CHARTS: Merit, Festivals & “Politics”

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The chart below provides a clear visual representation of the prioritized factors in decision-making processes within film festivals and funding organizations, explaining how and why film quality output has been degrading over the years.

Dominating the top of this hierarchy are nepotism and family connections, followed by a series of considerations—financial interests, social connections, identity politics, and the theme of the project—each of which, regrettably, outweigh the actual artistic or creative merit of the work.

  • Nepotism: Refers to favoritism granted to relatives or close friends, disregarding their suitability for a role or task. In the context of film festivals and funding, this means that projects might be selected or financed not on the basis of their quality or potential, but because of personal connections to those with decision-making power. An example for Nepotism at the Torino Film Lab can be seen here.

  • Financial Interests: This encompasses the potential for financial gain for the festival or people associated with it or employed by it, or their social network, lucrative festival sponsorships, or even outright bribe, even if the films or projects aren’t artistically accomplished. An example of how financial interests overshadow other interests in Cannes can be read here.

  • Social Connections: Similar to nepotism, but slightly broader, this refers to the preferential treatment of individuals within one’s social circle, including professional networks. In the film industry, those with extensive networks might find it easier to get their projects noticed and selected by festivals or funded, as opposed to newcomers without such connections, without any correlation to their films merit. An example for how social networks effect the film industry in Europe can be read here.

  • Identity Politics: This relates to how aspects of a filmmaker’s or a project’s identity—such as gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation—can play a role in decision-making. While this can be positive, promoting diversity, it can also lead to a checkbox approach where decisions are based more on ticking off diversity criteria rather than evaluating the intrinsic qualities of the project. This also leads to reverse discrimination, which is discrimination in itself. An example for Gender Bias at the Jerusalem Film Lab lead by Aurit Zamir can be read here.

  • The Theme of the Project: Refers to the subject matter or narrative focus of the film. Projects with themes that are currently popular, trendy, or deemed socially or politically important may be chosen over others for reasons that align more with public interest, social commentary, or perceived relevance rather than artistic expression or storytelling prowess.

Accompanying the pyramid is a depiction of the “revolving door” dynamic prevalent in the film industry, where a limited circle of individuals hold a variety of influential positions. This perpetuates a culture of exclusivity, hindering fresh talent from entering the field, and promoting self-interests that ultimately reduces the quality of the industry’s artistic output.

How Films are Selected at Festivals?

The charts below depict how a film or project’s actual merit relates to the director or producer’s contacts, political influence, and other factors within the film industry. They illustrate a trend: as a person’s power increases, the film’s merit decreases in importance. Similarly, the prestige of a festival inversely affects the significance of merit, with other factors becoming more prominent.

The more contacts and “political” leverage you have, the less important the intrinsic quality of your film is.

The more connections and influence you have, the less the actual quality of your film matters. Factors like favoritism, financial interests, your social network size, gender politics, and your project’s theme – all unrelated to your film’s actual quality – are more important.

Without these connections and influence, only an exceptional film has a chance of being accepted, but it’s unlikely to even be viewed at all, making acceptance rates extremely low. If you’re well connected – even an unaccomplished film will get accepted, and even win major awards.

The Importance of Merit at Prestigious Festivals:

The relationship between a festival’s prestige and how important is actual merit for the success of your film.

The more prestigious the festival is, the intrinsic quality of your film becomes less important. “Political” considerations such as nepotism, financial factors, the extent of your social network, gender politics, and the theme of your project, along with other elements unrelated to your work’s actual merit, play a much more significant role. This is also true for the most prominent festival in each country.

Further reading:

CASE STUDY: The Concentration of Power, Influence & Control in the European Industry

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