Feb 13, 2014

The Various Methods of Film Festival Research

By Diana Ritter

After listening to Toby Lee speak about her experience with the Thessaloniki Film Festival, I was struck by the difference between her research and that of Vanessa Schwartz who wrote the essay, “The Cannes Film Festival and the Marketing of Cosmopolitan”.  Lee touched on this in class, stating that Schwartz’s research was primarily archival based, if not totally, and did not involve the “on-the-scene” type research that Lee did.  I got that sense while reading Schwartz’s essay, and Lee’s lecture proved it to be true.

The two words that came to mind after reading Schwartz’s essay were “puff piece.”  Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed it and thought the way she traced the paparazzi’s “unauthorized image” to the Cannes film festival was very interesting.  But in the end, her description of the South of France, the atmosphere at Cannes during the festival, and the movie star glamour acted as a marketing campaign for me, leaving me with a strong desire to go to the festival and partake in this “cosmopolitan” environment.  It felt like Schwartz was having a love affair with Cannes and after putting her article down, I wondered, “What was, and is, really going on beneath the surface of this festival, politically and socially, and where was that information?”

In contrast, Lee’s lecture brought those issues to the surface right away, and I think the only way it is possible to get that information is to be there, interviewing the people, observing the action, and partaking in the festival.  I was awed and impressed by how Lee left no stone unturned. She studied the background, interviewing people who had been there in the early days, she knew about the other festivals in the area, she uncovered the festival’s financial woes, and when the political environment changed, she went with it and altered her research to include that aspect.  For every question we asked, Lee had an informed answer.

Comparing the two research methods helps me see the different approach I can take in my research and what I like or dislike about each.  I find Lee’s method more credible because she was a first-hand witness and shared both the positive and negative aspects, but it obviously took her a lot of time and hard work to write her dissertation.  Unfortunately, I think Schwartz’s method is the one we typically go with because it takes less time, the resources are available to us “at home” versus having to travel to get them, and we don’t have enough time to spend researching “first-hand.”  Lee’s lecture really inspired me to find something that interests me that much and dig into it on the level she did because as she talked about, it seemed to still light a fire under her and excite her.  I am just grateful for all those who do and can dedicate themselves to topics, especially in the cinematic world, and share them with us who can not.

--Diana Ritter

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