Open System Theory in the film festival

Marketing and finance are the two areas where it is sometimes difficult to find people and these areas are critical to the success of your festival. In Week7’s module, we explore film festival using open system theory by Alex Fischer’s work. Alex Fischer thinks it is useful to consider a film festival as an open system.

There are films and watchers’ action, which all form a complex whole. Operating a film festival is a delicate art, especially since the success of an event depends on a lot of different and uncertain factors. Many people think that a festival is an event which brings films and make people gather together and watch films from different countries or for particular groups, but as Alex Fischer’s thinking, a film festival needs to consider a series of practical parameters, so all these parameters can be seen as a system.

According to Alex, a film festival is an ephemeral event founded on social connectivity. Every step of operating a film festival is connected to the society, such as directors, the public, critics, international sellers, distributors, sponsors, and public authorities… They are all connected by shared needs that the festival meets. Each party takes part in accordance with the benefits they hope to gain from the participation of others. Participant satisfaction is therefore not a simple consequence of their taking part, rather it depends on their underlying motivation, something that the organisers must keep in mind. The festival is like a site of a social network which all parts concentrate on and it must aim at optimising the satisfaction of each of the participants.

Unlike a close or integrated system, a film festival does not in the actual production cycle, but it takes place over a very short time. For example, 2018 Shanghai International Film Festival was from June 16 to June 25. In the ten days, the festival finished many film exhibitions, interaction and other related events.The picture shows parts of the related events of Shanghai International Film Festival.

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If there is a problem in any event of the film festival, the festival could not be seen as a successful one. Besides, the sociality of Shanghai International Film Festival is shown as the communications and interactive between the participant of the festival, such as actors, directors, editors or distributors who from different fields and countries. The festival has hold many activities, hoping to provide opportunities for them to communicate and corporate with each other.



Alex, Fischer, A sociologist’s perspective on the organisation of film festivals. Axel SCOFFIER, 27 May. 2013,

Alex, Fischer. Conceptualising Basic Film Festival Operation: An Open System Paradigm. Bond University, 14 December. 2009,

2018 Shanghai International Film& TV Festival, Viewed on 13 September 2018.


Common modes of Film Festival Funds

For every film festival, Programming is the first thing to consider. In the process of programming a film festival, one thing needs to be focus on is festival funds which is the key to decide whether a film festival can be held smoothly.

Film festivals are aimed to show new films or some old films with specific meanings. In recent years, operation of film festivals is increasingly well studied. One part of operation is operators, including professional staffs and volunteers. In my last posted article, I mentioned volunteers play really important roles in film festivals. They made much contribution for the festival, but work condition of most of them are very worried. For example, they might suffer from overloaded work, poor working places and have little time for meal or rest. Not only volunteers, festival employees suffer similar condition. The situation is mostly due to fund shortage. Organisers had to struggle for funds, resulting in a film festival always operate on a bare minimum without any guarantee for festival workers.

Overall, to operate a successful film festival, enough funds are necessary. In general, there are two ways for film festival to get funds. One way is from local government or rely on a large extent like municipal authorities and corporates like some international film festivals. These festivals relatively have enough funds, but they lose parts of independence, meaning that their decisions are possible to be affected by these authorities. The others usually funded by dedicated groups who wanted to provide exhibition of a different kind of film for audiences, like local queer film festival (Loist, 2011). These festivals often start as purely voluntary efforts, eventually recognized and supported by public funders and private sponsors. Since they are not initiated by a city institution for a political purpose (to promote the city’s image, for example) nor do they have the substantial levels of support the first type film festivals’ enjoy, these festivals often develop different organizational structures to first type of film festivals.

According to Rhyne, Neoliberal turn in funding politics arranged the organisation of film festivals and funding strategies accordingly, by creating non-profit organizations dependent on public funding discourses and philanthropy. These film festivals mostly funded by dedicated groups can be seen as a part of the neoliberal turn in funding politics and arranged its organization and funding strategies accordingly (Loist, 2011). In some areas, particularly those which are considered as the traditional film festival home, there is a trend of Neoliberal turn. The funds for traditional public arts are becoming less and less, so it is necessary to expand ways of looking for funds to find more funding resources. It requires film festivals to have more professional team and more preparation for funds, increasing pressure on the film festival preparation.



