How Medium sized Festivals Grovel to the Big Boys, by Selecting the Same Films

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If you’ve ever wondered why the same films are selected again and again by many different festivals, selections which are often not justified by their artistic merit, and despite the enormous amount of films which are produced each year, this article is for you. And by “enormous amount of films”, we mean 20,000 short films, and hundreds of features.

Put simply, small and medium sized festivals, and those who work for them, grovel to the bigger festivals, and the people who run them, by selecting the same films as they do.

This approach is convenient for them for two reasons:

First, it means that they don’t have to spend time watching hundreds or thousands of films in order to create the lineup for their festivals.

Secondly, and more importantly, it signals to the “higher ups” in the ecosystem that they are willing to “play ball” with how the system is set-up. By doing so these individuals make themselves available for promotions within the greater system, from smaller festivals, to medium ones, and finally to the biggest festivals and other important companies or organizations.

Power flows from the top downwards:

The more “well connected” a filmmaker (or his producer) is, the wider the selection of his or her film will be within the broader ecosystem, not only because of personal relationships, but because smaller festivals want to be aligned with the prevailing “politics” and ongoing “day to day” business of running the industry’s “merry go round.”

By doing so, the programmers of the smaller festivals hope, and often succeed, in climbing up the industry’s ladder, getting closer and closer to the inner circle, where the real holders of power and distributors of resources are, namely the 3-4 biggest festivals, film funds, or large production or sales companies.

In other words: “power” and decision making is projected from the top of the pyramid downwards to the smaller players.

The smaller players, who want to align themselves with the system, must accept many of the films selected by the “big boys”, in order to become part of the “ecosystem” or they will simply stay out of it.

We refer to the industry as an “ecosystem”, and in a more cheeky way “the syndicate,” to point out the complexities of how power and influence flows through it, and to the fact that it is mostly a closed system, shut off to outsiders.

In reality, the European film industry is controlled by a small group of people who work across different festivals, sales companies, and other film-related organizations, who are all “following the steps” of the higher ups, for their personal benefit within the ecosystem’s employment market, and for the benefit of the smaller festivals that they the work for.

And, as we’ve noted above – it saves them from watching 10,000 submissions.

As a side note, the power in the industry is classically distributed – it is held and projected from a small circle outwards. The smallest circle includes a few dozen people, with each subsequent circle including more and more people, with decreasing amount of political importance.

As we’ve pointed out numerous times, this situation creates barriers for new entrants, limits creativity, and concentrates power and resources in the hands of few.

The image below is an example for how individuals often hold multiple roles in multiple organizations, concentering power, and slowly moving up, or inward, the ecosystem, towards the central holders of power and resources, who are sometimes referred in the industry as exactly what they are – “decision makers.”

If this type of analysis appeals to you, please consider contributing to the study of the film industry, by researching it towards a Master’s or Phd, and consider applying for financial support here.

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