“Get the power first, then get the money”

A Chinese ‘dark horse’ film – An Elephant Sitting Still (2018) – has recently raised a series of discussions about the power and money of a film. Several questions therefore interest me a lot, including how to get a film into a large film festival? What is the ‘festival film’? And what’s the current film festivals look like? How to assess a film festival? There might have some ‘dark sides’ for film festivals.

film fest secret

Let’s begin with a platitude point: what’s the role of film festival and why film festivals are set up. A film festival in some extent is defined as a special film programme (Stafford 187). For audiences, film festivals are providing the chance to meet filmmakers, celebrities or others associated with cinema culture as well as offering the opportunity for audiences to enjoy films are usually commercially infeasible in mass-market (Stafford, 187; Peranson, 191). For industry, film festivals are (cultural) events, which are believed an important advantage distinguishes from art house screenings. Because they are events, they have different marketing choices; because they are events, they could stimulate the local economy. And because they are events, they could support the industry prestige (Stafford, 187; Peranson, 192). However, some issues currently exist in film festivals we have to consider.

Goal of festival is the first consideration. “An international film festival’s priority is to show the very best of the year’s output in world cinema”. Yet it impossible to be achieved in any film festivals, and even cannot have this goal for most film festivals (Peranson, 192). But why? Due to the second consideration: the commercial interest. Film festivals play a role of political actors and they are related to interest groups (such as funding/sales agents, distributor/buyer, governments, critics, or all-important big money sponsors). Festivals would be influenced and also film market is controlled by these interest groups (Stafford, 191; Peranson, 197). In other words, interest group influences what (kind of) films are going to what festivals (Peranson 193). The competition units are set up seems more like for film critics, for viewers unwilling to choose and most importantly, for interest groups who want to celebrities presenting (202). An interesting word could summary this: first you get the power, then you get the money (193). The third concern is the scale of festival. Toronto and Cannes which stand for the large festival have both power and money not need to consider the screening fee but have decision of what films they want. In contrast, smaller festivals with less money and power are advised to show ‘older’ films (Stafford, 188; Peranson, 197).


Stafford mentioned an interesting concept: the ‘festival film’. Typical ‘festival films’ aim to reflect the filmmaker personal style or some universal social issues, but they hard to appear at the mainstream festivals or even never be official released. Because of the lack of commercial attraction, ‘festival film’ in some film culture is not enough attention, it will likely only have audiences during the festival. But auteur films are seen as the most high-profile festival films, as the identity of the director is more worthy of attention than film genre and star (191).

So, how to get a film into a mainstream film festival like Cannes, Berlin, Venice or Toronto? Peranson’s suggestion is getting a powerful sales agent (198). And, to assess a festival, perhaps you should look at what they do show as well as what they do not show (203).

By Lu


Stafford, Roy. The Global Film Book. Routledge, 2014.

Peranson, Mark. “First you get the power, then you get the money: two models of                      film festivals.” The Film Festival Reader, edited by Iordanova Dina, St                                    Andrews Film Studies, 2013, pp. 191-203.

Three thoughts on short film and short film festival

The rapidly increase in the number of film festivals and the film markets segments improve to the development of specialized film festivals. According to the categories, they are divided into identity-based festival (such as LGBT/Queer film festival and Women’s film festival), genre-based festival (including film genre, type, length and social concern), as well as national and regional showcases. After watching the Best MIFF Shorts in 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), I have several thoughts on short film which is one of the genre-based specialized films and also, on short film festival.

Short of What

Since the early 1920s, the short film has been the format of preference for (new or) modern idea in the film. With its shorter production time, cheaper production funding and more suitable screening length for audiences’ attention span, short films remains an importance as same as it was 100 years ago (Walde and Canciani 2018). Actually, the first film Train Pulling into a Station released in 1895 was a simply and short film with only 50 seconds. Shown a train pulled by a steam arriving at the train station of the French coastal town of La Ciotat, while folks of Lumiéres factory were waiting for. The reality is however that short films are on the edge of culture as well as lack support (Testro 47). Also, as Testro noted, short films are usually defined as stepping stones by young filmmakers to go ahead their careers (47).


Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (The Lumière Brothers, 1895)

Short for Whom

Instead of thinking quantifiable patterns, for some short film festivals, they are taking qualitative as the standard. In other words, the self-image, desire, programs and curatorial style become standards to measure a festival rather than the amount of film submissions and visitors (Walde and Canciani 2018). While this transition seems a positive trend, if too often develop films with the self-style, the audience – the most important group – would probably be ignored. Also, fun, another factor in the film should not be forgotten (Testro 49). Short films in MIFF this year, for instance, are not attractive to audiences. Although those films contain a lot of thinking elements yet lack of laughing. Talking more in detail, both seven films selected by MIFF this year have won awards in other famous (short) film festivals; however, all films are based on gloomy background and lowering soundtrack which strongly affected audiences’ viewing experiences.

Why Shorts

An interesting relation has existed between short films and students. Since the emergence of the film schools in the 1960s, short films are usually used by students who need to practice (Walde and Canciani 2018). Testro also mentioned that many short films (especially for those reflect youth issues) are produced by films student (47). As a result, short films as well as festivals are considered as an education and training tool. On the one hand, some short film festivals, such as Clermont Ferrand International Short Film Festival, has established several projects, including educational workshop, youth screening and short film festival training. On the other hand, considering people are able to remember 80% of what they see, hear and say (316); short film as a diverse teaching method (320) as well as one of the audio-visual tools has also been used in high school and university for multimedia education (317), according to Kabadayi. Thus those are discussed above are also the meaning of our short film festivals.

The biggest international short film festival and holding annually in Clermont-Ferrand, France. (be known as Short Film Cannes)

By Lu


Davidson, Rjurik, and Lucas Testro. “Go short: recent Australia short film.” Metro, no. 165, 2010, pp. 46-52. EBSCOhost Communication & Mass Media Complete, http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=3f41bca4-42d4-4e47-a35d-31e7139df62f%40sessionmgr4009

Holboom, Michael. “Nine thoughts on short films”. Shortfilm.de.Das KurzfilmMagazin, 31 October. 2001, https://www.shortfilm.de/en/nine-thoughts-on-short-films/

Kabadayi, Lale. “The role of short film in education.” Proccdia Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 47, 2012, pp. 316-320. Elsevier ScienceDirect, doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.06.657

Walde, Laura, and John Canciani. “Tendencies in short film and the task and mission of short film festivals”. Shortfilm.de.Das KurzfilmMagazin, 19 April. 2018, https://www.shortfilm.de/en/tendenzen-im-kurzfilm-und-die-aufgabe-von-kurzfilmfestivals/

“See my film, Change my life”


2018 Sundance Film Festival poster (source: online)

Sundance film festival was established in 1981 (Hoffman 302) in Park City, Utah (Turan 31). In America, Sundance has become the outstanding film event which is definitely differs from that of in Los Angeles and be seen as the navigation of independent film movement. Moreover, it has also become one of the most influential film festivals worldwide (Turan 34-35). The festival developed rapidly since its establishment; cite the festival’s dramatic competition an example, 250 film submissions in 1995 whereas by the year 2000, the number has increased in 849. Another significant evidence is seats sale, a huge expand of nearly 900% could be seen in the festival’s seats sale from 15,750 in 1985 to 135,922 in 1999 (Turan 32). As a film festival (that has not the international standard), why does Sundance has such a successful influence around the world? Why is it popular from the beginning? What effect does the festival has on filmmakers and the film industry? (Even in a snow town where ‘ten feet of snow can accumulate in ten days’ and thus rare movie theaters can be built.)

Instead of being a film competition or a celebrity party, Sundance film festival, in my view, more like an elastic entrance in which filmmakers (especially for young) could really get some career chance once they step forward. Could you imagine a picture that a young director in a film festival grips on a film critic’s shoulder and said, ‘see my film and change my life’? It might sounds unreal at any film festival but at Sundance, it could (Turan 31). For independent filmmakers, Sundance is regarded as a dream factory where “Sundance is my family and cinema is my religion”, said from Talal Derki whose documentary of Father and Sons has won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at 2018 Sundance film festival awards ceremony. Since the word of ‘religion’ is mentioned, let’s talk further about the relation between religion and film. In Lyden’s words, to find a movie that is obviously related to religion is not an easy thing. However, in 2018 Sundance, several films both explicitly and implicitly reflect religion and cultural beliefs (2).

From left to right: Talal Derki and his award-winning film Of Father and Sons

Back to Sundance is a springboard for filmmakers. Among the 13,468 films this year, many of their directors are first time filmmakers and more notable, many are women (including 37% of the features as well as 51% of the shorts were directed by women) which is considerably higher than the industry average (Lyden 1). Moreover, for film talent, Sundance is a best place you could find them (Turan 37). Even Hollywood studios often consider the Sundance as an unmissable library of human resource. One more very interesting point from Turan, it is said that in early period of Sundance film festival, a group of students from film school could sell gummy bears while talking to directors.

