Sunday, August 29, 2010

Film Festivals

Recently I've been wondering: How have film festivals slowly changed in the last decade or two? And what are things that a good film festival ought to be doing?

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) kicks off in a couple of weeks. I've attended it continuously for the last twelve years. The festival has changed markedly over this time. The number of commercially high-profile "galas" and "special presentations" has shot up. The size of the "Masters" program -- where the festival puts its best, most highly regarded narrative art films -- has shrunk dramatically. Even more distressingly, programs devoted to retrospectives of single filmmakers or particular national cinemas have been more or less eliminated. In fact, the festival now shows almost only new films: anything that isn't contemporary, anything that lacks the sheen of novelty, has disappeared from the festival's horizon. The only exception to this gradually escalating corporatization of TIFF has been the avant-garde program Wavelengths, helmed by Andréa Picard, who has guided it from strength to strength in recent years.

I hasten to add: the festival still shows a healthy number of good films. It's the one week of the year that I look forward to the most. Nevertheless, there's no denying that the changes at TIFF have, over the years, weakened the festival in certain crucial ways.

The book Dekalog 3, edited by Richard Porton, is a valuable recent collection that takes film festivals as its subject. One of the pieces is a terrific conversation between James Quandt and veteran film curator and festival director Simon Field, who observes:

...Toronto, whether it likes it or not, has got caught up in marketing procedures, particularly of Hollywood but also of the independent American cinema machine. Some of the auteurist emphases of the older festival have begun to get lost [...] In the time I've been coming, it has become a much bigger machine, emphasizing more and more its premieres. It's become much more self-conscious about being one of the most important festivals in the world; it's more preoccupied with its own rhetoric, celebrating its rhetoric. [...]

In the Netherlands, there's what they call the 'sandwich process', how you use bigger films to get audiences to support your festival and its smaller -- but equally important -- films. [...] In Toronto it has begun to affect the tone of the festival and one of its roles, a role of which much is made here, to educate and inform, and the problem is how to maintain that balance when, for instance, all films are described as fabulous, and when some parts of the festival disappear beneath an overcrowded program. The noise of the 'upper' part of the festival [the more commercial part] drowns out other areas. When you get the feeling that rhetoric, and the marketers have taken over, you begin to be concerned that the marginal films aren't at the centre of anyone's interest.

Toronto's moving away from showing non-contemporary cinema and its reluctance to invest in bodies of work -- instead featuring strings of individual films -- are blatantly market-oriented moves. They bank on novelty, but also, they look to diversify financial risk, distributing it among a slate of disparate single films rather than showing groups of films, like an entire Kiyoshi Kurosawa retrospective or a Turkish cinema sidebar, both programs I enjoyed there several years ago, when the festival operated under a somewhat different economic model.

For me personally, a good film festival -- let alone one with a great, global reputation like Toronto -- should do much more than simply show a bunch of new films. A good film festival should also be an event that enriches film culture in substantive and imaginative ways, and provides educational opportunities for the public to deepen their appreciation of this prodigiously diverse and rich medium. In his remarks to Quandt, Simon Field adds:

Should festivals have a stronger educational role? If you have a Resnais, a Michael Mann, a Costa or Diaz, and you're showing a plurality of cinema, how are you backing that up with ways to help people understand it? When I did the Ernie Gehr focus at Rotterdam, he started off doing the standard American-style Q&A -- waiting for questions, and then he realized that a lot of people in the audience didn't have a clue about how to approach his films. I don't know what the answer to that is. There's a danger with a very plural festival that you'll never help people engage with that kind of cinema because you're too busy showing films [...] you also need to help people understand the films. That's becoming more difficult because there's just this mass of stuff.

So, if you were to design your dream film festival, what might it look like? Mine would include films old and new, packaged into stimulating, often counter-intuitive programs; panels, lectures and workshops featuring critics, scholars and filmmakers; and a keen curiosity about film and film culture from all eras and countries. True, that sounds utopian, but I also believe that it's not essential that all film festivals in the world follow the same economic model and be driven by the same objectives.

I'm curious to hear from you: How do you think film festivals are changing? Are there good models for film festivals out there, models that don't simply and unimaginatively enslave themselves to capitalist imperatives? Are there festivals with significant critical influence (like, for a period, the Buenos Aires festival under Quintin's leadership) that care not just about showing individual films but also about film culture, film discourse and education? Any other thoughts on the film festivals of yesterday and today? I'd love to hear them.


Blogger David said...

What do the Australians think?

August 29, 2010 10:26 PM  
Blogger girish said...

An excellent question, David!

August 29, 2010 10:28 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

The "dream film festival" is a favorite subject of Gabriel Klinger, who'll hopefully appear in this comments thread at some point (he's got a lot of very good and well-thought-out opinions on this matter, a sort of personal pet project he's had as long as I've known him).

Me, personally -- I wish more festival commissioned original works, a gesture that always reminds people that it's a "film festival" (that is, a festival of cinema) rather than "a festival of films." I know that cost is an issue, but I'm more often than not impressed by the three shorts the Jeonju IFF commissions every year (those are budgeted at about $40,000 each, from what I understand, though I'm sure it could be done for less, especially if film fests commissioned young / rising directors, who could easily get a short done -- or maybe even a small feature -- on under 10 grand US).

August 29, 2010 10:41 PM  
Blogger Author: Christopher Bourne said...

Great, thought-provoking post. But I would argue that the "dream festival" you write about is not utopian, and is exactly what happens each year at the Pusan and Jeonju fests in Korea. I haven't yet been to Jeonju, but I can vouch for Pusan's commitment to not only nurturing new filmmakers but presenting older films in illuminating ways and contributing to understanding of film history. Pusan's Korean Cinema Retrospectives are always a great place for discoveries and re-discoveries, and in the past two years Pusan has featured Taviani Brothers and Dario Argento retrospectives. Jeonju this year featured a Pedro Costa retro. Both Pusan and Jeonju also invite filmmakers each year to conduct master classes.

Pusan and Jeonju don't get nearly the attention and coverage that Toronto and other fests get, but they are richly rewarding to those willing to make the time/travel investment.

August 29, 2010 11:34 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I keep on having hope, but the Denver International Film Festival usually disappoints and frustrates me. What is also disturbing is to know that this fest is over thirty years old, older than Toronto.

There is something of a niche here with a greater emphasis on documentaries, but too many of the films are those that already have theatrical distribution. The audience is also not the most adventurous regarding foreign films so that something like Everybody's Fine, which probably should not have been booked, had two sold out shows. Plus, I hate the Starz Theater. It might be me who's wrong here, but I feel like the DIFF is mostly satisfied with its overwhelming mediocrity. There are others who disagree. I am hoping there's good stuff to cover, assuming that I will get accredited again this year. I am aware that there are financial considerations that have hampered the festival. But every year I look at the lineup and feel disappointment.

Were finances not an issue, my idea of an ideal film festival would be to go to Udine's Far East Film Festival. Maybe Shinsedai might be a more realist possibility.

August 30, 2010 1:12 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Heilman said...

