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The Hollywood Insider Why do Film Festivals Matter

Photo: Film Festivals

Competition Born Out of Actual War

While American festivals like Sundance, held annually in Utah, and SXSW in Austin, Texas are amazing events containing the work of brilliant filmmakers every year, they are far from the first to put on a “Film Festival.” A seemingly catch-all term as it relates to the event, but the basic concept of a film festival involves screenings and discussions centered around new, debut films. The roots of this format date way back to the inaugural Venice Film Festival, held in the city that bears its name in Italy back in 1932. 

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Still held today, the Venice film festival is still widely considered one of the best in the world, for a variety of reasons. Chief among them the content of the films and the talent that comes to the event in support of it, but also the scenery of being in Venice and the depth of culture (including food) that comes with the event being held in the famed city’s Lido island. With some fascinatingly problematic roots, the event was initially created by dictator Benito Mussolini and his fascist party, the first festival screened films from 9 countries, with the first film being the American film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The first festival did not feature a formal awards ceremony, but did hold an open discussion for attendees to discuss the viability and strengths, and weaknesses of the films, perhaps creating the very first Twitter “spaces”.

With this inaugural Venice festival, the concept that still thrives to this day across the globe was born. With the success of the Venice film festival in its early years, and has garnered praise and participation from other European countries the competition element was formed. While there is a natural and intrinsic rivalry existing amongst the other European countries, the oncoming World War 2 turned friendly competition to an actual battle. France, a country with its own deep film traditions and interests, had been participating in and enjoying the annual Venice festival. That was until the politics and aggression of Italy at the hands of Mussolini’s leadership bled too far deep into the competition when Mussolini began influencing the awards and literally gave a film made by his son about Mussolini himself the best film of the year award. 

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Film Festivals

Once, America, and England decided to boycott the Venice Film Festival. In 1939, France launched the inaugural free Cannes Film Festival as a direct competitor to the Venice Festival. Unfortunately, as the events in Europe intensified with Hitler invading Poland, the festival decided to suspend its event after only one day as France and England declared war on Germany. The Cannes Festival did not return until 1946 after the war, but has been a staple on the circuit ever since. 

Rounding out the 3 international film festivals that are widely considered the “Big 3” is the Berlin Film Festival, which was launched in 1951 during the Cold War. Proposed by Oscar Martay, a film officer for Germany, the festival was conceived as a way to build morale and express art and talent in what was an incredibly bleak time for the country. Famously, Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Rebecca’ opened the festival, and the first Berlin festival was an incredible success. 

These three international festivals all have their background dating back to difficult times of war and aggression. No doubt the notion of these festivals containing films with deeper, more introspective auteur films was born from this mindset. With all the world literally a stage for you to express yourself through your film, these festivals navigated to this idea of proudly featuring films of deeper substance. 

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In protest, and as a direct result of the fascist influence on the Venice festival, which was still the only international festival at the time, the jurors from Fra

America Take a Crack

Far from the prestige and mystique of the big three in Europe, America features a film festival in nearly every major city these days. Most notably among those is probably the Sundance Festival, the largest independent film festival, held every year in Park City, Utah. 

Similar in style to the big 3 European festivals, Sundance and other American festivals are also dedicated to giving a platform for independent films that tend to be deeper and feature a more enhanced look at the human process. Founded in 1978, the festival was an initial success and continues to be a shining achievement for the industry every year where new voices and talent can be discovered while they form a path that may have been formed outside the traditional Hollywood system. 

Sundance has had a tremendous impact on the American film industry, having helped launch the careers of such esteemed filmmakers like Ryan Coogler, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Steven Soderbergh to name just a few. Each year the festival features an impressive roster of films, which due to their subject matter and quality of filmmaking, tend to ultimately go on to receive nominations at the Academy Awards. The most recent success from Sundance came with ‘Coda’ which became the first Sundance film to win the best picture at the Academy Awards and was featured at Sundance in 2021. 

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Sundance has evolved tremendously over the years, and has now become a mainstream staple for Hollywood. Initially envisioned as a getaway from the traditional grind of blockbuster movies, agencies, and producers, Sundance has now become an incredibly fertile hunting ground. Different production companies, studios, and agencies now swarm to the festival every year to make deals and secure distribution and sales rights for different films that are screened. Kind of going against the spirit of the whole thing, but it does allow for newfound exposure for up-and-coming filmmakers to make their climb to the top even faster. 

The Industry Collapsing on Itself, While Opening the Door

As Sundance and the other film festivals of the world both international and domestic have gone more mainstream and commercial, so too have the role these festivals play. A major piece of the Hollywood puzzle is always speculating on who will win certain awards come Oscar season. While the whole thing can seem incredibly glad-handing and extremely silly from the outside, awards season is a huge deal for everyone involved. 

The festivals have a major role in this now, with everyone paying close attention to which films are getting recognition and awards at the different festivals throughout the year. As an example, this year specifically was a huge year for this with ‘The Lost Daughter.’ The buzz was abounding after the Venice Film Festival, for both Olivia Coleman’s performance and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s direction and script. That buzz feeds the Oscar buzz and the insane cycle continues all the way up until the actual night of the event where someone may or may not slap a comedian onstage. 

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With the important history around them and their ability to have adapted and evolved into what we now know them as today, film festivals are an incredibly integral part of the industry. They allow us to expose ourselves to different cultures and customs through film and open the door for incredibly talented filmmakers who are trying to get their art out there and into the world. We are very lucky the format exists and I would encourage anyone who has not experienced one, to check one out in your closest areas. They truly are a blast and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a film someone may have made on their own dime putting themselves out on a whim. 

By Mark Raymond

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.

I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV. media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.

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