With the Austin Film Festival imminent, I thought it would be appropriate to explain why there are so few truly great festivals (although the number is certainly growing) and why so many people, including myself, find so much beauty in a good film festival.
“…Filmmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself.” – Steven Spielberg
Many filmmakers agree with Spielberg’s assertion that making a movie is an inherently collaborative art, perhaps more so than any other. It can take hundreds of people to make a story come to life on celluloid (or digital hard-drives for that matter). Sometimes the movie can suffer from “Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen” Syndrome, but when a director’s vision has been clearly executed, and a masterpiece unfolds before your eyes in that dark theater, there are few things as wonderful.
Film festivals, in this way, are like the movies themselves: highly collaborative works of art. A film festival can have hundreds, even thousands, of moving parts. From a festival director, to a volunteer at the ticket lines, everyone needs to understand and do their best to accomplish the vision. This, among other reasons, is why so few truly great film festivals exist.
It’s easy to make a bad film festival. So much can wrong already, that one can hardly be surprised when a festival falls on its face. Few appreciate how rare good festivals are and how much they reflect the very art they celebrate. But just because something proves difficult does not mean we shouldn’t try our hand at it. If Spielberg had given up after his first struggle with a production company, conflict with an actor, or mistake while editing, then we should have been deprived of some truly wonderful and influential moments in cinema. Likewise, if Robert Redford gave up after the first weak response at Sundance, we likely would not have seen the rise of indie film popularity and the growth film festival culture across America.
So, if you find yourself at a film festival in the future and think this or that could have been better, do not forget that you are witness to a collaborative effort of appreciation. Not every moment of every festival is a beautiful experience, but the hope is that the sum of their parts reveals something wonderful, just as many flawed frames can still make up a marvelous movie.