TIFF '10 will be my 9th time at the festival, which is long enough for me to have observed the very real changes that you describe, but I think the issues are a bit more complicated and less nefarious than your post (and Field’s comments) suggests. We must remember, after all, that TIFF is as interested in serving press and industry as the viewing public. While the festival's increasing emphasis on premieres has almost certainly come at the expense of the retrospectives (both Canadian and auteur-oriented) and local premieres of films from other festivals, it has also certainly helped to raise the festival's profile as well during a crucial decade of fundraising. As much as cinephiles of our sort might be unimpressed by the start of Oscar seasons or news of films selling while at TIFF, such things absolutely matter in strengthening the brand of the festival overall, which naturally leads to bigger premieres, better sponsorships, more donations, and more corporate underwriting.

Besides, I think this issue of programming choices certainly becomes mitigated when one considers the festival’s significant accomplishment of completing construction of the Lightbox, which will allow it to do more of the sort of programming that you miss at TIFF, year-round. While that isn’t especially helpful for those of us who don’t live in Toronto, it becomes much harder to argue with the TIFF group’s film choices if you take a holistic view of their operations. Certainly the crowd-baiting 100-best retrospective that they have cooked up is not going to stifle gripes from the most ardent cinephiles, but other events, such as the week-long booking of Uncle Boonmee… immediately after the festival, are tough to argue with on artistic/populist grounds.

I’m not exactly sure that TIFF failing to program retrospective screenings during the festival is a failing. As others have pointed out, there are other festivals that focus on retrospective screenings, although they do so at the expense of press coverage. Perhaps one day TIFF can develop a program as exciting and self-sufficient as the Cannes Classics sidebar, but it’s difficult to suggest that the folks who run the festival are altogether insensitive to auteur or classic cinema when one considers their year-round programming.

As far as other festivals go, of course there’s an element of symbiosis between mainstream cinema’s marketing efforts and their programming… To suggest that this is somehow at the expense of art films seems misguided though. Were it not for the network of festivals that exist (and that naturally benefit from the exposure that mainstream, advertising-supported films bring), many films that we value simply would not be made. Over the last two decades, the film festival has become a market unto itself, as Jose Luis Guerin's new doc will likely demonstrate. When state funded agencies can’t count on a return on investment for challenging works, being able to point toward a successful festival run absolutely becomes a justification for financing.

August 30, 2010 1:21 AM  
Anonymous Will S said...


I could be wrong, but I think your notion of "strengthening the brand of the festival overall" is pretty much exactly what Girish meant by "capitalist imperatives".

August 30, 2010 1:47 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Film festivals are not cinematheques nor, in this time and age, should they be expected to be. I don't agree with your thesis that TIFF no longer presents national cinemas. Their City to City program has a fine selection of vintage and contemporary Turkish films. And Diana Sanchez does a marvelous job of bringing Latin American films to the festival. As with any festival of this size, you need to cherrypick your schedule and I feel TIFF provides plenty to choose from. If Masters has shrunk, perhaps it's not so much the fault of the festival as a decline in auteurist perspective, which has been way overdone anyways. I much prefer Discovery and Vanguard and films that should be understood for what they are and not reduced to the current hate word "contemporary."

Film Festival Studies is a great new field and has a different focus than Film Studies. It's clearly more in league with Cultural Studies. The volumes on the nature of the beast are now becoming more and more common and welcome. I find film festival studies much more interesting than film studies, precisely because it raises the questions you circle. What are festivals for? What makes them different? What makes them work. How many constituencies can they address and satisfy. How do they hold all those opposing tensions together.

August 30, 2010 2:48 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

In gist, your entry is reminding me of that Joni Mitchell lyric: "You read those books where luxury comes as a guest to take a slave. Books where artists in noble poverty go like virgins to the grave."

The spectacular dimension of a film festival--what you're capsizing into corporate imperatives--serves many more purposes than simply financing a festival. Granted, I'm the last person interested in red carpet (and, as Rupert Everett puts it, other banana skins), but I'm well aware that all the glitz is what pays the way for me to interview some young director from the Global South or even a master like Bela Tarr.

Perhaps one of the most enticing films on TIFF's line-up this year will be Guerin's GUEST, whereby we'll be shown a firsthand account of a directorial experience of film festivals around the world.

August 30, 2010 3:22 AM  
Blogger Ehsan Khoshbakht said...

a little bit of my festival experience:

August 30, 2010 3:24 AM  
Blogger David Lowery said...

I approach this discussion from the perspective of having visited a wide swathe of North American film festivals over the past few years, as a visiting filmmaker. Excepting the various regional charms that differentiate one event from the next, they all share a large degree of interchangeability. The same films, the same press and so on and so forth. Which is wonderful in that it's afforded me the chance to present my work to the majority of the country. But there's a myopia to it too - one countered by my emergence into the international festival scene, where - as Christopher noted in regards to Pusan - there's a sense of focused breadth to the programming that is both refreshing and thrilling. At the Thessaloniki Film Festival in Greece, for example, there was a tremendous Herzog retrospective (complete with a masterclass from Herzog himself) and a wonderful program of current Phillipino cinema, among others. And the best part, perhaps, was the turnout: audiences were sitting in the aisles at everything, old and new, long or short, from every part of the globe. No differentiation - everyone was hungry for cinema, pure and simple. Compare that to your average US festival from the same time last year, where my film was (more then once) pitted against a local premiere of 'Up In The Air.' I can't blame programmers one bit, especially at the smaller fests - it's all they can do to keep these events running these days, and those mainstream galas sell out and get the advertising/investor dollars coming in. But there's definitely a contrast when you switch continents...

August 30, 2010 3:24 AM  
Anonymous logboy said...

only been into films 10 years, never been to a festival. I don't lack (eventual) access to films or knowledge of them, I lack industry connections and early access to films; festivals are seemingly for a few locals & folk whose costs to attend are covered. the sandwiching effect - easy sells to promote difficult sells - has tainted even the supposed difficult films to the point that nothing seems to challenge or attract in an age when DVD has bypassed the need for growth festivals traditionally provide, & yet they continue to try & appeal to the more casual audiences that can now easily access what was once far more inaccessible.

August 30, 2010 6:31 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


While its true that DVDs (and, maybe even more importantly, torrents) have made a lot of previously inaccessible things within the reach of cinephiles, it's still a bit of a specialty and there are still many things that'll never find their way to a video transfer. As you admit you've never been to a festival, I'd say that what you're missing above all is "the festival atmosphere" -- its immediacy, and the way ideas can form and spread amongst a group of filmgoers. And the "locals & folk whose costs are covered" make up a small percentage of festival-goers: maybe 15 people in any given 200-person audience (usually less); I say this from experience as a person who has been to festivals as an average movie-goer, as someone who's been there as an accredited critic and as someone who's worked for a festival and had to deal with its audience. In general, I think the average person is more likely to take a chance at a movie theater than they are when renting a DVD or downloading something; most festival-goers don't come with marked up catalogs -- they come in at random, having read in the paper that the festival is going on or seen an ad and pick whatever film sounds interesting or whatever is starting. I go to movie theater several times a week, but I still watch more movies at home than in public. Still, I'd recommend giving a festival a try, even if only for a film or two. Might I ask where you live?

August 30, 2010 6:43 AM  
Blogger Gabe Klinger said...

Now that I've been built-up by Ignatiy, I should try to say something smart! :)

Important subject! (for me, anyway...)

