Thursday, March 25, 2010
Film festivals are easily parties more than they're cultural events. They often get started as home-grown affairs, attempts by the Chamber of Commerce to create a curated art happening that lasts a weekend or a whole week; get visitors into a sleepy borough in the off-season and rent some hotel rooms.
It's easy to find promotional partners to pitch in screening spaces and printing costs for the program, all with the lure of peeling off some of the Hollywood sexiness and glamour that comes from showing half-indie premieres (like "The Cooler" (really "indie"? Like "Juno" is indie?)) and having media louse up the place and maybe get some gift-bag bling.
Festivals inevitably attract submissions from desperate filmmakers, corporate marketers looking to get a laurel leaf on their DVD box, and actual artists that get lost in the fog of late-night activity and the ghetto of a 9:00 am showing on Sunday morning. But the nicer the location (the south of France, or Bermuda) the more visitors come to spend money and only occasionally see an actual film. The theatres are for shit anyway. If they're even theatres. Half the films aren't shown on film - they're shown digitally, from betacam or DVD.
Who's watching? The good films were already bought and the undiscovered gems can be had by screener.
It's a social scene with local dignitaries and any actor or filmmaker with a new straight-to-video feature they could lure with a free room, a date with the local prom queen and free booze from the current hipster vintner to do a Q&A after the screening. Michael Madsen is doing the festival circuit for "The Killing Jar." It's more fun to hang out with him than sit in the dark watching the thing - it'd only kill the conversation at the opening night party.
Palm Springs, Nashville, Mill Valley, and Carbondale pull from all 4 corners of the globe. They use promotional partners, offer half-off dinners at local restaurants, and advertise bars that are open late (and early). They also give away ball point pens, iPods loaded with the opening-night movie, and hats saying "Lionsgate."
The films are just an excuse. The appreciation of independent cinematic art can be sated nowadays with a subscription to Netflix and judicious searching on a bittorrent site. With 450 film festivals in the US last year, you may wonder why so many people are still going.
Don't they have plasma t.v.s?