Film festivals and cinemas, two ends of films, their position in the film distribution sometimes overlaps, but more often they have different emphasis on selecting films. We may see a phenomenon that documentaries which success at film festivals may not gain a high box office, while films that sold well in cinemas are not necessarily win in festival awards. My thought is, this is because film festivals see films more as an art that needs to be appreciated, while cinemas take film as a commercial product. Sure, these different treatments depend on the genre of a film, habit of audiences, regional culture and other factors. I will not discuss them too much here, I just want to take this phenomenon as a starting point to talk about the film distribution.
When talking about different positions of film festival and cinema in film distribution, opinions from people who work in film industry, say festival is an alternative distribution that ‘open doors to ‘real’ distribution’ (Dina 23), or a complementary way that ‘to complement and answer what is lacking in the current cultural scene in films,’ and ‘reveal what the markets normally hide’ (Muller, qtd. in Dina 23). I basically agree with that, here I would like to share some ideas I have found to classmates who interest in the film distribution market.
Let us start from a film once been finished. When a film be produced, it does not mean that the audience will be able to see it. The process of making films available to the public is what we general called distribution. Currently, the film distribution industry is divided into two camps, one is shoot-and-distribution companies, such as Disney Studios, Warner Media, Universal Studios and Fox Film Corporation. On the other side are independent films, which are made first and then distributed. Because distribution, especially global distribution, requires a lot of funds and resources, many independent films have a relatively limited budget and short of that resources.
In shoot-and-distribution companies, the distribution process is relatively simple. For example, Disney Studio has produced an animation film, and then it will be given to the Walt Disney Pictures, the Disney’s own distribution teams, in various countries and regions to do local distribution. Disney China, for example, is responsible for the release of the film in China, promotion in media and making contract with cinemas.
The distribution process for independent films is more complicated, and it usually goes like this: when a film is made, or when it is still being shot, or even before it is shot, the producer will start looking for a distribution agency to sell distribution rights in various countries and regions. It is this stage the film festivals make sense. A large number of the independent films produced every year, so the film festivals are the best platforms for these independent producers to sell and agencies to find films. An interesting phenomenon is that, some art films and documentary, once been selected in Cannes or other famous film festival, then have been sought-after in market.
According to that, we can see the film festival circuit in the world has offered a crucial resort to independent filmmakers, giving their films subsidised exposure (Dina 25), and facilitate trades between independent producer and agencies. This may be the most important role of film festivals in the film distribution market.
Lordanova, Dina. “The Film Festival Circuit.” FILM FESTIVAL YEARBOOK 1: The Festival Circuit, edited by Dina lordanova with Ragan Rhyne, St Andrews Film Studies, 2009, p23-p39.
Muller, Marco. “On the Role of Festivals.” Kerala International Film Festival. 2000, http://www.keralafilm.com/iffk5/chatmuller.html (2 October 2005).