Some open thoughts or notes...

The best film festivals in the world are, of course, not market-driven festivals but usually state-subsidized events run by smart cinephiles who are also writers, teachers, film scholars, restorers and preservationists, etc.

Unfortunately,most programmers I've met are bright enough but are not scholars and have no idea about film history. This runs the gamut from big festivals like Sundance -- whose programmers may be industry savvy but don't have a cinephilic bone in their bodies (save for one, who won't be named and who I think doesn't even work there anymore) -- to small regional festivals that only last a weekend.

Ticket revenues and "industry" presence are not measures of the success of a good festival. The ONLY measure of success, to my mind, is the concentration of interesting people (define that however you want) that a festival is able to unite in its screening spaces for the period of the event...

Programming is important but won't matter if no one shows up. Programmers need to be smart in their presentation and inspire their friends and colleagues to spread the word. Word of mouth is the only way to get folks to come. Rarely do big names in film, journalism, academia, etc. accept festival invitations just from glancing at a piece of paper.

Bad festivals: Tribeca, Rome. They're artificial projects born out of suspicious, bordering on nefarious interests. A tagline for both festivals might read: "When you don't have any friends, buy 'em!"

TIFF is not nefarious. It's just a big machine with some poisonous people working inside.

Any good festival has a component for old films. Retrospectives, etc. A bad festival thinks old films are a waste of time.

Often programmers think their work is to show what is most representative in the current cinema. There is a deception here, because the most representative, dominating, proliferating quality of most contemporary film is mediocrity. Celebrating these tendencies (bad stories, lazy construction, ineffective visuals, or glitzy, of-the-moment trends that fade out fast) don't get us anywhere. Good films are programmed, in most cases, for their strangeness. Does Apichatpong Weerasethakul represent what is currently *going on in cinema* (such a lofty statement!) or is he simply making very good work unlike anyone else? I believe the latter.

August 30, 2010 10:53 AM  
Blogger Gabe Klinger said...

I attended Toronto for five years until I couldn't take it. The Hollywood and industry presence was suffocating. Granted, this was before a section like Wavelengths really took shape. (Those who have been in charge of the section, Andrea, who Girish cites, and her predecessor, Susan Oxtoby, are two best curators that festival has ever seen, without exception.)

Contrary to what Jeremy says, no producer counts on a good festival run as a rationale for financing a film. That micro-economy exists, but is on a much smaller scale than, say, 80% of what TIFF offers. The films that get into TIFF are originating, by and large, from the catalogues of sales agents whose only imperative is to PUSH PUSH PUSH programmers at "A" festivals into showing their products so buyers can see them.

I won't battle people who still want to defend TIFF, but it's not a film festival, and its reputation is almost definitively as a "market". The public side of TIFF may be defended, too, and is certainly a lot of fun. There's no question about that. But the audience participation at TIFF has been configured as an industry think tank. The response of the public based on attendance, walkouts, visible or audible reactions, etc, help buyers to decide if the film will be worthy for acquisition. Why do you think TIFF is so successful in industry terms? It's *because* of the public factor, not in spite of it... The industry already factors in the audience response in the way they will package their products.

Girish asks: "Are there festivals with significant critical influence (like, for a period, the Buenos Aires festival under Quintin's leadership) that care not just about showing individual films but also about film culture, film discourse and education?"

Without commentary, here are some festivals / programmers (surely forgetting some) who correspond to the above:

FIDMarseille / Jean-Pierre Rehm
Rotterdam / Gertjan Zuilhof and Gerwin Tamsma
Viennale / Hans Hurch
JeonJu / Yoo Un-Seong, others
CIP PIX (Copenhagen) / Thure Monkholm
Il Cinema Ritrovato (Bologna) / Peter von Bagh, Gian Luca Farinelli
BAFICI (Buenos Aires) / Sergio Wolf, Violeta Bava, Leandro Listorti
Onion City Experimental (Chicago) / Patrick Friel
Media City (Windsor, ON) / Jeremy Rigsby
Vancouver / Mark Peranson, Tony Rayns, Shelly Kraicer
I Mille Occhi / Olaf Moller, Sergio Grmek Germani
Kino Otok (Isola) / Vlado Skafar, others
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (Pordenone) / David Robinson, others
Thessaloniki INt'l/ Vassily Bourikas
Melbourne Int'l / Michelle Carey
Punto de vista (Pamplona) / Josetxo Cerdan and Gonzalo de Pedro
Midnight Sun Film Festival (Sodankylä) / Peter von Bagh
Gijón Film Festival / Jose Luis Ciengfuegos, Fran Gayo
Flaherty film seminar / many curators over the years
Doc's Kingdom (Serpa) / Ricardo Matos Cabo, Jose Manuel Costa


Perhaps some can add to the list!

August 30, 2010 10:54 AM  
Blogger Gabe Klinger said...

Ignatity: It may interest you to know that the Jeonju digital shorts initiative is under risk of extinction. The festival higher-ups are not happy with some of selected projects. There's also the problem of *showing* where the money went: they want films with production values that justify the price tag. James Benning, to them, is not that. A couple of the directors really just took the money and ran... (something that always leaves the bureaucrats in a fit)... Best thing we can do is campaign hard for these films wherever and however we can... Too many good ones and more to come!

August 30, 2010 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Michael said...

What Gabe said.

Since some of the responses in defense of TIFF (especially from Mr. Bailey) seem to indicate that Girish's charges and those of others are too reliant on generalities, I thought it might be helpful to introduce at least one specific point of contention. This is no secret; my upcoming piece in Cargo will level this very charge.

TIFF's choices of German cinema are embarrassing. They demonstrate either (a) a complete ignorance of what has been vital and important in that national cinema for the last decade; or, more likely (b) a craven capitulation to the basest notions of North American commercial tastes and status quo corporatism.

The fact that this year's lineup includes the latest from Chris Kraus but excludes brilliant new work by Thomas Arslan and Christoph Hochhausler shows either a criminal lapse in taste, or a pandering to perceived Weinstein/SPC checkbook mentality.

August 30, 2010 11:51 AM  
Blogger Gabe Klinger said...

What Michael said. TIFF's Brazilian choices, to pick a national cinema near and dear to me, are equally embarrassing. Their spotlight from a few years encompassed none of the great filmmakers working today.

August 30, 2010 11:55 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

No argument with Susan Oxtoby's considerable programming skills. Even James Quandt admitted that the Bay Area has benefited from wooing her away from Toronto to program for Berkeley's PFA. Through her and the cinematheque my hunger for spotlights on national cinemas and directorial retrospectives is met. Undoubtedly, this is what allows me to be more tolerant of a market-driven festival like Toronto, which I attend precisely because it's market-driven and determines much of the bumper crop to open theatrically in the coming year.

It makes me sad to consider this is going to devolve into a bash-TIFF conversation. Everything has to change. Even this site has changed from what it once was, for better or worse. Gabe's listing of festivals that cater to the specific needs of so-called "cinephiles" and academics is perhaps the best proactive comment. There's always choice. No one's holding a gun to your heads to attend a festival that's gone past your memories.

