Feb 13, 2014

Film Festivals as 'Performance' Art

by Amani Jordan

In the essay, "Film Festival Networks" Thomas Elsaesser stated that film festivals are a new form of "democracy."(103) How can this be true if film festivals  such Cannes, Venice, and Berlin continue to utilize elitist forms of press coverage to emphasize ritzy public performance. Indeed, aspects of 'high culture' seem to take precedence over the appreciation of the actual films themselves. At Cannes, an atmosphere of bourgeoisie art culture is found: "organizers insisted that evening screenings were to be attended in formal attire by guests and reporters alike"(72).  Although these highly organized and sponsored events provide a space for colloquial/professional discourse amongst those in the global industry, they still further classist distinctions. This is preposterous:  If film is truly the  "universal art" as Bazin believes it to be (Rhyne 11)  then why is there this insistence upon certain  film festivals(those following the Cannes model) to make cinema to be something elite and out of reach? 

Festivals themselves have been heralded as great luxurious business events. For instance, in Chapter 1 of  Lee's dissertation("Publics), a  most peculiar phenomenon occurred at the Thessaloniki film festival: "I realized...many of the people that had been frantically trying to get past the guards...had been motivated not by a desire to see the opening film, but rather by a desire to be a part of the opening night spectacle"(emphasis mine, 66). And still, the 'authenticviewing audiences  made their way to the festivals' screenings. This "second wave audience" were knowledgeable and critical of   unnecessarily extravagant elements of the space; they were not present in the audience for the sake of their self-image or 'glamouria'(67). 

Evidently, there are spectators that come purposely for the screening  and for any  political/commercial/ reputable gain. Mostly,  I agree with the view of Lee: "the festival addresses multiple and even radically different publics"( 69);  those festivals organizers following the older Cannes traditions  utilize the space for a celebration of extra-cinematic elements whilst simultaneously inviting those folks that come to simply watch partake in major presentation of the next great independent filmmakers.  Of course, these cinematic events  must   be tied to the industry in order to continue their mission(s) of art continuation but perhaps there is more to film's reality than  commodified art product. 

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