Who is (can be) the Gate-keeper?

The concept of gate-keeper in film festivals is of significance. Jakob Lass said film festivals can help in filtering out the interesting things from the overabundance of choice, which is one of the major problems of today’s film industry. From the academic perspective, Stringer (2001) claimed that film festival and their workers as ‘gate-keepers’ are able to control access to films and film culture, while my question about that is who are these so-called ‘workers’, namely who are able to filter out valuable films for film festival, who are the real gatekeeper.

Before that, there are two interesting theories generally used to analyze the gate-keeper in the fashion industry but are good inspirations for me to deepen understanding of gate-keeper in the film industry. One is ‘trickle-down theory’ that means the elite initiates new culture and then the mass imitates it, which was popular in early hierarchical society (Simmel 1957), while the other is ‘bubble up theory’ that point out the popular culture or subculture influence high arts get inspirations (Polhemus 2010).

Gate-keeper in Trickle Down Flow:

Thomas Elsaesser demonstrates the key function of international as a gentle gate-keeper to categories, classify, sort and shift the annual film production worldwide. However, everybody knows they could not be gentle but competitive, especially those top festivals as the quota is fixed. It is argued that filmmakers have to “pass” festivals, namely wow judges in order to achieve exposure, recognition and prestige, otherwise they will be ‘passed’ by the general audience, which I believe vice versa, if judges do not eliminate films with standards as high as possible, they will be deiminated by film industry.

Gate-keeper in Bubble upFlow:

With the positive influence on culture, politics, society continuously increasing, the needs of film festival are exponentially diversified, while well-known annual film festivals only can program limited films and cover limited categories. Therefore, some ‘passionate individuals or groups’ emerged and customized their own film festival, from being gatekeeped to be a gatekeeper, which gradually develops bubble up flow. Taken SUFF (Sydney Underground Film Festival) as an example, its director and founder of SUFF, Stefan Popescu, claims that they wanted adventure although the programming was not fun. He positions SUFF as dark film side, focusing on the emerging cinema sub-genres including those that would be considered controversial or too niche by the large film festivals in Sydney, such as ultra-violent, ‘so bad it’ s good’, conspiracy documentaries. In 2018, it has already been the 12th annual festival for SUFF, it still can’t compete with those transnational film festivals, (maybe because they move away from traditional festival programming and try not to become another link in the distribution chain of the festival circuit), but it follows its initial motivation to be a gatekeeper of independent and experimental film category with the spirit of adventure.

Reflecting our own short film festival project, the film selection team act a role of gatekeeper, and we may further promote the bubble up structure if our film festival will go viral overnight. Can you imagine that?

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