This article originally appeared in
The world's a stage for film fests
Updated 6/28/2007 9:21 PM ET
By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY
ROME —For film festival junkies, life has never been better.
"They're springing up like mushrooms after the rain," says Peter Scarlet,
the executive director of the Tribeca Film Festival, who helped launch that
event after heading the USA's oldest film festival in San Francisco for nearly
two decades. "There are festivals out there that I've never heard of."
The exact number is impossible to track, partly because there's no strict
definition for what a festival is and partly because the numbers are growing
so quickly. But there are hundreds, and new ones are added to the ranks
In addition to established festivals such as Utah's Sundance, the Toronto
festival in Canada, and Berlin, Cannes and Venice in Europe, other
top-shelf festivals such as New York's Tribeca, the Dubai International
Film Festival and the RomeFilmFest in the Italian capital have all started
in the last half-dozen years. Just this year, significant festivals have been
launched in Rome — making two new festivals there in as many years — plus Malta, Abu Dhabi and the Drake Festival in Caserta,
Organizers of the festivals cite different reasons for the events, from a way to increase tourism or boost the visibility of the host city or
town to calling attention to a specific genre or period of film.
"It used to be that a town's signature event was a golf tournament or a music festival," says Stephen Ashton, international editor of the
magazine Film Festival Reporter and himself the director of the small Wine Country Film Festival in Napa Valley. "Now everyone
wants to have a film festival. There's something attractive about it. A festival communicates a certain kind of image."
Though some established festivals bristle at the proliferation of newer festivals — at a round-table discussion at Cannes this year,
Sundance director Geoffrey Gilmore exclaimed, "If I hear about one more resort trying to put itself on the map with a film festival, I think
I'm going to scream!" — most observers are philosophical about the trend.
Felice Laudadio — a former director of the festivals in Venice and Taormina now heading the RomaFictionFest, a television film
festival holding its freshman edition in the Italian capital next week — says there are few drawbacks.
"Moviegoers get exposed to new films, and filmmakers get to have their products seen, and sponsors and cities get better known," he
says. "It does good for a lot of areas."
Tullio Kezich, a film critic who began covering film festivals in Venice in 1946, says the trend is a simple matter of supply and demand.
"They are making so many of these festivals because there is a need, and the quantity just shows that people want to go to them,"
But, Kezich warns, "you only have so many good films, and so after a point festivals are forced to lower the bar in order to fill out their
Another negative most people eventually come to: Film fans could eventually grow weary of so many events — and the battle for their
Festivals seem to compete to see which can put the most world and regional premieres on their docket. Venice, for example, stunned
observers last year by having a 21-film competitive section made up entirely of world premieres. Some smaller festivals try to bag a
few premieres, even if the films themselves are not great.
Other events attract attention-grabbing stars by handing out honorary awards or screening partially completed pet projects.
The consensus is that the festival growth can't continue much longer, and some may be forced to close, scale back or merge.
But Kezich says the growing number of festivals would be less of a problem if festivals were not so set on attracting attention through
"Festivals spend money attracting stars, which is money that could be spent elsewhere, and they get so caught up in getting the
premieres, which is another thing that doesn't make sense," he says. "For the average film fan who goes to, let's say, the Rome
festival in October, does he care if the same film was seen six weeks earlier by a few hundred people in Venice? If festival directors
stopped caring about this kind of thing, it would be better."
The Toronto festival is among those backing away from billing films as exclusive.
"Our feeling is the language around the whole premiere game has become so clouded as to make them meaningless," Noah
Cowan, the fest's co-director, told The Hollywood Reporter this week.
"We like to give a snapshot of important trends in world cinema. We can't be too hung up on premieres."
Tribeca's Scarlet says that's a move in the right direction. The obligation for all but a small handful of elite festivals is local or regional,
"Festivals work best as a way to create a dialogue between cultures and class structures. A good film festival can give people in that
community a chance to see some things they would never have a chance to see otherwise."
Copyright 2007 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
"Everybody goes to Cannes": Even Jane Fonda, arriving for
the premiere of her film Promise Me This last month at the
Palais des Festivals. By Rosie Greenway, Getty Images