A New Understanding of Film Festival: Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

My very first time of taking part in a film festival was the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival which was held in this July.


    Based on my previous impression of those grand film festivals like Cannes Festival and Berlin International Film Festival, I attended Melbourne Documentary Film Festival with the expectation and beautiful imagination of seeing movie directors and stars walking on the red carpet and waving their hands to the paparazzi. But when I finally reached the venue after trying to find the location of the festival several times by following the map, my beautiful imagined bubble was broken.

   The Documentary Film Festival was held in a small venue inside a bar, there were no any signs on the street to tell you there was a film festival holding there. With the disappointment, I sat down on a table and tried to enjoy the documentary that was screening. The session of that documentary film festival was nothing like what I imagined, it was not very formal, and there was no directors or characters showed up interacting with the audiences. People ordered food or beer from the bar while watching the film. It is more like a group of documentary fans sharing their appetite in a dark tiny room.


    I used to think a film festival could only be called as a festival while it includes a grand opening night with many celebrities showing up on the red carpet and has the award ceremony. Without including those “essential elements”, Melbourne Documentary film festival actually broadened my horizons and changed my stereotype of the film festival. Just as Valck (2016) states that in reality, film festivals have many size and flavors. The essential elements that I think a film festival must have are mainly for the large size festival but not for the small one. But the significance of holding a film festival is not limited by its size.

   Iordanova (2009) points out that films need festivals. Sending a film to a festival could support the need for a film and expose it to audiences on the screen of a film festival. Meanwhile, festivals need films. Festival usually is held annually in a certain location, and it provides temporary venues for exhibiting films to a defined audience community.

     Unlike those movies that have more opportunities to be screened in cinemas, documentary usually doesn’t have as much chance to be seen by audiences in daily life, thus, Melbourne Documentary Film Festival provides an open door for the producers and directors of documentaries to present their work to people. At the same time, it also offers audiences the chance to see documentaries in a public area which they rarely have the opportunity to do in the everyday life.

  According to Iordanova(2009), screening the film at festivals is not a way of getting the film to a real exhibition. Screening the film at festivals is the real exhibition and it gives a subsidized exposure to the film. I remember when I was watching documentaries that shown in Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, there was one film named Phenomenality impressed me a lot, after watching it in the festival, I searched it online to watch it again. Surprisingly, I found out that this documentary was played way more than other films which were directed by the same director,

From https://vimeo.com/lucasjatoba

and this outcome explains why film needs film festival and also justifies how film festival gives films subsidized exposure.



Iordanova, D 2009, ‘ The film festival circuit’, in D Iordanova&R Rhyne (ed.), Film festival yearbook 1: The festival circuit, e-book, St Andrews Film Studies in collaboration with College Gate Press, Great Britain,pp. 23-39.

de Valck,M 2016 ‘What is a film festival?How to study festivals and why you should’ in de Valck,M, Kredell, B & Loist (ed.). Film festivals: History, theory, method, practice, Routledge, New York, pp.1-11



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