Film Festival Yearbook 1: The Festival Circuit

Dina Iordanova with Ragan Rhyne (eds),
Film Festival Yearbook 1: The Festival Circuit.
St Andrews, Scotland: St Andrews Film Studies, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-906678-04-3
UK£16.99 (pb)
(Review copy supplied by St Andrews Film Studies)

In 1932, only five years after the release of the first film with sound, an event held in Venice Italy marked the genesis of the Film Festival experience. Since this inaugural event in August 1932, the film festival has entrenched itself in the development and dissemination of world cinema. In recognition of the impact that film festivals have had and continue to have on the shape of global and in particular non-Hollywood cinema, a growing area of research has emerged over the past decade under the umbrella of Film Festival studies. In particular, this new area of research is characterised by such scholars as Thomas Elsaesser (2005), Kenneth Turan (2002), Julian Stringer (2001) and Marijke de Valck (2007)[1] , among others, whose works highlight some of the numerous methodological approaches and organising theories that are applied to understanding both the development of individual festivals as well as the interrelation and networking of the global festival phenomenon. Yet, aside from such key works, the greater field of film festival studies is still marked by its largely anecdotal approach focused on individual case studies rather than the consideration of wider-ranging festival theorisation.

It is within the context of this growing and largely open field of film festival studies that the inaugural Film Festival Yearbook, edited by Dina Iordanova with Ragan Rhyne, locates itself. This collection of works compiled from an array of academic disciplines and industry commentators, predominantly in the form of critics and festival programmers, takes upon itself the role of both furthering and systematically articulating the current research into film festivals. The book compiles, as its editors suggest, the best of recent festival scholarship in the hope of addressing what they consider to be a “lapse in festival scholarship … due primarily to a dearth of spaces for productive debate and dialogue among those researching the festival institutions” (p. 1). In furtherance of this goal, Film Festival Yearbook 1: The Festival Circuit, brings together a variety of works and approaches to address not only the current state of the global film festival network but also to consider the history of specific film festivals and their place within the development of a systematic approach to film festival research. The expansive purpose of this inaugural volume is then to:

1) explore festivals in a systematic manner that, while relying on individual case studies, will foreground theoretical concerns at the intersection of arts management, cultural policy and film studies, and 2) chart the complex structure of the international film festival network, bringing along a better understanding of World Cinema. (Iordanova & Rhyne, p. 2)

The volume’s structure is marked by the dual concerns of its editors: to both further the study of film festivals themselves, and to also address the ordering of the field of festival scholarship. The book organises and investigates festival scholarship through its four part structure: 1) the festival circuit, 2) festival case studies, 3) dispatches from the festival world, and 4) the field of festival studies. The first two of these sections provide the greatest focus on the furtherance of festival scholarship as it exists within the field to date, leaving the latter two sections to provide an alternative approach to academic assessment and a consideration of the field of study itself.

The works of the first two sections act as both a summary of several theoretical structures active within the field of festival research, and also provides for the expansion of the field itself. The first section effectively reviews and reconsiders notions of the festival circuit, providing necessary alternatives to theories of festival distribution networks and festival connectedness that, while sounding reasonable, have never materialised in the manner they were conceived. In particular Iordanova’s understanding of the festival circuit as representing not a distribution network but rather a commonality of exhibition practice provides an interesting deviation from Elsaesser’s festival network theory which connects festivals via an organic system of circulation and osmosis between a variety of festival levels and the structuring of primary nodal points (Elsaesser 2005).

Iordanova’s theory of exhibition caters for the coexistence of a variety of festival types within a similar locality. While Iordanova’s application is more generalised, the local application of her argument is apparent. Specifically, Melbourne’s vast array of various specialty and cultural film festivals can be understood as operating effectively without forcing competition and disruption between one another. Instead of events competing within a common system of distribution, the vast array of festivals represent a specialised and alternative exhibition practice that cater to a separate (if similar) audience.

To balance and bolster what exists as a primarily academic analysis of festival development and expansion, the perspectives of three industry ‘insiders’ are addressed in the third section: ‘Dispatches from the festival world’. In contrast to Iordanova’s optimistic prognosis for the proliferation of film festivals, the contributors from within the industry present a bleaker view of the expanding festival network. Concerns for the effect of both the collusion and competition between festivals are raised by the contributors of this section. Here the continual challenge faced by festivals to balance culture and commerce is addressed with the concerning prognosis that festivals are losing the battle and face a challenging future as a result. This certainly presents an important area of consideration as festivals increasingly succumb to the economic and PR pressures of presenting glamour and hype to secure and sustain corporate sponsors, resulting in programming which reflects their need for funding at the expense of the films they were designed to represent. The increasing presence of mainstream films, already assured of a local theatrical run, in festivals such as the Melbourne International Film Festival highlight these concerns within even the Australian context, with Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (USA/Germany 2009) providing the most obvious example from MIFF’s 2009 programme. This section perhaps provides less in the way of methodologies for a systematic approach to festival scholarship but highlights key areas for concern in both the continued development of the festival phenomenon and, as a result, the development of festivals as a point of scholarly attention.

Concluding this compendium of works is a consideration of the state of festival scholarship itself. In particular, the chapter authored by Marijke de Valck and Skadi Loist, ‘Film festival studies: an overview of a bourgeoning field’, provides a comprehensive look at the range of works which have been completed within the greater field of film festival research. This chapter successfully brings together the aims and contributions of the volume as a whole, providing for a clearly structured and comprehensive overview of film festival research history. Providing not only a look at the challenges facing festival scholarship but also surveying the progress made in the area, de Valck and Loist highlight and contextualise the work completed to date in the field of film festival studies, developing a comprehensive bibliography of available research.

While ultimately this volume still marks a somewhat scattered methodological approach to the study of film festivals, with a variety of terms and organisational theories emerging within the various sections and individual chapters, the yearbook as a whole marks an important first step in the management and systematic development of festival research. Not only does this volume impress with its attention and recognition for the long ignored area of film festival studies, but the works compiled offer a range of approaches and avenues for the furtherance of this research. As Iordanova and Rhyne state in their opening comments: “A level of abstraction is needed for the study of festivals to gain momentum and translate the currently scattered research environment of festival studies into a sufficiently structured context” (p.  2). With film festivals marking the convergence of multiple disciplines from culture to government policy, aesthetics to business arts management (and more), it is not so surprising that this first step to the ordering of festival research finds itself dealing with a expansive range of terms and theoretical models. Yet this inaugural volume of Film Festival Yearbook achieves at least its aim of beginning to construct a systematic approach for the study of film festivals, and more than this successfully addresses what has been an unduly ignored area of film scholarship. This first volume of the Film Festival Yearbook series opens up the field of film festival research upon which it can be anticipated that future volumes will build.

Kirsten Stevens,
Monash University, Australia.


[1] Thomas Elsaesser (2005) ‘Film festival networks: the new topographies of cinema in Europe’ European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press
Kenneth Turan (2002) Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World they made Berkeley: University of California Press
Julian Stringer (2001) ‘Global cities and the international film festival economy’ Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context Mark Shiel and Tony Fitzmaurice (eds). London: Blackwell
Marijke de Valck (2007) Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press

Created on: Thursday, 10 December 2009

About the Author

Kirsten Stevens

About the Author

Kirsten Stevens

Dr Kirsten Stevens completed her PhD in Film and Television Studies at Monash University. Her thesis examined the development of film festivals in Melbourne as a practice in film exhibition, comparing and contrasting this to established histories of international film festivals. Her work has appeared in issues of Media International Australia and Studies in Australasian Cinema.View all posts by Kirsten Stevens →