Why I like TIFF as a market-driven film festival is because it's the only North American festival that I'm able to attend that doesn't cripple me as a journalist through hold reviews, a market-driven strategy that has unnerved me over the years. I've never suffered for their programming. I've always found much to admire. But I can understand that if a person's attending TIFF for specific hungers--again, directorial retrospectives and spotlights on national cinema--TIFF might have evolved past that. Every festival changes. They have to. It's the organic nature of these beasts.

But even though I'm concerned by proprietary academic concerns and exclusionary classifications of what belongs or doesn't belong, of what things should be or shouldn't be, I'll be the first to attend a festival where Gabe programs the Brazilian sidebar. I'd like to know what I'm missing.

August 30, 2010 12:41 PM  
Anonymous Neil Young said...

for a while now my view has been that film festivals should do two things -- and while some events do one or the other, the best are able to do both simultaneously.

1) Culturally enrich the city/town/village in which the festival takes place -- by ensuring that those who live there or nearby have access to the best that the art form can offer at any one time, in the same way that the residents of a major city (for example) will expect to have access to a high standard of theatre, literature, art, etc.
Even in some very large cities the range of cinema on offer is pitifully restricted (I'm off to Genoa tomorrow, and apparently the only cinemas left are multiplexes showing the latest releases, mainly Hollywood fare that I can see right here in Sunderland, UK.)
And while general standards of what we might call "cultural literacy" are depressingly low in many places, many nations seem to have a low view of cinema in relation to older, more "respectable" art forms.
Film festivals can and should assert cinema's right to be taken seriously, that its practitioners deserve as much respect as playwrights, authors, choreographers, composers etc.
And they should also keep true to the idea that cinema is a living medium which should and must be seen on a big screen with an audience, preferably in the format which the filmmakers originally chose (including 35mm!)

And that leads into (2) Sustain, promote and extend the culture of film, enabling debate and comparison, both across international boundaries (in terms of current film-making production) and also across time boundaries (putting films in their historical context across the continuum that is the century-plus of cinema.)
A bit like (1), (2) also involves Gabe's great principle that festivals should be about bringing interested, interesting people together, making "real world" connections above and beyond the social-networking frameworks which are becoming increasingly inescapable.
The best festivals are those where the programming allows most of the attendees (public, press, industry AND filmmakers) to see many of the same films (very difficult at a mega-fest like Toronto, Berlin, Cannes, etc), and also gives them the space - and, crucially, the time - to meet up and discuss the films (and much else besides) in congenial surroundings.

August 30, 2010 3:51 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all, for your wonderful responses. This is truly a scintillating conversation and I feel fortunate to be part of it!

First, let me link to two things:

-- TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey's questions about my assessment of TIFF, posted at his Twitter page; and

-- Maya aka Michael Guillen's chastising blog post about this post of mine.

I shall try to respond to both below.

August 30, 2010 9:14 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Cameron Bailey poses 4 questions for me. I'll respond to them one by one:

(1) "Girish's blog bemoans lack of retrospective programming & suggests a Turkish sidebar. How about City to City: Istanbul?"

I'm glad for the Istanbul series, even if the vast majority of the films are drawn from a very recent and small window of time.

However, I would argue that when TIFF was serious about doing retrospectives a decade or more ago, the retros were more ambitious, often attempting to capture the flavor of an entire national cinema. For example: their series on Iranian cinema or Hungarian cinema (two strong cinemas captured -- nay forecasted -- at their peak by TIFF). "City to City" simply doesn't appear to be in that league (although I would love to be proved wrong).

(2) "Girish's blog bemoans shrinkage of Masters program. 10 years ago Masters had 13 films. This year Masters has 13 films."

Good point! I was misremembering here -- most likely because the Galas and Special Presentations were so much greater in number this year that when I looked at the program, the Masters program seemed markedly diminished in relative size.

(3) "Girish's blog rightly celebrates Wavelengths program. What about Visions, Vanguard, Future Projections, Contemporary World Cinema?"

The case of Wavelengths is sharply different from Visions or Vanguard. Avant-garde programs did not exist at TIFF before Susan Oxtoby founded the Wavelengths program. But films such as are presently showing in Visions and Vanguard were already showing at TIFF, only classified differently, most often as Contemporary World Cinema. Future Projections is a wonderful idea; I'm looking forward to it this year.

(4) "Last Q on Girish's blog post: can you enjoy #TIFF10 without seeing any Galas or SPs? You'd only have 220+ films to choose from."

Indeed there would be! But let's face it: a single year does not (in my view) produce 200+ terrific films! The real number of those is usually far less. Only a super-lenient, hardly discriminating critic/cinephile would celebrate all these films as good, strong films. In reality, the number of such films is much below 220. Here let's recall James Quandt, quoted in this recent article on contemporary cinema by Chris Fujiwara that I linked to in my last post: "“Any given year turns up ten, maybe twenty good-to-great films, if we’re lucky.”

Another reason for a festival to raid that almost limitless storehouse of good cinema: the history of film.

More to follow, below...

August 30, 2010 9:46 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Maya, I'm going to simply ignore that personal dig about the deterioration of this website! Do we have to lose our civility when get together to dialogue here? I don't think so.

More importantly, let me begin by saying: The purpose of this post is not TIFF-bashing!

TIFF is my first love among film festivals, and almost the ONLY film festival I attend. I've been to Rotterdam and Montreal but they were one-offs: in contrast, I'm fiercely loyal to TIFF in my attendance. I love going to TIFF. And when we really love something, our deepest impulse is to care deeply about it, to hold it to the highest standard, to wish and work for it to be the very best that it can be! (Yes, I realize that MY "best" festival may not be the same as someone else's "best" festival.)

Which brings me to the question I raised in my post: What would an excellent festival look like? I like how Neil answered this question above; here's my take:

An excellent festival would not only show new films, but would take seriously the mission of education, of elevating and disseminating discourse about cinema, of cultivating audiences that are not just ticket buyers at today's screening, but audiences that will learn to appreciate and yearn for good cinema for the rest of their days!

In order to do this, it is enormously effective, even necessary, to show not just new films but also older ones, discerningly chosen, so that individual films are put in conversation with each other across space and time as part of imaginative programs. (Neil made this point far more eloquently than I am doing here.)

Further, Maya, you misunderstand: My post has nothing to do with nostalgia! My objective is the very opposite: to help envision the future of film festivals, sketch possibilities for what the best and strongest among them will look like, what we would want them to look like. But sometimes, to do this, we must reach into the past and selectively extract films and ideas that we can deploy in the future. It is important not to be a film-cultural amnesiac; we must bring what is valuable from the past into the future, to enrich and energize it. We can't accomplish education and cultivation if we live and think in a perpetual present.

Let me end by saying that more than the personal, the reasons for my post are political. I'm speaking out in order to correct what I perceive as film-cultural injustices, in order to raise my voice to try to (in however small a way) help further the cause of film education, understanding and appreciation. And film festivals, in my view, are wonderful venues to do this.

It is indisputable that TIFF, over the years, has become increasingly concerned with prestige, with branding itself, with growing as a corporate entity, with enhancing its reputation and revenue. (Jeremy summarizes this well above.) While I fully understand that all festivals are organizations that need to be managed well, this hunger for prestige, brand and revenue by no means guarantees that TIFF is doing the best for film culture, for film education, film discourse, and serious film connoisseurship. In fact, many of TIFF's recent decisions seem to militate against these aims.

