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Do International Film Festivals Need More Recognition?

You may have heard of prestigious film festivals such as Cannes and BFI London. But with the launch of Sundance London next year, Charlie Derry investigates into whether lesser known festivals are in need of more recognition, and how organisers plan to deal with this competition.

There are thousands of international film festivals worldwide, with the world’s oldest continually running festival, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, currently going into its 66th year. But what about more recently established festivals? Or festivals that have a smaller, more focused, audience? How do these festivals get recognition amongst the ever-expanding crowd?

Sundance London is a collaboration of both film and music, and is set to debut on 26th April, 2012 at the O2 Arena. The annual Sundance Film Festival (SFF) is the largest showcase for indie films in the US. Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnamsaid the organisation looks forward to bringing “the most exciting American films from the 2012 Sundance Film Festival” to London. 

Robert Redford, founder of SFF, will open the launch of the festival, but in 2009 he commented that there were already too many film festivals, telling Reuters that, “When we started there was very little out there; now, there’s a lot. My feeling is when the day comes when we’re no longer providing the mission we started with…then we shouldn’t be here, and we won’t. As long as we continue to create new advantages, we will continue.”

So what’s continuing the growth of film festivals? One of the main advantages that new festivals bring is a focus on a specific audience, such as a certain genre or a type of multimedia. Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF), an annual film festival held in Australia, is one of them.

SUFF celebrates independent, experimental, provocative and daring films from around the world. Festival Director Stefan Popescu says, “We screen films other festivals would never dare screen – and we are proud of it. We love depravity, gore, debauchery, experimentation, sexual perversion, anarchy and dissent. We love to be challenged and we love to challenge. Our audience knows that cinema should be adventurous not safe.”

Nevertheless, whilst individuality is a great key to success in the film festival industry, it can also create problems. “We would love to be recognised by the arts / film councils over in Australia,” says Popescu, “But unfortunately I can’t imagine that arts administrators, who are bound by policy and have particular aesthetic inclinations, will ever find themselves them being able to justify funding subversion, difference, experimentation, sedition, anarchy, debauchery and dissent.”

Launched in 2007, SUFF is soon to start touring nationally which will help the festival get more exposure and promote cinematic and cultural difference on a larger scale. Popescu adds that the festival wants more recognition to grow and sustain a community of cinematic adventurers in Sydney, and that, “It is very important for the sustainability and expansion of a grass-roots endeavour like our festival.”

Something else that can help a festival gain recognition is to secure the premiere of an highly acclaimed film. This week (7th December), Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) is hosting the premiere of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which stars Tom Cruise in the fourth instalment to the popular action franchise.

But how does a festival acquire such a big name to its event? Ghost Protocol is debuting as the opening film at DIFF after an extensive portion of the film was filmed in Dubai, including a scene where Cruise scales down the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

“The filmmakers and Paramount Pictures felt the city was an ideal premiere for the film. They will also be junketing the world’s press here and it makes for an interesting and different venue for the media,” says DIFF’s Press and Publicity Manager, Chris Paton.

Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) also premiered one of 2011’s popular films with Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, in October, with organisers hoping to raise the profile of their event and bring it on par with other festivals.

Festival Director Srinivasan Naraya believes that MFF’s best attribute is the quality of films, but went on to say that, “We need to take the festival to the next level, to create a platform for the business of films in this country – especially art house films.”

“The profile of the festival goes up depending on the quality of film selections, participation by the film community and efficient organisation,” he continued. “We have already started working on new elements to give a distinct quality to the Mumbai Film Festival.”

Consequently recognition is important, but as Public Relations representative at Action on Film Festival (AoF)Nick Covington, told us: “Every live event, film festival, concert, film, etc. requires constant and ongoing recognition.”

To do this, AoF is the only festival that produces a weekly television series, The AOF Channel, which airs on NBC Los Angeles.

“We understand the unique position that filmmakers are in,” says Covington. “Especially when you see that they are up against a changing landscape with regards to distribution, formats, shooting styles, equipment, competition and the internet, which has really levelled the playing field for exposure.”

AoF is now one of the biggest and fastest growing festivals and was recently named one of the ‘Top 25 Festivals Worth the Fees’ by MovieMaker Magazine.

However, whilst film festivals may need more recognition, the competition is not with other festivals, it is with themselves. As Festival Director of Oaxaca International Independent Film and Video Festival in Mexico, Ramiz Adeeb Azar, says, “I think on the surface many people believe that there are too many film festivals around the world or in certain regions, but I do not believe so. The more festivals there are the better the film festival industry becomes.”

For that reason, if you can, get yourself to one of your local film festivals next year in support of your community of film makers. With so many around, there’s sure to be one on your doorstep.

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