Film Festivals: Culture, People, and Power on the Global Screen

Film Festivals: Culture, People, and Power on the Global Screen

Film Festivals: Culture, People, and Power on the Global Screen

Film Festivals: Culture, People, and Power on the Global Screen


Movies, stars, auteurs, critics, and the sheer excitement of cinema come together in film festivals as quintessential constellations of art, business, and glamour. Yet, how well do we actually understand the forces and meanings that these events embody?

Film Festivals offers the first comprehensive overview of the history, people, films, and multiple functions of the festival world. From Sundance to Hong Kong, from the glitter of Cannes to edgier festivals that challenge boundaries or foster LGBTQ cultural production, film festivals celebrate art, promote business, bring cinema to diverse audiences, and raise key issues about how we see our world. Cindy Hing-Yuk Wong situates festivals within changing global practices of film, including their important ties to both Hollywood and independent cinema. She explores how these events have become central in the construction of cinema knowledge as well as the behind-the-scene mechanics of finance, distribution, and evaluation. By linking general structures and connections to specific films and auteurs, Wong addresses the components and creation of film festivals that continue to reshape filmmaking as art and business.


Film festivals attract widespread global attention as glittering showcases for films and people. Yet, they also constitute vital nodes for global film industries, businesses, institutions, and information. Festivals provide places in which multiple agents negotiate local, national, and supranational relations of culture, power, and identity. Ultimately, they are crucial centers for the development of film knowledge and film practices: festivals and the people who create and re-create them thus shape what films we as audiences and scholars will see, what films we respect or neglect, and often, how we read such cinematic works. Hence, the study of film festivals allows us to understand complex global relationships of film cultures through the historical development and contested hierarchy of films, filmmakers, film languages, themes, and places.

Gilles Jacob, longtime director and president of the Cannes International Film Festival, explained to Variety that this festival serves

to take the pulse of world cinema once a year. To gather the movers and
shakers of the profession in one place so they can exchange ideas, show each
other their movies, and do business. To discover new talents…. To spot
light new trends in filmmaking…. To promote a type of cinema that’s both
artistic and of wide appeal. To showcase striking and difficult works that
wouldn’t otherwise get the attention they deserve. To salute great filmmak
ers who will add to the festival’s prestige. To give the people behind a film
the chance to meet the world’s press. To generate miles of free publicity for
the films taking part, enough to stretch from Paris to Los Angeles…. And
finally, to recharge filmmakers’ and producers’ batteries once a year so they
have the courage to carry on—by showing them movies they’d have been
proud to work on and produce.

As this passage from the leader of what is arguably the premier world film festival insists, festivals go far beyond cinephilia, their prized auteurs, glamorous events and people, and global accolades. Film festivals deal with business, from production to distribution, including the very financing that ensures their own reproduction. Film festivals create and participate in public spheres of discussion through global media—identifying novelty and thriving on competition for the first, the best, the most daring, or the most significant films while catalyzing debates over issues ranging from technical achievements to human rights and sexual identities. Film festivals, though, seldom highlight blockbusters. Instead . . .

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