Buy Me!: The Plight of the Independent Film within the Film Festival Circuit

A friend of mine is currently in the midst of post-production on his directorial debut. A Melbourne-set feature, follows the coming of age tale of a teenager transitioning from the end of her high schools days bridging to her newfound life after school, exploring feelings of being lost, confused and alone. His journey in creating his first film has been a strenuous yet rewarding one as he embarks to submit his passion project to film festivals. There, he will undergo the process where he must shop his film to potential buyers. A ride or die moment for any independent filmmaker trying to make their name.

Iordanova (2009) posits that films need festivals and vice versa. Independent films utilise their opportunities in film festivals as a support mechanism, Iordanova writes, as it provides a gateway for what lies ahead. This process would usually lead to more further screenings at other film festivals, a sale to a film distribution company and eventually, a theatrical release and home media release. As discussed in our tutorials in Week Two, we discussed the case of film festivals in Australia. With the circulation of films, they provide the following four pathways for a title:

  1. The provide for competition for other films selected
  2. They provide an alternate form of distribution for a director’s film
  3. They provide a springboard for filmmakers
  4. It allows for them to be a part of a festival’s programming.

We can examine this from looking at one Hollywood director’s journey into zeitgeist of film culture: Damien Chazelle. Chazelle, in order to secure funding of a feature film he was actively chasing, produced a short film based around a feature length film he himself had written. Generating buzz for that short, we would eventually attract attention from investors as his short film would win the short film Jury Prize of 2013. His prize under his belt and a reasonable budget, he would produce his critically acclaimed film Whiplash to rave reviews, spring boarding him as one of  Hollywood’s elite and talented filmmakers to be reckoned with.

However, as made evident by our guest lecturer, filmmaker Bradley Liew, getting into a prestigious film festival, whether it’d be Cannes or Venice, there is always the possibility of it derailing a film’s chance at success. The primary goal of a filmmaker is to have their film seen by as many people as possible. Liew, explains that despite if a film is accepted in these types of festival, and if the film is not of a quality standard, it is safest to have the film shown at smaller festivals to begin with. Festivals such as Cannes are infamous to be brutal in their response to films with them often being left with no theatrical distribution and either left to a video on demand release or back to the rights of the filmmaker.

The plight of the independent filmmaker is a tough job indeed and film festivals often remain a make or break for a filmmaker, often becoming a gamble on their careers before they can jettison. But as de Valck (2006) iterates, the film festival circuit is crucial for the survival of world cinema, art cinema and independent cinema. And as more festivals are curated every year, more films of diverse stories and characters will remain to produced, time and time again.


Iordanova, D & Rhyne, R 2009, ‘The Festival Circuit’ Film Festival Yearbook 1′, St Andrews Film Studies, UK.

de Valck, M 2006 ‘Film Festivals: History and Theory of the European Phenomenon that Became a Global Network’, p. 27


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