In summary: I'm ardently looking forward to TIFF, BOTH to enjoy it deeply AND to examine it closely so that I can critique it and try to raise a voice to help make it better! And I do this because of my deep investment in TIFF and in cinema.

August 30, 2010 10:41 PM  
Blogger Sachin said...

Girish, like Neil, you make an excellent point about the educational aspect of a film festival. For the longest time, I felt that it was the role of a Cinematheque to provide this educational framework for audience, while I thought a film festival could merely show new or older films without having any discussions around the films. But not all cities have Cinematheques and in the case of Calgary, we have a new Cinematheque that is still finding its feet, so there is a gap in between our film festival and cinematheque's offerings, especially regards to retrospectives and regional spotlights. I no longer believe it is enough for a film festival just to show films but it has to do more in providing workshops/discussions/avenues for critical discourse about films to take place. Otherwise, you have a situation as noted by Simon Field that audience are not sure how to approach a film. I found that in a lot of cases, if some audience members don't understand what they see during a film festival, they are more likely not to return to see another festival film. Yet, if a person has a bad experience in a multiplex playing a commercial Hollywood film, they are still likely to return to the multiplex the following week. So a film festival has to work hard in creating this love of cinema in its audience and it cannot do what a multiplex does in just merely showing films one after another.

August 31, 2010 12:37 AM  
Anonymous Bobby Wise said...

There are more film festivals in the world than insects. It's just a question of how deep you want to dig to find something you like.

My most pleasant recent surprise this year was the Subversive Film Festival in Zagreb (Croatia). It was programmed by Sergio Grmek Germani. The festival booklets and publications were works of art in and of themselves. Those interested can check out the reports on my blog.

August 31, 2010 4:45 AM  
Blogger ZC said...

At The Evening Class post I commented with a little defense of Fujiwara & Girish both.

It's interesting though, as I was following a little bit of discussion on this on FB, and I wonder now if my own understanding of Fujiwara's article - which some were reading as saying that cinematic contemporaneity is available for all of us if we just reach out for it - were very differently inflected to my eyes, because of my own biases. I thought he was saying the cult of contemporaneity was (more or less) worth leaving behind, as it was a fantasy produced & perpetuated by a tiny substratum of interested parties ...

August 31, 2010 10:27 AM  
Blogger Ryan Krahn said...

So, what are you excited to see at TIFF this year, Girish?

August 31, 2010 11:13 AM  
Blogger Ryan Krahn said...

So, what are you excited to see at TIFF this year, Girish?

August 31, 2010 11:14 AM  
Blogger Marc Raymond said...

It's been mentioned above, but Jeonju film festival in Korea, while not perfect, is pretty close to a dream festival, or as close as we're likely to get. Busan is also very solid, and hopefully will avoid the TIFF syndrome. But Jeonju is quite unique; as Pedro Costa noted this year, nothing quite like it seems to exist anywhere else.

On the flip side, if you think TIFF has changed fast, the Chungmuro festival in Seoul, which started 3 years ago as almost exclusively a retrospective festival celebrating cinema history, has been turned into almost totally contemporary, with a dramatic drop in quality as a result.

August 31, 2010 12:06 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I don't have much to add to the conversation at this point, as I've never been to Toronto, or any of the cinephile-driven festivals named thus far. But I hope to have something to say about it in a few weeks, after I've attended TIFF for the first time. Hope we can meet up at some point during my trip, Girish! I do plan to be at some or all of the Wavelengths shows.

August 31, 2010 2:17 PM  
Blogger Gabe Klinger said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 31, 2010 6:24 PM  
Blogger Gabe Klinger said...

(Sorry, was making a minor correction to my last comment and accidentally deleted the whole thing. Here it is again:)

I think this anecdote is famous enough now that most of the people here know it, but it bares repeating since I think it sort of embodies the current spirit of Toronto. At a TIFF Inc. screening PROFIT MOTIVE AND THE WHISPERING WIND -- a militantly anti-capitalist film I take it most of us are familiar with--, a woman in the audience asked director John Gianvito: "What would you say are the commercial prospects for your film?" The worst part: she was dead serious.

OK, TIFF Inc. Stop pretending like you're a cinephile organization. There's a core of about 30-40 films which satisfy that contingent (not including individual shorts in the Wavelengths section). They are by the usual names: Oliveira, Godard, Weerasethakul, etc. Then a small crop of films championed at other festivals. Then there is an endless torrent of unsorted, pedestrian, brazenly commercial or derivative of the worst commercial cinema, suffocatingly dull, pretentious, maundering works which go to TIFF, one concludes, because there exist certain commercial imperatives to satisfy both sales companies and buyers of, as Michael says, the Sony Pictures Classics/Weinstein mentality. I have no problem with this. But don't create the lofty air that you are film festival people (programmers/curators/whatever) who defend a real cinema culture! Especially when nearly a third of your festival -- that's nearly a hundred films -- are being disseminated by the same handful of corporations (studios and their subsidiaries, Wild Bunch [9 films at TIFF this year!], Match Factory [8 films], Pyramide [7 films], etc.)

Fact: bad films are made all the time. Rich people and government-subsidized agencies finance these films. They also finance a few good films, maybe even one or two great films every year. But it's not enough to show only the good films. Movie companies and gov agencies have a fiscal responsibility to promote and try to sell even their sorriest specimens. What does a festival like Toronto do? It enables these duds to be exhibited and potentially sold in a giant market which they have carefully branded as a film festival. Most of them don't move a dime, but a small handful do enough business that it justifies this programming strategy to corporations invested in TIFF Inc.

But let's not call it TIFF Inc. Let's call it Ivan Reitman and the Daniels Corporation's BIG "LIGHTBOX" PROJECT. Journalists will no doubt generously feature the festival's super-yuppie new "Lightbox" in their stories about the event in magazines and newspapers around the world. Great news for Daniels Corporation stockholders, great news for the Reitman family's private finances, and even better news for all the people who buy million-dollar condominiums in the "Lightbox" tower above the cinema. There's no way their property will depreciate when George Clooney and Kate Winslet will routinely make appearances in this glamorous space once a year for TIFF!

TIFF visitors: ask for your free tour of the Morgan Freeman penthouse suite!

But enough TIFF-bashing. I meant for this post to be funny.

August 31, 2010 6:31 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

In his caution against "the calcification of taste", Chris Fujiwara writes in his review of Richard Porton's anthology On Film Festivals of "the human form of the contemporary festival: a realm where multiple tastes have license to coexist tamely, not challenging one another and not competing with one other. The festival is indeed that utopia on which the bright side of globalization constantly shines: a space where all the different kinds of films we love are shown—which confirms that all the different kinds still get made (or found, reprinted, and restored), which in turn proves that, in spite of the destructive strategies of Hollywood and the regime of stupefaction imposed by the mass media, we live in what, cinematically speaking, comes close enough to being the best of all possible worlds that any contestation is really so much impractical sour grapes: a world where everyone is doing what they are supposed to do: directors direct, appreciators appreciate, programmers program, sponsors sponsor, juries give prizes."

August 31, 2010 7:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Maya, I should point out: you misunderstand Fujiwara here. He is saying the very opposite of what you seem to infer. He is being bitingly ironic in this passage.

