The potential impact of film festival programming and film selection

According to many directors, filmmakers, and researchers, film festivals are gatekeepers for cinema, with the major mission of filtering out the special, interesting, thought-provoking films from the overabundance of choice. The program and selection of film festival help the audiences to save time on viewing choice, and to some extent guarantee the type targeting and the satisfaction, whilst offering a platform for those audiences with no clear purpose to see a diverse array of films with different themes from many corners of the world, resonating with the social themes under different cultural background reflecting through the form of films. The film selection of film festivals actually is using the empowerment to stretch the elastic of the audiences’ taste in a very compressed time.


But is that all kind of the film festivals playing the role of a gatekeeper or a tastemaker? I argue that the large-scale film festivals with certain prestige around the world (Cannes, Berlin, Venice, etc.) are undoubtedly the cinema gatekeepers and tastemakers for public and even the professional film industry field. The prestigious film festivals will bypass those main-stream commercial film works during the selection sessions, and choose the adaptable ones within line of the taste of majority and the theme of cultural legitimation and thought-provoking to showcase or put into the participating pool. Also, because of the variety and a large number of audiences from all age groups, the films with the queer topic or the special form are not under the consideration range of selection for these mainstream film festivals. The film festivals need to have enough topicality in the selected films to achieve the multi-exposure effect and maintain the reputation of the film festival. For instance, the Gold Palm Award winner of the 71st Cannes Film Festival in 2018, directed by Japanese director Hirokazu Takeba, the film ‘Shoplifters’ responds the lives of the group of people abandoned by society, combining crime, telling a story about humanity and love. The film not only reflects some unconcerned situation of Japanese society, showing some general social culture to the audiences. But also at the same time, it proposes social issues that can stimulate and be considered by people from different countries under various cultural and social backgrounds.


While the small-scale film festivals act as both the gatekeeper and the counter-public sphere. They always have a clear mission, either a transmission of a non-mainstream culture or a spread of some counter-public phenomenon recognition. Czach (2004) argues that the programming decisions and film selection of the film festivals amount to an argument about the definitions of the field, genre, or national cinema. Such as the Korean film festival defines Korean cinema, and other film festival’s programming work performs a similar function, such as the queer film festivals help define the category of gay, transgendered cinema. This kind of festivals pays more attention to pursuing the artistry during the film selection, as well as the certainly unified category topic. What’s more, the audience group has more pertinence according to the field and genre, the films with more artistic producing form could be easier for the audiences of the special genre film festivals to accept and understand.

All in all, the programming and film selection of the main-stream film festivals broadens the audiences’ film coverage while unifying the audiences’ taste. The small-scale theme/national film festivals, relatively speaking, play the main role of spreading the counter-public/national culture, positioning for the classifications of the film categories.



Czach, L 2004, ‘Film Festival, Programming, and The Building of A National Cinema’, The Moving Image: The Journal of The Association of Moving Image Archivists,vol.04, no.01, pp.76-88.

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