As a layman, I do not really know what will Sundance develop in the next decade, whether it will increasingly similar with Hollywood, or become an international independent film festival. Or allowing film school student to sell gummy bears! I can only sure that Sundance has become more important, more successful and reach a higher standard than other local film festival because its focus on the diverse stories, independent artists and the bold creative visions.



Turan, K. “Sundance.” Sundance to Sarejevo: film festivals and the world they made,                        University of California Press, 2002, pp. 31-48

Hoffman, Jascha. “Walking the edge at Sundance.” Nature, vol. 493, no. 7432, 2013, p. 302. Nature, http://www.nature.com.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/articles/493302a

Lyden, John C. “Sundance film festival 2018.” Journal of Religion and Film, vol. 22, no. 1, 2018, pp. 1-3. Gale Cengage Academic OneFile, http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA537719939&v=2.1&u=monash&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w

“MIFF has found a place to call home”

Since the end of 1990s, Melbourne International Film Festival (referred to as MIFF) became the largest and most important film culture event in Australia (although it was established in 1952). On the MIFF 50th anniversary in 2001, a publication of a short history of the event was titled A Place to Call Home (Stevens 105). As the question, ‘what does home mean to MIFF’, was asked in Stevens’ article (105), this title has also caused my curiosity. This blog therefore would discuss two aspects – MIFF talks and the catalogue of the festival – in terms of 2018 MIFF, also, exploring the relationship between the meaning of home and MIFF. All arguments will be based on the Stevens’ article about crisis and recovery at the MIFF, the topic of film festival as event (the topic of seminar 3) as well as my personal opinions.

Two things are worth noting, given my understanding of the development of MIFF. The first one is MIFF talks, which is normally a 60 or 90 minutes talk with speakers who are professionals active in the film, television or music industries. Themes of talks are various, from talking about the greatest soundtracks of a certain movie to things in front and behind the camera, or from urban design and film to pop culture and science. Art of the Score: Blade Runner 2049, for example, is one of the talks was held on 4 August 2018 at Dockland library. Within a small (probably only 5 rows of seats) but warm room, three speakers talk about the soundtracks of Blade Runner 2049. More than 90% audience have attended the talk have saw the film, this small space thus created a special atmosphere where the ‘access to filmmaking world seems to right there’ for particular audiences. On the other hand, the festival as an event provides some ‘extra’ elements which are not accessible in other places.


MIIF Talks: Art of the Score: Blade Runner 2049
Speakers: Andrew Pogson (left); Dan Golding (middle); Seja Vogel (right)

The second interesting thing is about catalogue of film. Early in the Melbourne Film Festival (MFF), it is said that the organization limited film selection to marketable films. But the result seems to not positive enough (Stevens 115). By restructuring, to expand films catalogue is considered one of the most effective strategies to MIFF’s success. 34 categories have been set up in today’s MIFF, including not only animation, documentaries or history uncovered, but moreover has been catalogued by country (such as Australian, Asia Pacific, Latin America, Middle East and Africa). Furthermore, some activities such as MIFF talks or MIFF festival lounge (virtual reality) are among the category, either. Through the growing category, it is evident that MIFF now connects with the local culture context (aboriginal, multicultural and even immigrant) to develop.


Special Event: CARRIBERRIE (a documentary of indigenous Australian dance and song) with a live dance performance


An unique cinematic experience: audience lied down and watched on the 180° hemispherical dome screen

Based on such situation, some scholars questions MIFF lacks ‘secure internal identity’ (Stevens 134), whereas Stevens argues that the past experience of MIFF demonstrated that a closed film festival would separate audience from the event so that couldn’t sustain (134).

Going back to the relationship between home and MIFF, MIFF focus more on customers/personal experience which means people will have their own version of the festival (Stevens 132). In other words, both local audience, immigrant and international film lovers who are in Melbourne are all elements of MIFF’s audiences. Hence, when saying ‘MIFF has found a place to call home’ (Stevens 136), it says that MIFF is a home for all film-loving audience in Melbourne, as well as says the festival has an own home (i.e, success) in Melbourne.


  • Stevens, K. “Between Success and Failure: Crisis and Recovery at the Melbourne                        International Film Festival.” Australian Film Festivals: audience, place,                          and exhibition culture, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, pp. 105-136.