Let me quote again, this time with the preceding sentences included. He is deriding those viewers who see a wide swath of films but make few discriminations among them, praising, accepting or tolerating everything. He calls them the viewers who "need to be pitied most."

For him, they are the

"viewers whose prison-houses are relatively capacious: those who, deeming the Riccardo Freda retrospective and the Raya Martin premiere equally obligatory, and perhaps burdened by some professional or quasi-professional responsibility to see other films they aren't really interested in, attend many different sections of a festival.

These viewers are to be pitied most. For them the battle of taste has been called off, with everybody winning. They are the human form of the contemporary festival: a realm where multiple tastes have license to coexist tamely, not challenging one another and not competing with one other. The festival is indeed that utopia on which the bright side of globalization constantly shines: a space where all the different kinds of films we love are shown — which confirms that all the different kinds still get made (or found, reprinted, and restored), which in turn proves that, in spite of the destructive strategies of Hollywood and the regime of stupefaction imposed by the mass media, we live in what, cinematically speaking, comes close enough to being the best of all possible worlds that any contestation is really so much impractical sour grapes: a world where everyone is doing what they are supposed to do: directors direct, appreciators appreciate, programmers program, sponsors sponsor, juries give prizes."

August 31, 2010 7:27 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks once again to all for the great discussion that has flowered here.

Ryan, there are at least 15-20 films that I'm very excited about seeing at TIFF. I'll post the list of films on my schedule here on the blog as soon as I hear from Toronto. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed on the lottery!)

August 31, 2010 7:30 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Heh. Chris is going to have a grand time setting me straight, isn't he? We shall have to clarify all his ironies and switchbacks. Perhaps what comes out of that conversation will be surprising to all of us? Judging from our first volleys, I anticipate so. Surprisingly—or, perhaps, not so surprisingly when one is as poetic a writer as Chris—per Zach's comment above, I've received differing readings on his N+1 essay. So perhaps his prose is purposely polyvalent? With multiple intent?

He does seem to be clear however on some of the stakeholders invested in an international film festival like TIFF. "People who attend festivals break down into three groups: festival cosmopolites (including distributors, critics, and festival directors and programmers) who come to see films and to network (all the contributors to On Film Festivals, except Atom Egoyan, belong to this category); the local audience (which includes corporate sponsors and government bodies as well as the filmgoing public); and those (filmmakers, film companies, sales agents) who attend out of a professional interest in a single film or event or a small block of them.

"If the gulfs that separate these groups tend to stay unbridged, within the cosmopolite contingent there is another divide just as deep, based on taste. On one side are ranged those happy few who are interested in the most 'difficult' cinephilic fare (which may include popular films of the past shown in retrospectives); on the other side, everyone else. This taste divide is never more apparent than at the closing ceremonies of certain competitive festivals that stack their juries with cinephiles: the grand prize and the audience prize almost always go to different films."

And though you're probably right that he's saying a lack of discernment undermines the battle of taste, let's not forget he's also wagging a finger at the calcified tastes of cinephiles as well all too eager to engage in constant battle.

August 31, 2010 8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tiff is many things, the least of which is a film festival. Mostly, it is a real estate empire masquerading as a cultural event. Because of the nature of the "journalism" around Tiff, no one has ever taken a close look at its board of directors: who sits on it and why.

And it is worth noting that this real estate empire is largely publicly funded, not only through direct, massive, cash government grants, but because long ago the festival, when it had some pretence to being a cultural event, obtained a tax-exempt "charity" status. Right.

And so the city's and country's residents see their meagre allotted "cultural dollars" funnelled into one giant, monopolistic, cut-throat, beholden-to-Hollywood swindle. These guys would make Rockefeller and Morgan (whose first name, appropriately enough, was PIERpont) green with envy.

August 31, 2010 9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take, for example, the sums of money involved and what they go to. Most of it comes from governments. There are what, 300 films, roughly speaking? I forget the festival's annual budget, and it grows by leaps and bounds each year, but it's at least $3 million. That's $10,000 per film, if I'm not mistaken.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not a redneck philistine complaining about arts spending - although this sort of boodoggle might understandably breed such attitudes. The question is this: are all (most?) of these films worth spending $10,000 of public money to launch on their producers' and distributors' behalf? Most of them are blatantly commercial and cost hundreds of times that amount to make and market. Why should Canadian tax dollars fund their launch, in many cases a couple of days before their commercial release? - and the second, crucial part of this question, is: rather than spending the money on real culture and truly worthwhile cultural events?

August 31, 2010 10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tiff reports that its annual budget is $30 million, not $3 million. Silly me! That's $100,000 to show each film once or twice before it opens at the multiplex next door the following week.

August 31, 2010 10:18 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


Yeah, even just 10K would seem outlandish -- if it was just for the films. But it isn't. People, bills, airfare, hotel stays, etc. have to be paid. I'm sure $30 million is closer to it (though it still sounds like too much -- my guess would be $15 million), because you can't run a festival of that size on $3 million.

August 31, 2010 10:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we're agreed, but I'm not sure, so just to be sure: that's the point, it's not just for the films, in fact none of this money does anything productive, like go to making another film, or even paying marketing costs for art films. It's because the hype machine is so expensive that it costs, when all is said and done, $100,000 to show a film in the festival. Pretty staggering. And none of the zillions of "journalists" who "cover" the festival talks about any of this.

August 31, 2010 11:03 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

(And it appears I'm right: not sure where you got the $30 million figure -- that appears to be the amount the festival generates in tourism revenues every year -- but the TIFF group operates on CAD 17 million, equivalent to a little over my guess, US$15 million).

August 31, 2010 11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talk about "society of the spectacle"!

August 31, 2010 11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read a Tiff press release on line saying that as of this fall their operating budget is $30 million p.a.

August 31, 2010 11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also wanted to say, on a different topic, based on my quick read, perhaps too quick, of a few comments reproduced here by Chris Fujiwara on undiscriminating audiences, that I find this attitude rather facile, snobbish and elitist. The tone seemed to be one of "the poor saps! They don't know what I know!" Apart from the sheer stupidity of lining up to see a film that is opening commercially in a week or two, and the Hollywood crap Tiff shows (the two are usually the same thing), I don't think any of us can judge what other people see at a festival. Sure, looking at their tickets before they used any of them would be like looking in some people's supermarket carts, full of candy and cookies and no green vegetables, and we all want both of these situations to change, but a truly interesting festival, which Tiff never was because it has always been heavily "programmed" by its appointed arbiters of taste, is one where you can walk in and see a film not knowing what to expect and get something out of it. That's the "true" festival experience, not making lists of art-film (or hack) directors you must catch. I like to go to festivals - they're a dying breed, let me tell you - where you can practise this sort of viewing. I've never thought much of the cognescenti enforcing their good taste by force of argument. Film festivals are big, sprawling, heretogeneous events with different people getting different things out of them. They're being transformed into rule-governed rituals where one has to keep score and keep up with the taste arbiters' opinions. Fooey. By all means, get the commercial Hollywood crap out of Tiff, but please don't look down your nose at my other choices. I may be applying a different set of criteria than the flavour du jour in the art magazines. Thank you.

