The Contradiction Between Artistic Freedom and Political or Commercial Limits in Film Festival Operation

Name: Yuting Meng

Student ID:28441664

In Week 7’s online seminar, we talk about Alex Fischer’s open system theory and the work of festival operation.

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In general, the open system refers to a certain group creating a whole which is influenced by the environment through the exchange of energy, materials and information in order to renew and develop the system.

In terms of the operation of film festival, Fischer suggests that festival operation is an open system which is influenced by different kinds of social connections. He illustrates this relationship by telling a story of how a festival director make a balance between the festival board, volunteers, contributing artists, funding bodies, sponsors and so on.

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In my opinion, the biggest challenges for the festival operation include political limits and commercial limits, which means that the government and sponsors are their strongest support and sometimes biggest impediment as well.


The first example is Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) held in 2015, which is mentioned in the seminar. Since the festival director Lee Yong-kwan decided to screen a documentary which the Busan city mayor and former BIFF chairman adamantly opposed, the biggest sponsor– the Busan metropolitan Government slashed its contributions by almost 50 per cent. Under the pressure of government, people attended the opening day at BIFF were almost anxious rather than excited, and a third of the seats were empty.


However, this decision has achieved support from a lot of people, and they considered the government’s impediment of BIFF as “political retaliation”. Many people have stood up and organized campaigns to support an autonomous BIFF and fought for freedom of speech, including some famous directors and actors.


Thus, though the political limit and commercial limit do affect the operation of film festival, artistic freedom is still the core spirit of a festival, which is also supported by the grassroots.

The second case is Sundance Film Festival held in 2007. Before the opening day of the festival, one film called Hound Dog which was planned to screen was dramatically criticized by many organizations.


The reason why this film was panned by critics is that the heroine Dakota Fanning,who was only 12 years old, acted a character who was raped in the film. The film garnered a great deal of attention, and generated intense controversy, owing to the use of such a young actress in a role that included a rape scene.


Though the scene only showed Fanning’s face and her character’s reaction to the trauma of the act, it became known as the “Dakota Fanning rape movie” at the Sundance Film Festival.

This film was shot in North Carolina State, where the law of the protection of juveniles says even the imitation of sexual behavior is illegal. However, under the pressure of film critics and North Carolina State Senator, the director of Sundance Film Festival still decided to screen this film.

Therefore, it is obvious that though festival directors should face the challenge from several political and commercial limits, they will try their best to keep the freedom of artistic.


Alex Fischer, 2012, Conceptualising Basic Film Festival Operation: An Open System Paradigm



The Mission of Film Festival— Taking Festival de Cannes As an Example

Name:Yuting Meng

Student ID:28441664


Speaking of film festivals, most people will mention these four most famous ones:


Venice International Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, Cannes International Film Festival, and Oscar Golden Statuettes.


However, many people only know their names and fame, but few know about their purposes and missions.

Festival de Cannes is widely considered as one of the most prestigious film festival in the world, mainly because of its exclusivity and long history of premiering some of the greatest films of all time. People’s impression of Cannes is completely accorded with the mission of the Festival de Cannes.

In Week 5’s seminar, we talked about the mission of the Festival de Cannes. The Festival de Cannes has remained faithful to its founding purpose: to draw attention to and raise the profile of films, with the aim of contributing towards the development of cinema, boosting the film industry worldwide and celebrating cinema at an international level, since it wants to achieve this level of longevity. Even in today, the profession of faith constitutes the first article of the Festival regulations.

In my opinion, the Festival de Cannes’s perseverance of its mission of contributing to the creation and distribution of films mainly reflects in three aspects: the passion for films, the discovery of new talents and the bringing together of professionals and journalists from all over the world.

First, in terms of Cannes’s passion of films, the most important section of it is the selection of films which will be shown during the festival. The criterion of films shown in the Festival de Cannes is very strict because only a few dozen films can be chosen, and they are often from prestigious directors whose work has previously played at Cannes. Moreover, the structure of Cannes film selection is also very rigorous, because there are four different kinds among its Official Selection including Competition films, Out of Competition films, Special Screenings and Midnight Screenings. In the Competition selection, only 20 films will be chosen to premiere in competition, which means that they are going to compete for the top Cannes prize: the Palme d’Or (golden palm).


In addition, the Out of Competition films are often films that have a big impact on the cinematic calendar, and the Special Screenings and Midnight Screenings. Except these four selections, audience can also explore the world of cinema in a different way by attending masterclasses, tributes, exhibitions and so on.

Second,in order to encourage film production, the Festival de Cannes set up huge initiatives to discover new talents and act as a springboard for creation. The least visible but most important task of this mission is performed by the team’s ‘talent scouts’ who travel the world and scour film festivals each season to unearth the most promising directors.


Finally, in terms of its mission of bringing together of professionals and journalists from all over the world, the “Red Carpet Steps” must be mentioned. It is no doubt that the “Red Carpet Steps”are the part of this festival that draws the most media attention.


