If you are a regular viewer of awards ceremonies like I am, it often feels like the acceptance speeches run together. Each winner starts with an expression of surprise and/or gratitude, and then moves on to thank a list of people, among them, family members, significant others, friends, cast and crew members (especially their director, who will be described with an adjective along the lines of “brilliant” or “visionary”), “The Academy,” chosen deities, and producers. And if you’re Harvey Weinstein, then you basically think of those last two as being the same thing. And while some speeches are notable for championing political causes or for almost disturbingly excited cries of “You Like Me!” for the most part, acceptance speeches fit a certain familiar mold. At the most recent Academy Awards ceremony, one speech that stood out to me was Brie Larson’s as she won Best Actress for her work in Room (deservedly, I might add). Amongst the usual shout-outs in her acceptance speech, Larson made sure to thank the Telluride Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, where Room was screened to much critical acclaim. Listening to her speech, it struck me how unusual it was to hear a film festival mentioned in an Oscar speech. For example, this year’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight, was also screened at Toronto and Telluride, but the festivals were not singled out for recognition during this speech. But Larson’s speech also made it obvious to me that film festivals are deserving of far more recognition than they receive.
The obvious argument in support of film festivals is to point out the way they can launch films to success. Room, for example, was an unbelievably small independent film. Of the eight films nominated for Best Picture this year, its six million dollar budget was by far the smallest, only 1/25th of the budget of Mad Max: Fury Road. With grim subject matter and no major stars to speak of, it was a film that could have easily faded into obscurity. But thanks to the exposure and critical acclaim it received at these festivals, it was able to gain a wide release and become an Oscar winner. There’s currently a horror film in theaters called The Witch from first-time writer and director Robert Eggers which also features no known actors, and has become a surprise box office success thanks to the exposure it received at Sundance. The year before, The Babadook, another horror film, also achieved financial success it couldn’t have without Sundance. Thanks to Sundance this year, Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation is already making waves and seems destined to be one of the most discussed films of 2016. So, the ability of film festivals to introduce movies to a larger audience is rather undeniable.
But on top of this clear financial advantage, I think that film festivals provide something that is too often missing in our society: they are a venue where the arts can truly be appreciated. Film festivals are, by definition, a place where movies are meant to be celebrated. And, at the risk of sounding to preachy, that’s something that is all too rare these days. Arts funding continues to be cut, especially in schools, and the practice of actual film appreciation has declined in turn. Going to the movies isn’t special anymore. It used to be an event, now it’s just something that you do. Thanks to the internet, movies are more accessible than ever, and we can watch movies on our phones. But this accessibility has made them common place, and the silver screen seems to have lost some of its sparkle in the public eye. Movies themselves still can be powerful, but the act of going to movies no longer is. Notably, Quentin Tarantino tried to bring some of the specialness back to movies with his film The Hateful Eight. Very much a passion piece for Tarantino, The Hateful Eight was a throwback to a bygone era, which was reflected in the filmmaking. He famously shot in 70mm, a format not used since 1966, and for part of filming even used historic equipment, such as the exact camera lens which shot the iconic chariot race scene in Ben-Hur. Perhaps most notably, he encouraged audiences to see the film as part of his roadshow tour, where the film had an overture, an intermission, and a paper program. In his own words, here’s how Tarantino explained the specialness of the presentation: “The thing about the roadshows is that it made movies special. It wasn’t just a movie playing at your local theater. They would do these big musical productions before the normal release of the film. You would get a big colorful program. It was a presentation. They would play a Broadway show overture version of the soundtrack. If you’re going to shoot your movie and release it in 70mm, it’s really the way to go: twenty-four frames a second flickering through a projector, creating the illusion of movement.” Unfortunately, while The Hateful Eight did well, it didn’t do amazingly well, and underperformed both critically and commercially when compared to Tarantino’s last two films.
And this is why film festivals are so important—because they remain the best venue for film appreciation that we have. The opportunity to watch a movie, surrounded by others who are passionate about movies, is a truly beautiful thing. And film festivals, and the idea behind them, will endure. After all, they’re not all that different from the contests held for Ancient Greek tragedians, where Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides would present their work that is still discussed today. So, the next time you’re at a film festival, take a chance to appreciate just how extraordinary and important it is that such an event really exists. There’s a certain magic that comes about when a large group of like-minded people gets together. That’s true when movies are being made, and when they are being viewed.
By: Miles Purinton, Writer, Actor & Expert on all things Film
You can read more of his thoughts on Kilos To Go