August 31, 2010 11:19 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


Sorry, wrote my comment without seeing yours, so I'll respond here. It's unusual to find myself here defending the commercial machine of film festivals -- but the fact is, like films themselves, film festivals cost money, and there's no way around it.

A little known secret about festivals is that they usually pay more money to screen "art films" than mainstream films, since art films usually charge screening fees (which can be up to $1000 per screening) to cover their budgets, and studios tend to think of screenings as free advertising (however, they do expect a better venue and better hotels).

Similarly, festivals cover lots of other minute fees for smaller productions, like print shipping and renting screening facilities for press and jury screenings, which studios or large budgeted indies cover themselves (and minute is very general here -- each of these things can costs thousands of dollars on its own per film). Like it or not, without the festival system, most of these films could never afford to show their films publicly. Screening one film involves a lot of people: someone program it, someone to coordinate the travel of the filmmaker, someone to oversee its shipping and customs clearance, someone to deal with the press, someone to project it, someone to run the Q&A, someone to sell the tickets, someone to watch the door. It all adds up pretty quickly, and that's not counting facility rentals and union rates.

And let me add, anon, that even at a major festival like TIFF, a large percentage of films will never open commercially. Film Socialism isn't exactly coming to your local multiplex last week, and that's about a million times more commercially viable than anything in Wavelengths.

August 31, 2010 11:26 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

(that should say "coming to your local multiplex next week")

August 31, 2010 11:33 PM  
Blogger Gabe Klinger said...

Ignatiy -- TIFF doesn't pay a single screening fee to anyone. In fact, it's their policy not to. This is just ridiculous. The smaller films at TIFF -- the minority -- get the same treatment as the big studio films: no screening fee, no percentage of box-office, zilch. Ron Mann and other Canadian filmmakers have come out against this policy.

August 31, 2010 11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know that Tiff propaganda has done its job well when otherwise extremely intelligent people say things like "there's no way around it" (is "it" the $30-million budget? or is "it" the Hollywood star parade? the swag?) and (I parapharse here) "otherwise these films [the arty ones] would never be seen."

There are all kinds of alternatives. Heck, you can promote a lot of good culture to a lot of people for $30 million. You don't think it can be done any other way than the way Tiff is doing it?

There's an interesting fellow up in these parts, his name is Roland Smith, he's in his 60s and has been running commercial repertory cinemas all his life (currently, the Cinema du Parc in Montreal). He says we should take all that government money and bring in films - yes, with paid programmers, and transportation costs, and publicity, but it sure wouldn't be $30 million - and tour good prints around to smaller cities - after all, if you don't live in Toronto, if you can't take your annual vacation there watching movies, and you aren't a part of the festival-circuit crowd, you're outta luck (not to mention how many fims the average working stiff in Toronto can actually see in a week). Longer runs, more education, more exposure, publications, year-round events, for a fraction of the cost. Who cares if it's a world premiere! You could even wait a year and bring films in after they've made the rounds of the festivals. Bring in filmmakers to actually talk to audiences (good luck talking to a filmmaker at Tiff unless you've got a press pass, and even then . . .). Have them do a master class at the local college or university when they're in town. Paid, unlike a festival invitation. The possibilities are endless. Instead, we have the world's largest hype machine - and most successful, because I don't see anyone questioning the whys and wherefores of it all.

September 01, 2010 12:21 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


Gabe's comment about TIFF not paying screening fees casts this in a different light, but I should add that I have no special feelings for that festival; I've never even been to it, let alone read its press materials (unless David Hudson summaries of their line-up count!).

However, I did at one point work for a very large festival (though not one of TIFF's stature), and became aware of the costs involved in the process. I don't mean the bullshit extravagances. I mean the basic cost of getting stuff done.

Yes, it's possible to do it all for much less, but then it wouldn't be a film festival (this is not a bad thing). These alternative systems are all interesting, and I believe they could be viable, but it seems like in the last 50 years, neither film culture nor film commerce has been able to create anything else as sustainable as a festival. It's possible to do screenings very cheaply or even for free when one tailors the costs to the event, but in the case of a festival, for everything to run, there has to be a system in place that can take any sort of situation (or any sort of film). Creating and sustaining that sort of administration is extremely costly. Obviously you don't need to employ ten people at a screening just to show a film, but you do need to employ ten people at every screening to show 300 films.

I wish an alternative system existed, and I think there are people out there who could make it happen (Gabe, I'm looking at you). However, at this point there is, for example, no venue for experimental films that gives them as much exposure as the experimental sidebar at a commercial festival. To change this, a lot of work has to be done, and until someone does that work, I think the costs may have to be accepted.

September 01, 2010 12:37 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

To make a filmmaking analogy: you can make a great movie for under $10,000, but you can't make a even a terrible movie in Hollywood for under $10 million.

September 01, 2010 12:44 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

(Or: There is that famous Godard quote about how Hollywood and the underground work in the same building, the only difference is that the underground has to work in the basement and Hollywood has the nice view. I'll add to that by saying that in order for the underground to have a nice view, it will have to build its own building across the street.)

September 01, 2010 12:48 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Just posted: An interview with Chris Fujiwara by Michael Guillen at The Evening Class.

September 01, 2010 2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ignatiy, your comment about film festivals being the best and only proven way of bringing together work is interesting, because I'm not sure that's all they do. Tiff in particular is proud of its history of creating hits, beginning with Diva back in about 1981. Somewhere they list a bunch of titles of equal or even more dubious merit they lay claim to having launched. Since then their operations have become extremely sophisticated. It is no longer a matter of programmers simply reviewing submissions and making a selection. Particularly in more far-flung corners of the globe, where a talented young filmmaker is seen as needing help crafting a product that can make it into Tiff, their programmers and scouts now keep on top of projects from their inception, speaking to filmmakers before and during production, viewing rough cuts, suggesting and demanding changes, etc., all to fit their demographic.

We know how important their demographic is to their brand, because Hollywood, the motor behind Tiff and generally capable of sheperding its own projects, is quite open about the reasons for their massive support over the past decade or so, transforming Toronto from a festival no more remarkable than Chicago's, a "Festival of Festivals" (its former name, when it simply culled the best of Cannes and Berlin and rescreened it for a local audience), into THE top non-competitive festival on the planet and THE top film market on the planet. The reason is that the city of Toronto, the rest of the year, is the continent's third-largest film market and Hollywood producers have found that its residents uncannily respond during the festival in the exact manner the rest of the continent will respond during a commercial release. The festival also creates buzz for a few lucky films.

Probably running out of space. To be continued . . .

September 01, 2010 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, demographics. All us us are about demographics: the kind of clothes we wear, music we listen to, films we watch, etc. Hollywood's major demographic, as anyone over 35 laments, is the 14-25/30 year old group, interested in thrills and spills. Tiff's demographic is the 25-40 group - those fabled thirtysomethings, basically. And what, more than anything else, does this demographic go in for in its cultural choices?

Quirkiness. If your film is quirky, they'll eat it up. So if you're a young filmmaker in Taiwan or Turkey, no doubt with a bit of taste for the quirky yourself, and you dream of making a film that will show in Tiff, the single most important thing you can do is make it quirky. That's how it will catch a programmer's eye, and eventually an audience's and a distributor's. (It may sound glib, but cast your eye over Tiff's best films of the decade lists. For how many films how many could you say quirkiness is a major element of their "aesthetic"?)

