepts? They reduce, in essence, to only two options: the defense of whatever film-making would exist, for which the festival is window and launch-pad; or alternatively, the possibility of continuing (eternally?) to supply a willing surrogate for what is needed in the distribution-information circuit as a response to an even stronger market censorship.’ (Müller 2009, 13)

Besides this function, festivals offer a unique cosmopolitan stage for the reception of films. This is particularly important for young directors. Jean-Christophe Berjon, who heads the Critics’ Week in Cannes (where only first and second films are shown), stated a few weeks ago, when the recent Cannes Film Festival opened, that filmmakers often experience their first public screening on this occasion, an event that they will remember all their lives.

At a time when films are easily copied and distributed online, festivals definitely have a role to play, as a vector of value and trends that configure the field, and also in the shaping of identities.

Acknowledgment: This article was completed in the framework of research Grant No. 215747 of the 7FP Social Sciences and Humanities Programme of the European Communities for the project ‘Art Festivals and the European Public Culture’.


Armocida, Pedro (2006) 'Alla Mostra dei nuovi mondi c’è la riscoperta dell’America.' il Giornale, July 28.

Ehlent, Peter (2009) 'Bowling for Hitler - Über Tarantinos Film Inglourious Basterds und seine deutschen Fans.' prodomo, no. 12: 56-61.

English, James F. (2008) The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value. Harvard University Press, December 15.

Falassi, Alessandro (1987) Time Out of Time: Essays on the Festival. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, April.

Hoad, Phil (2010) 'A Prophet shows us a multilingual future for cinema.' The Guardian, January 28.

Iordanova, Dina, and Ruby Cheung (2010) Film Festival Yearbook 2: Film Festivals and Imagined Communities. St Andrews Film Studies.

Iordanova, Dina, and Ragan Rhyne (2009) Film Festival Yearbook 1: The Festival Circuit. St Andrews Film Studies (with College Gate Press), May 30.

Jost, Jon (2010) 'The Big Circus.' undercurrent 6.

Jungen, Christian (2009) Hollywood in Cannes: Die Geschichte einer Hassliebe, 1939-2008. Schüren Verlag, April.

Müller, Marco (2009) 'Back to the future.' Schnitt, no. 54 (February): 13-15.

Peranson, Mark (2008) 'First You Get the Power, Then You Get the Money: Two Models of Film Festivals.' Cineaste - America's Leading Magazine on the Art and Politics of the Cinema 33, no. 3: 37-43.

Porton, Richard (2009) Dekalog 03: On Film Festivals. Wallflower Press, April 1.

Raunig, Gerald (2007) 'Creative Industries as Mass Deception.' Framework: The Finnish Art Review. A Critique of Creative Industries 6 (January): 8-12.

Rodriguez, Rene (2009) 'With ‘Inglorious Basterds,’ Tarantino answers critics.' Miami Herald, August 21.

Seeßlen, Georg (2009) Quentin Tarantino gegen die Nazis: Alles über INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. 1er ed. Bertz + Fischer, August 17.

Valck, Marijke de (2007) Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia. Amsterdam University Press.

Vivarelli, Nick (2007) 'Movie Maestro Keeps 'Em Guessing.' Variety 408, no. 2 (August 27): A2,A8.

——— (2009) 'Venice Days unveils 15 premieres - Lineup includes Paskaljevic, Miller pics.' Variety (July 28).

Walters, Ben( 2009) 'Debating Inglourious Basterds.' Film Quarterly 63, no. 2 (12): 19-22. doi:10.1525/FQ.2009.63.2.19.

1 On film festivals, see also among the recent literature, (Iordanova and Cheung 2010) and (Porton 2009).

2 Interview by the author, 8 January 2009.

3 See the comments in Film Quarterly (Walters 2009, 19), and for the German reception, (Ehlent 2009).

4 Parts of this speech were reproduced in a newspaper article (Armocida 2006) and completely translated into English on a website (

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