Therefore, the Festival de Cannes has achieved its final mission of contributing to the creation and distribution of films by these three aspects, and other film festivals also have similar missions,




Analysis of Film Festivals’ Role as Gatekeepers –Taking An Elephant Sitting Still in MIFF as an Example

In Week 4’s lecture, we talked about the conception of film festivals’ role as gatekeepers.

As mentioned in class, there are three sections of this conception including field, capital and habitus.

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Before I went to 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), I found that there are few Chinese films shown in this festival.

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(Only five Chinese films shown in the MIFF)


One of the films impressed me a lot, and it has a very interesting name—An Elephant Sitting Still. I wondered why it is able to have the access to the MIFF, and as one of the few Chinese films, why it is not popular in China and known by few people.

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(The poster of An Elephant Sitting Still)


This film is extraordinarily long because it lasts around four hours, but few audience left before it ended. Though the atmosphere of the whole film is depressing, it does make audience think a lot after watching it.

I find that the choice of this film by the MIFF is accorded with film festivals’ role as gatekeepers.

To start with, in terms of the first section—“field”, An Elephant Sitting Still is a film that rooted outside the mainstream commercial movie industries. As Wesley Shrum argues: “Taste in high arts is mediated by experts, whereas taste in low art is not.” It is also the reason why this film has not been published in China and few people know it. Films screened in film festival are for cultural reasons rather than making profit. Unlike popular commercial movies in China, An Elephant Sitting Still does not contain any elements which cater to everyone, and the aim of the director is to reflect the real cruel world rather than a fictional beautiful world which most audience want to watch. As the saying goes, good medicine is bitter, so maybe that is the reason why a good film which qualifies for the entry to film festivals will not attract much audience.

Second, in terms of the next section— “capital”, An Elephant Sitting Still is not simply screened and left to popular vote but embedded in a rich discursive context that encourages discussion, reflection, and engagement with the films’ content and aesthetics. As Thomas Elsaesser says, film festivals are more like a gentle gatekeeper rather than a bouncer, because what they do is supporting, selecting, celebrating and rewarding. In this case, MIFF plays the role as a gentle gatekeeper since it has added value and cultural capital for An Elephant Sitting Still. It has offered a unique opportunity for this less well-known film and made more people know its director Bo Hu. Though the director of this film committed suicide before the film was rewarded in Berlin Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival, he realised his own dream on this film and acquired symbolic capital: prestige, honour and recognition.

Finally, speaking of Bourdieu’s notion of habitus, film festivals not only plays the role as gatekeepers, but also as tastemakers. Since one important purpose of film festival is to do film education for young audiences and help shape the film industry. Taking An Elephant Sitting Still as an example, it can change people’s views on traditional Chinese commercial movie and encourage more Chinese filmmakers to make more meaningful and profound films.

Some Lessons learnt from the Film Festival Circuit by a Director

In week 2’s lecture, we talk about the conception of the film festival circuit. I was really confused about the differences between “film festival” and the “film festival circuit”, and I have searched a lot to find the answer.

Here is the best and most understandable explanation that I could find:

“Circuit” in this context refers to a series of different locations and events, almost similar to a “concert tour”.

“Circuit” is used to imply a certain repetition (eg. circuit training in fitness). The word is used to indicate that someone attending the festival is usually interested in or obligated to “complete the circuit” of events for that industry.

Thus, “festival circuit” means a series of festivals, events, locations and so on relevant to the industry, be it film, music, dance, clubs, technology, etc.

In addition, there is a schematic diagram shown in the class.

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This diagram illustrates the key conception of a film festival circuit, and I find that it actually coincides with one filmmaker Justin Schwarz’s own experiences after attending eight film festivals within a month.


(The Discoverers, a 2012 American dark comedy, directed and written by Justin Schwarz)


First, in terms of the competition in film festival, Schwarz says that as a filmmaker, it is not only a competition, but also a good chance to learn from others and extend filmmaker family. As we know, the core tradition of film festivals is competition, that is, the consideration of films with the intention of judging which are most deserving of various forms of recognition. But from the perspective of some filmmakers, the competition is not their purpose. By attending a film festival, they can know many other excellent filmmakers, directors and programmers and learn a lot from their experiences.Using festival programmers and filmmakers as guide is one lesson Schwarz learnt from the film festival.

Second, speaking of film festival’s role as the springboard for directors, Schwarz shows his agreement. Since film festivals are unique venue for filmmakers, industry, press, and patrons of the arts to connect, new filmmakers can have a chance to chat with people who might not take their calls during daily grind. Schwarz says: “Maybe it’s all the free-flowing booze, but agents soften, producers want to learn about your next project, reporters will tell you about their families, and you might even meet your next investor.” Thus, for many filmmakers, attending film festivals is a springboard.

Finally, in terms of media and audiences, film festivals are the best chance to embrace audiences, invite new fans and connect with media. As a director, Schwarz says that he likes walking the line at festivals, because during this process, he can embrace his audiences and do audience research. In addition, film festival can be a market where distributors see your film, or an opportunity to get press.

All in all, film festivals are a unique opportunity for filmmakers to share their films, meet potential collaborators, get press and connect with audiences.