Re: [Frameworks] Current situation with Film Festivals

From: Anna Biller (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Feb 18 2011 - 17:26:14 PST

Your questions are so interesting, and they seem, for me, to suggest
their own answers.

First of all, I think people are making all this stuff because yes,
it's cheap and easy, but also because video is one of the main things
people consume and one of the main ways people communicate with one
another. (At one time when a lot people still read books everyone
wanted to be a novelist, and to write that "great novel.") I think
when everyone is on YouTube all day and watching streaming stuff
online, and when so much of that stuff is short and non-narrative (and
even when it is narrative it's excerpted into fragments which abstract
it), and when people can relate so much to the immediacy of that form,
then it becomes very seductive and people want to create it
themselves. It's considered current and relevant, it can become
instantly "archival" because of how the internet works, and it allows
for total freedom in how one approaches making it. That makes it very
seductive as well, as so much of what people want to do with art is to
find something that's really "their own." I think it's also taught
more widely in schools than ever, and for a long time now has been
taken more seriously in many academic circles than many other types of
films (straight narrative).

So, beyond the cliché of "human need for expression"(which I don't
think is really a cliché but a real need) there seems to be, as
suggested above, a deep social reason. So, people want to make
(experimental) films to communicate with other people, because they've
been taught it in school, and/ or as a way of being part of a
community. Which answers your next question, about why so many submit
their work to festivals and what they expect to get out of it. I think
the reasons are largely social and professional, and that there ARE
really thousands of people at any given time trying to gain status and
prestige in academia or as independent artists. Also, submitting to
festivals is just something people "do." It's like you're not serious
or not ambitious if you don't do it. And secretly, probably everyone
starting out thinks they're the next Stan Brakhage and they really do
imagine fame or notoriety of some sort.

This isn't to say that it's good that so much of the process is rushed
and that so many interesting submissions go unwatched or unnoticed or
that the weirder things don't make it in. But people who "need" to
make the work will continue to make it, and they will continue to try
to share it. And this will weed out many people over time. I think
there's probably a big turnover from year to year. It's like that in
every field. I was horrified to read an interview recently where some
women who were starting a new women's film festival were asked if
they were being bombarded with submissions, and they said no. But
their reasons were that "it's just so hard to get a DVD burned and
stick it in an envelope and address it correctly and put it in the
mail, so we understand." The first thing I thought was, "Wow, here is
a women's festival and they're acting like women can't even get it
together to get something in the mail!" That would be part of the
weeding out process, people who can't get it together to submit or
aren't interested in festivals or are unambitious (and this covers
thousands more that don't submit to festivals).

I think you can get that same feeling of community and acceptance more
or less online, *if* lots of people are watching your work and giving
you feedback. But that's a hard place to get to. And then you're
usually doing the work of marketing yourself instead of having the
festival market you (which may be as much as or more work than
submitting to festivals, and could even cost more money if you add up
all your time and what it's worth). And then if you have Media Salons
then you have the curatorial process again, so it's really the same
thing. And if that becomes the new thing all of a sudden, then you
have the more prestigious ones that you can put on your resumé, and
all the rest that no one cares about. So I don't think there's an easy
solution to getting your work seen. It's a competitive process no
matter what. But I do think that for people looking for a community
public festivals are much more satisfying and helpful, as you can make
real connections with people. It may be a growing community, but it's
still relatively small.

On Feb 18, 2011, at 3:21 PM, David Tetzlaff wrote:

> If festivals really are flooded with thousands of entries that can
> accurately be called 'experimental' my first question is, why is so
> much stuff being created? Not how is it able to be (cheap
> camcorders, ubiquitous computer editing, etc. etc.) but WHY? Why do
> these folks want to make things? Why do they want to make moving
> pictures? Why do they want to make 'experimental' moving pictures?
> Not rhetorical questions... I'm really asking, and I'm hoping for
> some kind of explanation beyond cliches about the fundamental human
> need for expression blah blah blah.
> My second question is why this vast body of work is being submitted
> to _festivals_? What are makers looking for? What do they imagine
> the rewards of having a piece selected for an 'experimental' program
> might be? There are other ways to get things seen. Why go through an
> expensive process with a low success-rate, in order to obtain a
> single screening at some far-off place where maybe 35 people will be
> in the room, give or take those wandering in and out? Makers who
> earn their keep in academia need a festival record to secure tenure
> and promotion, and for independent artists, having had work screened
> at festivals certainly must figure in grant applications and the
> like. But are there really _thousands_ of CV builders out there?
> As other posts have noted, I don't think most festivals can just
> screen 2 or 3 times more work. Resources are limited, there are
> limits to the potential audience, and we have to allow programmers
> some curatorial discretion in knowing when enough is enough for
> their goals and their their viewers' expectations. And I don't think
> the amount of work shown would really address the main issue, which
> is how what does get shown gets chosen.
> I am not at all persuaded by the posts from festival folk who claim
> their system and staff handle massive volumes of submissions fairly
> and effectively. I have done some judging, but only among fields
> that were small to begin with or already winnowed. Even at this,
> with a relatively small bag of tapes or discs to review I could
> become easily overwhelmed. Pieces start running together and its
> hard to see them for what they are. So it has hard for anybody to
> handle the huge bags of entries these festivals must have.
> Which brings up the question who is doing the reviewing and what
> standards they employ. As a 'Film Professor', I had not only an
> 'expert's' knowledge of the form, but training in how to look at
> work with a critical analytical eye. How many of these festivals
> have enough people available with the kind of background that
> enables them to make valid evaluations of this kind of work in the
> quantity in which it is received? I asked Bart Weiss about this a
> few years ago, and he said he decided he can't trust volunteers at
> all so he watches every single entry to Videofest himself.
> So, once the thousands of entries have been divied up amongst the
> over-burdened and under-experienced staff, a process of winnowing
> must take place. With thousands of entries to handle, how many
> submissions get viewed by more than one person before the first cut?
> And even so, what does a second opinion matter? For, inevitably,
> consensus comes into play, and the greater number of staffers who
> 'like' a piece the better it's chances of moving forward. And what
> this means is that, unless the maker is an already recognized
> 'name,' anything challenging or different in a less than spectacular
> way will draw mixed opinion, and lose out to something more broadly
> 'likable.' This is not just sour grapes on my part (though it's
> consistent with how things I've worked on have been received), but
> my observation of the selection process of a large festival for
> which I have been a judge. This event gets a lot of entries, which
> are whittled down to a manageable number of finalists in various ca
> tegories through a series of public pre-screenings, where basically
> anyone who shows up gets to have a say. The narrative and
> documentary finalists that emerge from this process are pretty
> strong. The 'experimental' work, though is mostly superficial stuff
> expressing some kind of oddball quirkiness through 'how did they do
> that?' production gimmicks. There had to be better stuff in the
> pool. Sure enough, I got to see a little of what else was out there
> in other venues (curated 'new-artist' screenings - not open
> submission festivals). But, you know, back at the fest I'm sure too
> many of the pre-screeers just didn't 'like' them, and there's this
> whole pile here that almost everybody thought were swell, and all
> our volunteers are such good folks and work so awful hard so we
> can't just discard their collective opinion even if we did have time
> to watch everything, and discuss it, and tease out merits and flaws
> that might not be obvious on a quick once over, which we certainly do
> not (have the time to do, that is).
> Now, do I have any grand plan about how to FIX this? No. But I'm
> wondering about the idea of new media salons. Basically these would
> be webpages that aggregate an updated list of links to pieces hosted
> on YouTube, Vimeo wherever that are judged worth seeing by the
> salons's proprieter(s), and fit the criteria by which that salon
> choses to define itself (cameraless film? feminist avant garde? ???)
> They'd have to be curated by people who knew their asses from a
> whole in the ground: artists, teachers, scholars, writers. To keep
> things managable, they'd probably have to be like Facebook or Linked-
> In: you'd have to know someone who was already in to get in, to be
> vouched-for before getting a look-see of your piece. The idea being
> that new work and especially new makers could get some context for
> evaluation outside of the festival cattle-calls, which the fests
> could employ somehow in sorting their piles as and if they might see
> fit. FWIW...
> _______________________________________________
> FrameWorks mailing list
> email suppressed

FrameWorks mailing list
email suppressed