In any event, the fact remains that Tiff does not just gather up films. It would be interesting to hear from someone who studies festivals, although this is one more topic I don't think anyone has shown an interest in, even in the "film festivals studies" field, but I suspect they do this far more than any other festival. Personally, I find the whole process pernicious. It just emphasises the whole marketing aspect of the festival, which has very successfully gauged its audience and is crafting a product to please, as well or better than Nike or the Rolling Stones ever did. And we're the market.

September 01, 2010 3:56 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...


Sorry for the long response time and this brief response. I'm in the midst of a move, but I've got a little time, so let me say that I didn't write that "showing films" was the only thing that TIFF (or any other festival), or that it was the best option -- merely the one that is currently the most viable. That viability probably owes a lot to certain other commercial forces which are invested in the festival apparatus.

September 02, 2010 12:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right that, whether viable or not, film festivals are tied up with the rest of the commercial apparatus around film today. In that respect, I suggest that Hollywood organize its own festival, in Hollywood, at its own expense, to launch its product. From a commercial perspective, it make sense to have a whole bunch of stars, creative talent, journalists, publicists, distributors, producers etc. in one place at one time. For the rest of us, I'm not so sure. And I am amazed that such events have come to be accepted by all as "cultural" or even "artistic" in nature and thus deserving of our sympathies and public monies.

To mention only one group amongst those listed above, journalists and associated bloggers and globe-trotting cinephiles, a major festival makes sense, because they can jet off for a week to an exotic locale see 40 films on a big screen in a week, and schmooze with their pals, and thus year round the rest of us hear about how great festivals are. The fact that there are a couple of hundred such people on the planet and that the rest of us are lucky to make it to one festival per year, with screenings sandwiched in between work and real life, isn't taken into consideration by those who write about film and festivals and praise their utility.

The underlying assumption of festivals and people's praise of them is that they concentrate work in one place at one time. I propose that our goal should be the opposite, to diffuse work across as much space and time as possible, to get it out to people beyond one week a year in a major city. Film festivals are an optical illusion: they look like a cornucopia of culture, but are actually a sign of its retrenchment and drying up. As Godard (who loathes film festivals) says, the world is a communicating vessel: an abundance in one place and time comes at the expense of a dearth elsewhere at other times.

September 02, 2010 11:04 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

In the guise of a public announcement, lest anyone visiting Toronto next week waste valuable time going to the wrong place, I hope Girish and his readers won't mind if I take this opportunity to inform you that downtown sales of What is Cinema? have now moved to the city's newest and most interesting bookstore, Of swallows, their deeds, and the winter below (whew!), on College St. downtown not far from festival events. And for those still labouring under the conception that the book costs $65, it is now priced at $50 CAD (about $47 USD), and stil can't be purchased anywhere but Canada. Many thanks. Back to you.

September 02, 2010 2:36 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Caboose, thanks, it's great to know of this new Toronto bookstore.

September 02, 2010 3:22 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Girish, in the past few months two more venerable Toronto bookstores have closed, This Ain't the Rosedale Library, in its most recent incarnation in the Kensignton market, and Atticus, near the University of Toronto, one of the finest, if not the finest, scholarly second-hand store on the continent (it has moved to on-line sales, but the browsing in that store will never be matched). Before that, as many of you know, was Pages. These three stores had close to 100 years of existence between them. The same is happening here in Montreal: about 8 good second-hand stores have closed in the past year or two. So it's nice to see some crazy people, almost as crazy as caboose, open up a store. Of swallows, etc., is a scholarly second-hand store, but it seems a perfect fit for caboose - they're really trying to get involved in the local community. I encourage everyone at the festival to take a break from the films for an hour and drop in and have a look - and buy a book, any book; it will cost less than dinner that night, last longer and give more pleasure. Their web site links to a raft of media coverage since they've opened; check it out. (their web address is their street address).

My word verification: craving.

September 02, 2010 5:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Caboose, didn't realize that "Rosedale" and Atticus, both bookstores I've enjoyed visiting, have closed. Such a shame. Of Swallows has me intrigued; I'll find/make time to go browsing there next week. (Aside: I'm sure someone, somewhere, is exploring the genre of "word verification poetry".)

September 02, 2010 5:23 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Girish & co., while you're in the neighbourhood of 'Of Swallows' (283 College, just west of Spadina), a couple of stores you may not have encountered before which you might want to visit: She Said Boom, used books and records, at 372 College, just west of the next major street, Bathurst. Art books, film books, literature. Affordable. Tends towards hipster/beatnick or general trade books. And further along College a bit, at 601, in the heart of Little Italy, Balfour Books - very interesting concept, a lot of very recently remaindered paperback academic titles and hardcover art books, lots of film, cultural studies, philosophy, photography, art theory and history. Of swallows, of course, is also right beside Kensington market, bursting with fall produce, and Chinatown. Despite all the gentrification - and attendant bookstore closings - it's still one of the most interesting 5 square blocks in North America, as I'm sure you know (but some of your readers heading to Toronto for the first time might not . . .). Bon séjour.

September 03, 2010 12:07 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

I've always enjoyed Telluride. They don't give awards and it is possible to watch many older and rare films and scarcely screened documentaries all the while avoiding the crowds who want to see the latest indie-art house films.

September 03, 2010 12:11 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Caboose, hadn't realized that the new bookstore was so close to Kensington Market, one of my regular Toronto haunts: those 5 square blocks also have some of the most interesting and eclectic cuisines of any city I've ever been in. (Especially appreciated by a vegetarian like me.)

September 03, 2010 6:53 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

[Girish and caboose perform the secret handshake used by members of their order]

September 03, 2010 8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"What is Cinema?" by Andre Bazin ?


September 03, 2010 12:00 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Anonymous, see this old post on Caboose's Bazin translation.

September 03, 2010 12:08 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

David started this thread by asking what Australians thought of the Melbourne Film Festival. Here is another article + discussion that resonates with this one here:

September 03, 2010 5:36 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Gabe: Your comment regarding TIFF's refusal to pay screening fees was especially interesting to me. In my ongoing series of interviews with programmers exploring the mechanics of various Bay Area film festivals, screening fees is one of the issues that bears the least transparency and has quickly shifted me into persona non grata status for even bringing the subject up. As it appears you know much more about these things, could you possibly direct me to anything I might get my hands on regarding the current state of screening fees in film festival culture?

September 04, 2010 4:54 PM  
Blogger Gabe Klinger said...

Maya: a colleague corrected me privately about Tiff's screening fee policy. It appears that they pay screening fees for Canadian films, and this only after a large group (it may have comprised the entirety of the Canadian filmmakers/producers included in TIFF) threatened to pull their films out of the festival.

September 04, 2010 5:54 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Fascinating! This issue came up for me a year or so back when I learned that the SF International was not willing to pay the screening fees of a particular distributor (who I won't name) whose slate, unfortunately, contained some of the best titles in foreign cinema. I bring this up by way of consideration of just one of the factors that goes into putting together a program and what programmers sometimes are confronted with. Do you know of any published work on the subject of screening fees?

September 04, 2010 6:00 PM  

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