Oscar season. The time of the year where Hollywood studios campaign their elite and diverse ranged actors and actresses, their talented directors and their wide array of technical masterminds into achieving their goal in scoring the coveted gold statue. A campaign was never the case back in the golden age of Hollywood as today, a campaign in scoring a nomination becomes an almost political race for Oscar glory. Winning an Oscar not only highlights a career high for a recipient but bestows whatever studio responsible for their winner title(s) strong notoriety within the Hollywood sphere. But with any campaign, films need to generate buzz well before they reach the morning of their nominations announcements and perhaps even before their theatrical release. This is where film festivals come into play.
Such festivals, from the prestigious events of the Venice International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival hold a degree of esteem as an initial starting ground for Oscar calibre titles to make their premiere and create its first round of buzz, in front of industry professionals, critics and general festival-goers, before making their way to the coveted Oscar night. Let’s look at the track record of films that start their rounds at film festivals before scoring gold. Steve McQueen’s brutal yet uncompromising look at slavery in 12 Years of Slave premiered at Toronto’s film festival back in 2013. Having screened his two previous films in years prior, the festival’s working history with the filmmaker elevated the relationship with not just the festival but with his audience. In due with an impeccable and haunting narrative, McQueen’s film scored TIFF’s People’s Choice Award that year and mere months later, won three of its ten nominations at the Oscars, including the grand prize of Best Picture. A similar narrative could be said with Barry Jenkins’ masterful Moonlight and Guillermo del Toro’s recent The Shape of Water.
It’s a long road from film festival to the Oscars, often involving months of promotion, PR, interviews, Q&As and screenings. A trying process indeed yet this process remains a crucial part in creating the road in cementing a footprint within movie history. Fairbanks (2016) states that not only are festivals crucial in maintaining a platform for independent filmmakers, but maintains an audience for art and auteur cinema. The Oscars, as big and culturally recognised as they are, remain a staple in recognising not just Hollywood led titles, but niche and under-represented narratives mainstream cinema would normally shy away from. The case can be made with again with Jenkins’ Moonlight and del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Two films, that follow simple narratives and genres but led by under-represented casts and characters
Yes, plenty can be said about how glorified the Oscars can be, but the truth of the matter is, the film festival circuit plays a predominant role in shaping the films that would ultimately make its way within the zeitgeist of our popular culture. And as upcoming titles such as Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and once again Jenkins’ If Beale Street Can Talk make their way through the film festival circuit, one can assume their presence at the forthcoming Oscars is imminent.
Fairbanks, J 2016 , ‘Why Film Festivals Matter: Festivals as “Part of a Film’s Life”‘, Edge: film, culture, & criticism at the edge of Arthur’s Seat, <https://journeys.dartmouth.edu/edge/2016/08/23/why-film-festivals-matter-festivals-as-part-of-a-films-life/>