For the film connoisseur, the four seasons might as well be renamed Sundance, Venice, Cannes and Toronto. Each is a huge celebration highlighting new cinematic works, while recognizing the old and influential. It’s a year-long chase that eventually leads to the epitome of excellence in film, the Oscars. Yet, the Academy Awards, or any critically lauded film event for that matter, would not receive as much traction if it weren’t for film festivals.
Recently though, coming off of the closing nights of the Toronto International Film Festival, some film critics from the Huffington Post and Time have questioned the relevance of film festivals. They attribute these cinematic presentations to massive networking events rather than a platform to purely showcase films. They mention competition with streaming giants such as Netflix, claiming that creative content stemming from films is now outdated and, quite simply, as Elliott Grove put it in the Huffington Post, that film festivals are a place where people in the industry just attend to feel “special.”
These are mere appropriations of the meaning of film festivals. In actuality, with our rapidly evolving and highly connected society, film festivals are the best platforms to promote quality movies. That’s why TIFF, or wherever filmmakers converge and network, is such a hub for inspiration. Film festivals take place in international locations across the world throughout the year, leading people to go to new places and see works from new perspective. Ultimately, films with broader viewpoints gained from various cultural environments are generated, leading them to speak to a wider range of audiences. It contributes to the goal film festivals want to achieve — to celebrate the art of cinema.
Film is a medium that predates the majority of modern entertainment such as Netflix, Hulu and YouTube. Though Internet outlets have become more accessible in the digital age, the environment of a theater and the way a story is told through movies allows for transportation into a world that a laptop or even a television screen can’t offer. This notion that cinema is an organic art form separate from the binge-watching, self-uploading video culture that dominates today is heralded at film festivals. They also prove that people do care about movies and will even venture out to collaborate with other movie lovers as well. According to TIFF’s official website, during the organization’s first festival in 1976, there were only 35,000 attendees. Meanwhile, last year, close to half a million people lined up to see various films in the Toronto circuit.
All the people waiting to see a specific movie don’t necessarily contribute to this big-headed mentality critics claim film festivals seem to have. It’s a given that when the lights dim in a theater, there will be a reverent and respectful — not pretentious –— hush, and people will immerse themselves into a story. If the movie captivates the audience, there will probably be a standing ovation. The audience, as a group of consumers, is part of the process of realizing the good in movies. It’s not always about the action-packed CGI sequences; it’s also about capturing the nuances of everyday life, moments more likely to be shown at a film festival. Sometimes following a showing, there will be a question and answer panel, which also doesn’t serve to put people in the entertainment industry on a pedestal. Instead, it allows the viewers of a specific movie to understand more about the art form.
Festivals encourage people to view more films and examine stories in another form. Instead of criticizing an event or this form of artistic expression, there should be encouragement for people to watch quality, groundbreaking movies. Like reading an immersive book or listening to a poignant song, movies also deserve to be a commonality and not merely discarded as entertainment. Film festivals do just that.
Danni Wang is a sophomore majoring in psychology. Her column, “Pop Fiction,” runs Mondays.