Film festivals often claim to be motivated by a desire to put a spotlight on emerging talent but restrictive entry requirements can mean that entering is a big gamble for the very independent films they wish to exhibit. Are film festivals really encouraging new talent or could it be a marketing ploy?
Independent film-makers are drawn to film festivals by the promise of a high level of exposure and the chance at prestigious awards. To win big could be the making of a professional film-maker, just ask Kevin Smith, the Coen brothers, or Quentin Tarantino. But the costs to enter are also high.
As with other genres, many documentary makers invest their money and time attempting to promote their film via festivals. Hoping to find their break, or at least cover costs and make a bit extra for the next project.
Festivals often have entry policies that require that content submitted must not yet be published anywhere else, including online. So while waiting for the outcome of one festival entry, a film holds back on alternative promotion and distribution. This can result in the film-maker relying on a festival win or bust.
Some say that there is no longer a place for the independent film-maker in festivals and film-makers should instead turn their attention to online exposure.
Adrian Ortega, maker of Bodycrash, says festivals have become an in-crowd event.
“There is so much politics involved, if they don’t know you, or you aren’t already established, you’re pretty much not going to get in” he said.
This sentiment is shared by the director of Suspended Warehouse, Andres Matos Cardoso.
“The problem is that now days the festivals have a group of curators who don’t really take risks” said Cardoso.
“They just support on each other’s choices…the Coppola family have a movie premiere at every festival in Europe” he said.
Cardoso says that production companies are self-interested and do not make great business partners for independent films, discouraging them from alternative promotion.
“Production companies try to tell you not to put your film out there [online] but they just want the film to sell in 5-10 different places, depending on how much money they want to make, and then they pass on to the next project” said Cardoso.
“They don’t give the same importance to your work as you do,” he said.
Adrian Ortega went straight to the internet with his documentary, Bodycrash, which looks at Melbourne clubbing subcultures.
“I just said ‘forget festivals, put it online’ and it’s done so much better online than it could have ever done at a film festival” he said.
“Within the first day I got about 1000 views, and most of those were probably from family and friends, but then a big online magazine reposted it and as soon as they did I received about 8000 views in one day” said Ortega.
When asked about the measure of success for an independent film, Ortega shirked the notion of financial gain.
“It’s all about exposure,” he said.
“If you’re making films just to make money then you’re in the wrong industry.”
“For most of the people doing movies, it’s not about making money, it’s about having enough to do the next project” he said.
“We love films to be screened at festivals, yet I think the two can co-exist, as they are a completely different experience” said Eddy.
“Seeing a film, with an audience, in real life, it is a shared experience. It’s quite magical and fantastic. Yet, it does involve people all going to a certain place and congregating at the same time. It’s quite hard logistically to make that happen. So, why not let people experience film the way they want to? At a film festival or online” she said.
Perhaps festivals and online promotion can co-exist, but some festivals will need to change their terms of entry for this to happen. The restrictions put forward by some festivals delay film-makers from engaging with their audience online and other potential markets for their film.
If the goal of a festival is genuinely to encourage new talent then such constraints must be removed. Otherwise, film festivals risk evolving into elitist events.
Originally published 11th July 2014 as ‘Do film festivals discourage independent film-makers?’