Venice held the world’s first film festival in 1932. In the 85 years that followed the film festival would come to mean different things to different people. At its origins, the last great hero for the independent filmmaker, a body of they who still cared for film as an art form as well as a commercial endeavour, who saw the independent filmmaker, struggling for his or her vocation, as artists of worth to be nurtured and supported, their work to be exhibited, enjoyed by audiences, critiqued by peers.
Things would progress naturally into markets where deals were to be made, allowing the work of independent filmmakers to find a place alongside high budget gloss, giving them the chance to make more films, and the possibility for careers to grow, legends to be born.
Sadly, more recently, the film festival itself has grown wildly away from its original roots. While many still fly the flag for the independent filmmaker and for film itself, others are mere marketing machines, already in the pockets of the system, with schedules pre-planned and orchestrated long before the earnest filmmaker pays their, often exorbitant, fee and sends off the work they have sweated blood for, hoping for one of the coveted spots that will validate their worth, single out their film, garner them a deal, and make the pain and sacrifice all worthwhile.
While there were once an exclusive and influential few festivals, whose honours and accolades would bring a world of difference to any filmmaker whose work gained a place, there are now approximately 4,000 a year, ranging from those who remain known as the elite; Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW, Venice, Telluride, San Sebastian, Edinburgh, Toronto, Berlin, Cannes, to a smorgasbord of new festivals, more and more pouring onto the scene and calls for entry pouring into our inboxes each month. We must hope that the fledgling festivals are acting in the spirit of the original reasons the founding festivals came into fruition across the years. However, it is evident that many are opportunists, cashing in on the ambition of the self-started filmmaker in these most difficult of times.
So how do we, as filmmakers ourselves, create a system that works for us in a fair, altruistic, transparent and decently ambitious way?