Notes From a Festival Programmer: Red Flags to Avoid - Misusing Cannes Film Market and Short Film Corner

danger-will-robinson3 Positioning your film prior to, during and after submissions to festivals is a multi-step affair. While films have to stand on the quality of the work, it would be disingenuous, if not an outright lie to say that previous festival screenings don't assist a film in standing out.  Those definitely give it a better shot at being programmed. Whether it's Sundance, SXSW, Seattle or Austin, a quality laurel isn't an automatic Pass Go card, however it does mean programmers tend to pull those out to take a look at, or followup on. Some on the other hand are Red Flags. These Red Flags don't automatically mean a film is awful, but they often are signs that a filmmaker is either naive to the process or has a weak film and they're trying to game however they can to put their film in a better light.

A major Red Flag, and I mean major, is the Cannes Film Market (Le Marché du Film) and the Cannes Short Film Corner (Cannes Court Métrage).

Let me be clear. Very clear. The Market and Corner are legit entities of Cannes. Established in 1959, the Market alone is over five decades old.  Cannes itself is at the top of the heap of film festivals. It's a brand that has endured through merit. Even if some filmmakers may disagree, Cannes matters.

So the problem is not with Cannes, it's with filmmakers who attempt to distinguish their films by leveraging the Cannes brand via their inclusion in the Market and the Corner. This is difficult to achieve when in 2012 4,659 films were presented at the Market, and 1,945 short films registered with the Corner. Being one of five thousand films does not denote quality. It doesn't mean a film sucks either. It just means you paid Cannes to include the film.

What's most crucial is understanding the respective raison d'etres of the Market and The Corner. So I've pulled key portions from the Cannes website.

Short Film Corner

- Since 2004, short film producers and directors have chosen the Short Film Corner as the place to present their films, make meetings reality and take decisive steps for their future careers.

- Your film will benefit from a prime viewing position within the Short Film Corner, and you will be able to take advantage by meeting professionals. Our daily meeting, facilitated by prestigious speakers, workshops and themed conferences will ensure you to get a greater knowledge and improved professional potential. Each day you will get the opportunity to participate to a wide range of events not to be missed as workshops, round tables, happy hours, etc.

Your participation the Short Film Corner will increase the chances of seeing your film selected by international festivals, as well as revealing your talent to potential partners and diffusers. When you take part in the Short Film Corner, you get to benefit from a tool that is specifically designed to build bridges between the worlds of short and feature films.

What you get with registration:

- Your film will be accessible to all Festival-goers via the Digital Film Library

- Your film will be referenced on and in the Catalogue du court

- Your film can be viewed by selected professionals at an online private screening after the event.

[access] 3 mini screening rooms at your disposal.

The Market

The Marché du Film is a unique opportunity to get to know other professionals, to trade, and to move your projects forward.

- This tiny market became the international event it is today: conceived, organized, and planned around one goal: the successful production of all films.

- 50 years later, the Marché attracts 10,000 participants who use this unique environment to debut and discover almost 4,000 films and projects in 34 screening rooms.

Key Figures from 2012:

With a combination of more than 10,000 participants, 4,000 films presented, 1,500 screenings, and millions of dollars spent, the Marché du Film is the most important event in the industry.  

Please find below the main key figures of the Marché du Film 2012:

  • Registered companies : 4912 (+9%)
  • Participants : 11 409 (+8%)
  • Booths : 305
  • Exhibitors : 409
  • Surface area of the Marché du Film: 13,000 m²
  • Countries : 109
  • Screenings of feature films: 903
  • Among them Premieres: 702
  • Screenings: 1450
  • Theatrical distributors: 2167
  • Producers: 3 433
  • Sales agents: 1 288
  • Film Festivals programmers: 782

Of the 4,000 films represented in the Market, there are 900 feature screenings. Even festivals like the Seattle International Film Festival top out at 450 shorts and feature films screened. The Toronto International Film Festival screened 339 films in 2010.  It's near impossible for a film to stand out and connect with an audience among 900 films. There are 1,450 screenings, yet 4,000 films are represented. That means 2500 films are not screened at all.

The Corner and the Market are not film festivals. They are not cultural events with a curatorial mission. They are industry events that exist to connect filmmakers with professionals at Cannes. Depending on how savvy one is, these can be arenas to give a film and a filmmaker a boost, for which that was their purpose from inception.

Slapping Le Marché du Film on a poster and trying to pass it off as being the curatorial equivalent of inclusion in Le Festival International du Film de Cannes is basically a lie. A lie that doesn't put a film or a filmmaker in the best light as a programmer is combing through submissions or reading an email.

Now not every filmmaker means to lie. There are some that genuinely believe, misguided as they are, that all things Cannes are equal. They are not and most festivals and festival programmers know that. Same goes for many events and festivals that overlap names.

Participating in the Market and Corner is worth it if you go in with a strategy and targeted goals. There are films that have done so-so on the festival circuit, but had a definable audience, that have come out of the Market with distribution and foreign sales, or at minimum, valuable connections.

Participating thinking it's going to open the door to hundreds of film festivals will more often lead to disappointment.