Those who appreciate art renaissances must be in heaven the last five to ten years, especially for the world of film where opportunities are everywhere to get noticed. It’s the same way for every other artistic field now that the internet allows artisans to promote their work for (mostly) free and where every eye seems to be going as print publications and other media stop getting perused as often. It’s really all akin to what Europe went through in the Middle Ages when artistic expression exploded and made the world that was known a richer place to reside in. But, unlike now, at least those great painters, intellectuals and other artisans placed a real discipline to their work that assured perceived greatness. In our current create renaissance, even utter artistic excrement can find a way into a festival.
Well, that won’t happen at the Sundance Film Festival that takes great pains to allow only the best independent films submitted. When you look at some film festivals at the minutest level, you could consider IMDb now to be the best avenue for all independent film, regardless of quality. And you also have small town festivals that might not have the greatest taste in which ones they pick to screen than the more prestigious festivals around the country would.
You obviously can’t have art (or film festivals) without subjectivity anyway, even though there seems to be a developed sense of what truly makes a great independent film now rather than the immediate assumption everything is a potential masterpiece. Then again, with many of those less prestigious film festivals managing to survive with sponsors and myriad filmmakers willing to submit a submission fee for the chance to get their movie screened, there’s always a chance of someone finding brilliance in something Sundance would think belongs in a county landfill.
Now that Sundance is just starting their 25th annual festival at the time of this writing, its legendary founder, Robert Redford, is starting to take notice at how crowded things are getting–and perhaps hurting film in the process. When Redford was interviewed by Hollywood Reporter recently (see source link) about whether he thought there were too many film festivals, he gave the surprising answer in the affirmative. Yes, the man who basically snowballed (no pun intended in a wintry Utah vein) the film festival in America is saying that we have too much out there and it could be detrimental to our artistic health.
There is a good argument that when artistic avenues become too diffuse, the chances of getting noticed becomes lessened due to overload and not nearly enough people able to see everything. Then again, others who stand up for having as many film festivals as possible say that having as many avenues as possible is still better than none. In those scenarios, there’s still a chance a distributor or big-name producer will wander in to some small film festival in Anytown, USA to see a small gem that eventually becomes a sleeper.
But is it worth that risk when audiences can’t keep up with seeing them and make all the difference in whether the festival can survive in the first place?
It’s no surprise that all the wannabe film festivals out there making the biggest dents are the ones where the city or town has unique character. A recent film festival that started in my hometown of Salem, Oregon has succeeded exponentially mainly because the surroundings in downtown Salem are befitting of a film festival with old movie houses existing near top notch shopping and dining. In fact, because multiple screenings can take place within one or two square blocks, it consolidates everything conveniently. Give credit, too, that the Salem Film Festival has brought in some names that are worth seeing, including Salem-born Jon Heder as well as other well-known filmmakers, producers, directors and writers.
The films brought in to Salem’s Film Festival are also top-notch if obviously getting a much smaller chance of distribution as a screening at Sundance would provide. Nevertheless, having bigger names (and getting bigger each year) provides the above scenario of a wild card distribution deal from someone who might just happen to be in town. Along with a decent audience that made this film festival successful beyond expectations the last few years, it’s the perfect example of how additional film festivals can be beneficial under certain circumstances.
You’ll find other film festivals out there in small towns, though, that probably shouldn’t exist, just because they don’t provide anything special and make things too crowded for the ones that have a real chance at adding to the renaissance. Perhaps the ultimate solution to taming a film festival renaissance is to have every community starting one to start taking a serious look at whether it really adds anything beneficial to filmmakers and the world of film in general. Sure, doing that can lead to an automatic assumption that just because you’re a smaller community, you don’t count.
It really shouldn’t be that way–but more of an examination of whether you can get on the map within a reasonable time period rather than being a film festival just because they can. Akin to the film world itself, being at the right place and time in your promotion will make the world of difference. If it doesn’t happen within a certain time frame, then going on to the next career option has always been the name of the game for indie filmmakers.
Eventually thinning out film festivals so only the very best exist in America will finally allow a reasonable balance for films with real merit. It’ll also arguably make indie filmmakers try a little harder to get to the big festivals in the vein of Sundance and Sundance itself. Whether you think Redford was being selfish or not in worrying about his own festival’s future, having too many smaller film festivals would eventually take away from people submitting to Sundance.
The evolution of making film better anyway by striving to get to the top–and not having the easy way in or the automatic assumption your film is brilliant because you had an easier way in…