The Fusion of Art and Commerce: Operation Model of International Film Festivals

by qianhui yao

In many audiences’ impressions, film festivals and commercial films are antagonistic in terms of their aesthetics, taste, and even ideology. But what we may be neglecting to consider is that, even art films will eventually have to be confronted with the operational pressures of investment, production costs, and commercial recycling. Many independent films do not have normal channels to gain direct access to commercial theatres but are only able to meet with audiences through film festivals held around the world. From this point of view, the importance of film festivals is far more than that of “art promotion” as they provide a complete operating system for transformation of the artistic value of the film into commercial value. The film festival is actually the most important business negotiation place for the sale, purchase, finalization of the regional distribution rights, and even the evaluation of the film project. Capital investment, co-production, and pre-sale agreements can be completed in the market set up by the film festival.

European film festivals are an important channel for these independent films to become known to the audience. Without the commercial exchange platform offered by the film market for pioneering and active operations, the European film industry would likely be quickly assimilated into a single Hollywood business model, and films representing its cultural identity and values would disappear. So, when festival organizers talk about the success or failure of the festival, the important measure is whether it can provide a commercial and industrial platform for films that are not from the Hollywood model. “This is not a mainstream commercial film, and Cannes is one of the promotion platforms that they can use,” the Coen Brothers said in an interview about “No Country for Old Men” at Cannes in 2007. Filmmakers like the Coen brothers who span the field in commercial and art films are well aware of the advertising effects of the festival. Quintin, who was the president of the Buenos Aires International Film Festival, interviewed Godard during a Cannes film festival, the latter of whom said he appeared at the festival only to raise money for his next film at the producer’s request (Li, 2014). Many independent art filmmakers are faced with the same situation: To survive in the film industry, they not only must promote their work at the festival but they must try to win the favour of potential investors in order to start a future film shooting project.

We refer to the operations of the festival as “business” because it is not fundamentally different from the operations of the commercial cinema, as both industrial and commercial operations are based on monetary transactions. If the latter sells “entertainment” and “recreation,” then the former is trying to sell “art” and “culture.” Film festivals and filmmakers have formed a tacit understanding of thinking and action within such systems: one party has established a meticulous and comprehensive evaluation system according to its core cultural values and aesthetic tastes, while the other party have sent “custom products” made according to the requirements of the former to audit to determine whether the “product” contains and carries “artistic value.”


Li,Q (2014). Analysis on the operation mode of international film festivals. Modern communication, vol.11, no.2, pp. 167-168.

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