“Get the power first, then get the money”

A Chinese ‘dark horse’ film – An Elephant Sitting Still (2018) – has recently raised a series of discussions about the power and money of a film. Several questions therefore interest me a lot, including how to get a film into a large film festival? What is the ‘festival film’? And what’s the current film festivals look like? How to assess a film festival? There might have some ‘dark sides’ for film festivals.

film fest secret

Let’s begin with a platitude point: what’s the role of film festival and why film festivals are set up. A film festival in some extent is defined as a special film programme (Stafford 187). For audiences, film festivals are providing the chance to meet filmmakers, celebrities or others associated with cinema culture as well as offering the opportunity for audiences to enjoy films are usually commercially infeasible in mass-market (Stafford, 187; Peranson, 191). For industry, film festivals are (cultural) events, which are believed an important advantage distinguishes from art house screenings. Because they are events, they have different marketing choices; because they are events, they could stimulate the local economy. And because they are events, they could support the industry prestige (Stafford, 187; Peranson, 192). However, some issues currently exist in film festivals we have to consider.

Goal of festival is the first consideration. “An international film festival’s priority is to show the very best of the year’s output in world cinema”. Yet it impossible to be achieved in any film festivals, and even cannot have this goal for most film festivals (Peranson, 192). But why? Due to the second consideration: the commercial interest. Film festivals play a role of political actors and they are related to interest groups (such as funding/sales agents, distributor/buyer, governments, critics, or all-important big money sponsors). Festivals would be influenced and also film market is controlled by these interest groups (Stafford, 191; Peranson, 197). In other words, interest group influences what (kind of) films are going to what festivals (Peranson 193). The competition units are set up seems more like for film critics, for viewers unwilling to choose and most importantly, for interest groups who want to celebrities presenting (202). An interesting word could summary this: first you get the power, then you get the money (193). The third concern is the scale of festival. Toronto and Cannes which stand for the large festival have both power and money not need to consider the screening fee but have decision of what films they want. In contrast, smaller festivals with less money and power are advised to show ‘older’ films (Stafford, 188; Peranson, 197).


Stafford mentioned an interesting concept: the ‘festival film’. Typical ‘festival films’ aim to reflect the filmmaker personal style or some universal social issues, but they hard to appear at the mainstream festivals or even never be official released. Because of the lack of commercial attraction, ‘festival film’ in some film culture is not enough attention, it will likely only have audiences during the festival. But auteur films are seen as the most high-profile festival films, as the identity of the director is more worthy of attention than film genre and star (191).

So, how to get a film into a mainstream film festival like Cannes, Berlin, Venice or Toronto? Peranson’s suggestion is getting a powerful sales agent (198). And, to assess a festival, perhaps you should look at what they do show as well as what they do not show (203).

By Lu


Stafford, Roy. The Global Film Book. Routledge, 2014.

Peranson, Mark. “First you get the power, then you get the money: two models of                      film festivals.” The Film Festival Reader, edited by Iordanova Dina, St                                    Andrews Film Studies, 2013, pp. 191-203.

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