Skadi, L 2011. “Precarious cultural work: about the organization of (queer) film festivals”, Published by Oxford Press on behalf of Screen, vol.52, no.2, pp268-269.



Two aspects about a film festival

Selection of sites is important to a film festival. Most famous international film festivals prefer to choose developed international cities, which are well known among the world, like Shanghai international film festival. In the city, a festival prefers to choose some advantageous position with dense flow of people, convenient in traffic, so it can attract more attention. How will audiences get to the venue is a point which a film festival needs to consider. Melbourne international film festival is celebrated all across, with films shown in various venues all across the CBD. Some of the more popular venues include the Forum Theatre, the Victorian Arts Centre. These venues are all in the City Loop and most of them are not far from each other. There are many elections of transportation around, so audiences can easily get there. According to my experience in the MIFF, many participants watched more than one films within one day and some of films are not in the same theatre. These selections of venues made audiences don’ t need to walk too long and help them focus more on the film itself.


Another aspect of film festival needs to be paid attention to is staff hiring, especially volunteers. Volunteers always take on significant role in a film festival. A part of volunteers have related professional background, but some may take part in a festival just for interests or would like to own a study opportunity. Take Melbourne for an example, a lot of volunteers engaged for the festival, generally being engaged as ushers, ticket scanners, queue managers and information staff. To be film festival volunteers, one basic requirement is that they are able to own the ability to communicate with the general public in a friendly and professional manner. When I met volunteers in MIFF, they all have great manners and made me have better experience of the film festival. As soon as entered the theatre, volunteers with yellow T-shirts came to ask whether I came to attend the film festival and which film I was going to watch at that day. All volunteers are so welcoming that made me feel I just arrived at their home. They are very friendly and patient. I could ask them any question without shyness. They took me to the showroom and taught me how to use the machine to scan my ticket. Then I could have aseat and wait for the film. Volunteers are one of most important members during the film festival. Their cooperation is the guarantee of a successful film festival.



MIFF. (2018). Venues and Transport. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2018].

MIFF. (2018). Volunteer FAQs. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2018].


Having a Tour in MIFF

On August 19th, I attended the last day of Melbourne international film festival and this is the second time I attend a film festival. My first experience about a film festival happened many years ago when I was a really little girl, so I did not have any clear impression. In a sense, it could be argued that it is my first time to come into contact with a film festival.

The Melbourne International Film Festival is one of the most popular events in Melbourne and out of the four major film festivals in the country, this is one of the most popular. At that day, I arrived at the theatre earlier than the start time of the film to observe all arrangements for a film festival. The theatre I went to is Forum theatre. The posters, banners or signals can be seen everywhere in the theatre. Outside the main entrance of the theatre, an obvious poster is hanging on the outer wall which shows up well. The environment and atmosphere around made me feel that I really took part in the film festival.


Tobi Wieman who is a director ever said, ‘Festivals are events in which a diverse array of people can gather. They are a place for cultural exchange, a place to network and be inspired’. His opinion is greatly shown in the MIFF. At this year’s festival, there are more than 400 films Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 13.58.12.pngshowing and more than half of them are from other areas. The film I watched is a Chinese film called ANGELS WEAR WHITE which directed by Vivian Qu. The film is set in a small seaside town and it is a story about female objectification and violation. The script is tactfully understated about the seedy details and maintains a certain ambiguity over the innocence of two girls, Xiao wen and Xinxin. The film also shows the shocking reactions from two girls’ parents. Not only the location, but also the case shown by the film are closely related to the social reality of China. They are quite different from that of other areas such as the western areas. In my opinion, it is difficult for audiences who are not from China to understand parts of the film, though there are English subtitle. However, most audiences in the same session with me are foreigners and none of them left midway. I think they were trying their best to experience the film and feel what the film wanted to show. After the film, audiences discussed the case in the film, why characters have a series of reactions and if the case happen in their country, what would happen in the following. In general, it can be seen as a of culture impact. Audiences can feel different cultures by watching a film and try to use the thinking way of people from that culture.