When Film Festivals Are Not Just About The Films

     While the small-scale film festival like Melbourne International documentary film festival is more focus on sharing the film, or the LGBT film festival like Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival plays more value on promoting equal opportunities and eliminate discrimination against sexual minority groups, the large-scale film festival like Cannes Film Festival aims for more.

    Stringer (2001) points out that the ambition of many festivals is to use the existing big festivals as models in order to bring the world to the city in question, and at the same time circulating the reputation of the city in question all over the world. The large film festival like Cannes is not just simply about films after its 70 years of development. Celebrities and movie stars attend this pageant for the promotion of their film, more media exposures or to represent the image of their countries. For example, after Chinese actress Fan Bingbing’s radiant appearance on the red carpet of Cannes, as it was so resounding when media reported her custom and appearance in Cannes, other Chinese actress began to follow Fan’s path and made themselves appear on the red carpet in Cannes in order to gain more exposure and attention. A very typical example is the actress named Zhang Yuqi, according to the report from media, Zhang made herself appear on the red carpet by purchasing the invitation of Cannes, which means she was not officially invited. What’s more, the  Filmmakers show up in this grand event in order to be more involved with the film industry and build up the connection with the practitioners.

Fan Bingbing&Zhang Yuqi in Cannes Film Festival

       While the attendees gain their benefits from the Cannes Film Festival, the city Cannes also benefits from this festival. According to Stringer(2001), what many festivals now actually market and project are not just “narrative images”, but a city’s own “festival image”. With the image and reputation built by film festival, the host city will no doubt attract visitors to travel, which indicates the economic growth of the city. This kind of city promotion was directly shown by the mayor of Berlin when introducing visitors to the 1998 Berlin Festival held in February that year, in the speech, the mayor reminded the visitors that while they were enjoying the films from the five continents, they could also spend their time discovering the sites in Berlin(Stringer 2001, p.140).


        Another City which gains its benefits from hosting a film festival is Shanghai. Shanghai is always known as one of the biggest international cities in China, by hosting the Shanghai International Film Festival, it not only promotes more Chinese movie to the world while stimulating the international communication of films, but also strengthens shanghai’s international position and attracts more visitors to Shanghai each year.



Stringer Julian 2001 ‘Global Cities and the International Film Festival Economy’, in M. Shiel & T. Fitzmaurice(ed.), Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context, pp.134- 144

Film Festival as a Feast for filmmaker and cinephile

One of the significant elements that makes Film Festivals so special is the screening of selective films which normally will not be seen in a commercial theater. In other words, film festival is a platform for those films that do not have a chance to be shown in cinema due to various reasons like political restriction, foreign language or controversial theme.

  But just like the gold will always be discovered, the outstanding films will always have their chance to be shown in public, and the film festival is the space where the filmmakers can present their production regardless the restrictions.


   The movie Xiu Xiu: The Sent-down Girl is a controversial movie which was produced in 1998. The story was about a city girl who was forced to the countryside to experience the country life during the cultural revolution in China. The main character Xiu Xiu lived with a Tibetan-Lao Jin in a tent after she was sending to the countryside. Unreconciled to staying in the countryside, Xiu Xiu always tried to find the access to go back to the city. She even traded her virginity so as to get back to where she belonged. But she eventually became a tool of the authorities who promised her to send her back to the city after having sex. Realizing there was no chance to go back anymore, Xiu Xiu committed suicide with Lao Jin’s gun after the abortion. Due to the background of the story was politically sensitive in China, and there were erotic scenes in the movie, this movie was forbidden to be seen in mainland China regardless of its excellent plots and scenes. 

   Although Having no chance to be shown in cinema in China, the film achieved success in many film festivals. Xiu Xiu: The Sent-down Girl was nominated for the Golden Bear in the 48th Berlin International Film Festival, and it won the Special Jury Prize and was nominated for the Grand Prize in Paris Film Festival in 1999 and so forth.  In addition, this film was also screened in the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival as a 20th-anniversary screening. Valck, Kredell and Loist (2016) state that Film festivals program screenings depending on the strength of the stories and aesthetic qualities and the difference between film festivals and commercial theaters is that film festival values more on the artistic achievement,  and films are screened only because its significance and value, but not screened as part of a business undertaking. The success of Xiu Xiu: The Sent-down Girl in the film festival justifies that film festivals value the artistic achievement rather than economic influence. 

    As the screening of film festival serve as a cultural purpose but not an economic one, it allows the filmmakers to present their film as an art but not a commercial product. Besides, the scholars also point out that film festivals program films like foreign language films, world cinema, art cinema, documentaries and other non-commercial genres in a more engaging way, which means not simply screened but also embedded in a rich discursive context which encourages the interactions with the audience(Valck, Kredell and Loist 2016 p.106). Thus the filmmakers have more chances to show their film and audiences or cinephiles are more involved with the film.   


De Valck, M. 2016 ’Fostering Art, Adding Value, Cultivating Taste’ Film Festivals: History, Theory, Method, Practice, Routledge,  NewYork, pp.100-116.

What can we learn from the arrangement of MIFF

   After my visit to Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, I learned that the value of film festival is not how massive the activity is or how many movie stars show up on the red carpet. The value of Film Festival that I learned is to share knowledge, culture and the passion of film.


  Melbourne International Film Festival as the first film festival in Australia is very formal comparing with Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. Just as Chan(2018) states that the international film festival is a cosmopolitan space that audiences are encouraged to take part in. The scale of films in MIFF was ranging from Asia to Europe with the quantities of more than 400.

