The Contradiction Between Artistic Freedom and Political or Commercial Limits in Film Festival Operation

Name: Yuting Meng

Student ID:28441664

In Week 7’s online seminar, we talk about Alex Fischer’s open system theory and the work of festival operation.

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In general, the open system refers to a certain group creating a whole which is influenced by the environment through the exchange of energy, materials and information in order to renew and develop the system.

In terms of the operation of film festival, Fischer suggests that festival operation is an open system which is influenced by different kinds of social connections. He illustrates this relationship by telling a story of how a festival director make a balance between the festival board, volunteers, contributing artists, funding bodies, sponsors and so on.

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In my opinion, the biggest challenges for the festival operation include political limits and commercial limits, which means that the government and sponsors are their strongest support and sometimes biggest impediment as well.


The first example is Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) held in 2015, which is mentioned in the seminar. Since the festival director Lee Yong-kwan decided to screen a documentary which the Busan city mayor and former BIFF chairman adamantly opposed, the biggest sponsor– the Busan metropolitan Government slashed its contributions by almost 50 per cent. Under the pressure of government, people attended the opening day at BIFF were almost anxious rather than excited, and a third of the seats were empty.


However, this decision has achieved support from a lot of people, and they considered the government’s impediment of BIFF as “political retaliation”. Many people have stood up and organized campaigns to support an autonomous BIFF and fought for freedom of speech, including some famous directors and actors.


Thus, though the political limit and commercial limit do affect the operation of film festival, artistic freedom is still the core spirit of a festival, which is also supported by the grassroots.

The second case is Sundance Film Festival held in 2007. Before the opening day of the festival, one film called Hound Dog which was planned to screen was dramatically criticized by many organizations.


The reason why this film was panned by critics is that the heroine Dakota Fanning,who was only 12 years old, acted a character who was raped in the film. The film garnered a great deal of attention, and generated intense controversy, owing to the use of such a young actress in a role that included a rape scene.


Though the scene only showed Fanning’s face and her character’s reaction to the trauma of the act, it became known as the “Dakota Fanning rape movie” at the Sundance Film Festival.

This film was shot in North Carolina State, where the law of the protection of juveniles says even the imitation of sexual behavior is illegal. However, under the pressure of film critics and North Carolina State Senator, the director of Sundance Film Festival still decided to screen this film.

Therefore, it is obvious that though festival directors should face the challenge from several political and commercial limits, they will try their best to keep the freedom of artistic.


Alex Fischer, 2012, Conceptualising Basic Film Festival Operation: An Open System Paradigm



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