“There is no mainstream cinema and independent cinema, just cinema…is politically correct to say” q. Bradley Liew.
The more it’s pondered, one realizes the eclectic aspects of a film festival make the whole event more than just the seemingly small space it’s set in. However, it can be argued that festivals can simultaneously create barriers as they are breaking them down. For many film festivals, they are driven by a strong identity-based objective which aims to bring attention to films that would have otherwise fallen into obscurity if put up against a major studio film. However, despite the attention, even accolades, they’d receive, there is a risk of a theme, idea, even culture becoming pigeon-holed to a festival circuit or fetishized for particular reactions. Even if a film is given the privilege of having greater exposure at a larger festival, the controversy regarding its purpose and credibility risks the burden of unfavourable publicity.
Consider the notions of high and low culture – how we define art as being something of creative expression or a mass-produced commodity. Does a film risk becoming a commodity, or can it stand on its artistic technical merits? What makes a film credible? For the creator, the inherent purpose to make a film is the desire to “make something” and the answer to the above questions proves limitless because that “something” is subjective to both a director’s vision and the reaction of the audience. A filmmaker can never guarantee how a viewer, particularly if they are part of judging panel, will respond to what is essentially their take on the world.
According to film-maker Bradley Liew at a recent seminar, a film festival is a cultural event and with the myriads of festivals out there dedicated to film, each have their own purpose. He identifies the “Big Three” – Berlin, Cannes and Venice – and culturally geographical festivals such as Busan, Beijing and Tokyo International Film Festivals. Liew also asserts that the most significant aspects of a film festival come down to the director, the repertoire of work and the visibility coupled with the potential publicity. He reflects on directors who have determined which festival they choose to showcase their feature based on the kind of exposure and attention it can generate amongst distributors. For example, Cannes, for many filmmakers, is considered the “pinnacle” and “premier” of festivals even though there is an anxiety in that Cannes. A festival of with such a high profile can be a make or break moment that often comes down to how a potential distributor sees its marketing capability. Is their marketability determined based on story, technical brilliance or who their lead performer is?
However, I close with the irony of the kind of attention generated at festivals. For example, Lars Von Trier, one of Cannes’ most darling courters of controversy (previously been declared persona non grata) has always invited polarized responses to his films, most infamously The Anti-Christ, which was nominated for the Palme d’Or in 2009, yet seems unfazed by admiration or condemnation. These provocative moments quickly subside when the cameras pan back to the red carpet and fixate more on stunning celebrities in high fashion.