Maybe More Film Festivals Aren't the Answer

Regardless of how many films they'd like to show, Film Festivals are very difficult institutions to get into. By the virtue of their programming mandates and visions, and by the number of slots available in relation to the number of films submitted, there will always be films that will be rejected.

With a dearth of projects featuring minority characters and stories still evident in mainstream film and on television, it can be especially disappointing for minority filmmakers to not be accepted into festivals of all sizes. The submission process may be frustrating for filmmakers in general, however for minority filmmakers it can feel like a stinging rebuke that reinforces the idea that maybe they really don't belong.

Over on Racialious, and cross-posted on You Offend Me, You Offend My Family, Quentin Lee suggested that minority filmmakers should look to creating their own film festivals to exhibit their work. He cites festivals like Slamdance and UCLA's Asian Pacific American Coalition in Film & Television's (APACT) film festival, that were created in reaction to filmmakers not being accepted into Sundance and the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival respectively, as examples.

While Slamdance is still going strong and will be announcing their 2011 slate very soon, APACT  appears to have gone defunct since it's 1995 origination--which is consequently the same year Slamdance was founded.

I'm not against the idea of filmmakers starting their own events as a way to exhibit their own work, however, I think starting yet another film festival is probably the last one that should come to mind.

In 1995, when the festival explosion was just beginning, it wasn't a bad time to start a multi-day event. New technology made it easier to put on such an event, and many communities didn't have their own festival. In 2010, it doesn't make much sense.

Unless you're going beyond just creating an African American, Asian, Latino, etc. festival and really hyper targeting communities within those groups like Mexican, or Indian, or creating a festival with strong overall outlook that will resonate with audiences, I don't believe a new festival, created out of rejection, is the way to go. Some of these constituencies and communities are so large and encompassing,  there are still groups and stories who aren't adequately represented. Unless you go small, I think many folks are, ironically, doing the exact same thing they're trying to correct for.

And for filmmakers in general, starting a fest to show a few films one year is great, but what tangible elements would entice an audience back next year? Or the year after that? Because people love films is not a reason. Trust me, it's just not.

What most folks don't realize is that we're still in a period of festival contraction. Yes, new ones are always popping up, however over the last five years, the number of festivals ceasing to exist has increased in number. And thanks to the economy, we're not out of the woods yet.

It's much easier to start a festival than it is to maintain a festival. Starting a festival really requires a commitment that has to go beyond just the three or four people who will bust ass to bring that inaugural event to fruition again and again and again. If a festival is really to have any shot at being a self-sustaining entity, it's not just funds that have to be constantly flowing in, you need a constant stream of man power, and self-renewing passion that translates into a mission that folks instantly get.

Now, instead of using that same man power and determination to create a festival, why not suggest filmmakers create one off events around their films? If you're a filmmaker, there's absolutely no shame in doing something that only benefits your film. Being self-less is great, but if you're not paying back your investors or creating any momentum to start your next film, what is that virtuousness really gaining you? And unless your goal is to stop making films, doing a festival will not be the wisest of career moves.

If a filmmaker is still committed to giving back to other filmmakers, to creating a venue for filmmakers to showcase their work, why not suggest they do a monthly series around one film? Yes, they can still be labor intensive, but less so than a festival, and highlighting one film at a time not only benefits every film, it allows a filmmaker to develop an overarching vision that connects one film to the next.

Hush your mouth man-that-works-at-a-film-festival, aren't you trying to put yourself out of a job with those thoughts? Nah.

I believe film festivals will not only still have a place in the future, but will peacefully coincide with all manner of events around them. It's already happened and being happening in cities around the world for decades.

What's more important than exclusivity or a quixotic quest for dominant market share, is having a culture in which films and filmmakers can thrive. As important as festivals can be, not only can they not do it alone, they're not a one size fits all proposition for every type of film that exists.

Going back to how I started out, regardless of what new festivals come into the space, there will never be enough slots to show every film. And if every festival broadened its vision to accept any and every type of film, those festivals would cease to have any meaning or value.

Even when festivals are a perfect fit for a film, or a film is a perfect fit for festival,  filmmakers still need to be thinking beyond there fest runs to think of all the various places their film can go. If we want to have the best range of options available, we be should looking at designing and maintaining a myriad of events that operate in a variety of capacities as a model.