  The arrangement of Melbourne international film festival is comprehensive from the opening night to the closing night gala. The session that I attended was hosting in Forum Theatre which is located in Melbourne City. Unlike Melbourne Documentary Film Festival which didn’t have signs on the street to guide audiences to find the venue, there were signs outside the theater to attract passengers attention by decorating them with glittering lights.



Inside the hall, there were volunteers helping audiences solve their problems and answer their queries. Iordanova(2009) points out that because of the discrete nature of the film festival, the human resources management of film festival is facing the high turnover of staffs. Thus, Festivals rely on volunteers and internships. Having volunteers in Film Festival could be seen as a win-win strategy, on the one hand, Film Festival needs volunteers as free labor to arrange for the event as festivals could not afford to employ staff on a full-time basis(Iordanova 2009, p.34), hiring volunteer is very economical. On the other hand, volunteers also gain their experience of working at a film festival, which might be a stepping stone for them in their future career.



  Undermined: Tales from The Kimberley was the film that I watched due to teacher’s recommendation. Before this documentary being screened, filmmakers were invited to speak to audiences and one of the characters in the film was invited to perform for the audiences. I was touched and fascinated by the performance of the character as his singing was very genuine. The arrangement before screening the film actually contributed to engaging audience’s attention and emotion. As an international student, I couldn’t fully understand what this documentary tried to express, as it required a certain cultural background to fully understand the film. But during the screening I noticed many Australians’ emotion was affected by the film, they laughed, they cried and they signed. Chan(2018)states Film Festival could be cultural celebrations and marketplaces, taking my experience at MIFF as an example, Undermined: Tales from The Kimberley could be seen as a representation of Australian culture and also promote its culture to the international audiences. In addition, MIFF also provides opportunities for films from other countries like Japan and China to present their culture to various audiences that attend this Film Festival.

    What also makes the arrangement of MIFF comprehensive is that after the end of this Film Festival, The MIFF will still exist as a traveling showcase, which means some of the films from MIFF will be screening In various cinema after the festival, and this arrangement allows audience to see more film that they missed and also provides more chances of exposure for the films.



Iordanova, D 2009, ‘ The film festival circuit’, in D Iordanova&R Rhyne (ed.), Film festival yearbook 1: The festival circuit, e-book, St Andrews Film Studies in collaboration with College Gate Press, Great Britain,pp. 23-39.

Chan, F.2011, ‘The international film festival and the making of a national cinema’ Screen, Vol.52, no.2, pp.253-260.


A New Understanding of Film Festival: Melbourne Documentary Film Festival

My very first time of taking part in a film festival was the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival which was held in this July.


    Based on my previous impression of those grand film festivals like Cannes Festival and Berlin International Film Festival, I attended Melbourne Documentary Film Festival with the expectation and beautiful imagination of seeing movie directors and stars walking on the red carpet and waving their hands to the paparazzi. But when I finally reached the venue after trying to find the location of the festival several times by following the map, my beautiful imagined bubble was broken.

   The Documentary Film Festival was held in a small venue inside a bar, there were no any signs on the street to tell you there was a film festival holding there. With the disappointment, I sat down on a table and tried to enjoy the documentary that was screening. The session of that documentary film festival was nothing like what I imagined, it was not very formal, and there was no directors or characters showed up interacting with the audiences. People ordered food or beer from the bar while watching the film. It is more like a group of documentary fans sharing their appetite in a dark tiny room.


    I used to think a film festival could only be called as a festival while it includes a grand opening night with many celebrities showing up on the red carpet and has the award ceremony. Without including those “essential elements”, Melbourne Documentary film festival actually broadened my horizons and changed my stereotype of the film festival. Just as Valck (2016) states that in reality, film festivals have many size and flavors. The essential elements that I think a film festival must have are mainly for the large size festival but not for the small one. But the significance of holding a film festival is not limited by its size.

   Iordanova (2009) points out that films need festivals. Sending a film to a festival could support the need for a film and expose it to audiences on the screen of a film festival. Meanwhile, festivals need films. Festival usually is held annually in a certain location, and it provides temporary venues for exhibiting films to a defined audience community.

     Unlike those movies that have more opportunities to be screened in cinemas, documentary usually doesn’t have as much chance to be seen by audiences in daily life, thus, Melbourne Documentary Film Festival provides an open door for the producers and directors of documentaries to present their work to people. At the same time, it also offers audiences the chance to see documentaries in a public area which they rarely have the opportunity to do in the everyday life.

  According to Iordanova(2009), screening the film at festivals is not a way of getting the film to a real exhibition. Screening the film at festivals is the real exhibition and it gives a subsidized exposure to the film. I remember when I was watching documentaries that shown in Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, there was one film named Phenomenality impressed me a lot, after watching it in the festival, I searched it online to watch it again. Surprisingly, I found out that this documentary was played way more than other films which were directed by the same director,

From https://vimeo.com/lucasjatoba

and this outcome explains why film needs film festival and also justifies how film festival gives films subsidized exposure.



Iordanova, D 2009, ‘ The film festival circuit’, in D Iordanova&R Rhyne (ed.), Film festival yearbook 1: The festival circuit, e-book, St Andrews Film Studies in collaboration with College Gate Press, Great Britain,pp. 23-39.

de Valck,M 2016 ‘What is a film festival?How to study festivals and why you should’ in de Valck,M, Kredell, B & Loist (ed.). Film festivals: History, theory, method, practice, Routledge, New York, pp.1-11