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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, February-March 2004

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

When one considers the film festival, one thinks of a happening, ranging in duration from a weekend to a month, in which towns, cities or whole communities are mobilized around the celebration of films and filmmakers. Depending on its scope and stature, a festival is enhanced with distributors, publicists, journalists and other festival directors—and audience members. And out of the sometimes 100 or more films that throttle the senses in a given festival, a few rise to the surface, garnering buzz, awards and accolades—and perhaps distribution or a free ride to next big festival. So goes the festival circuit.

The festival circuit—one may as well call it an industry—is a global infrastructure. The past decade and a half has seen a proliferation of film festivals catering to specific genres, communities, cultures; of festivals in big cities, small towns, regions and resorts; of festivals that change names, missions and positions in the calendar. The festival circuit, if engaged strategically (and if your film is good), can turn into a gravy train for your film. It can mean awards, press and distribution. It can mean a legion of fans and newfound friends. Life on the festival circuit is bracing, exhilarating...and, to some, frustrating.

Jan Rofekamp and Diana Holtzberg, both of Films Transit International, are familiar faces at festivals and markets around the world. As distributors, they attend festivals to showcase their films—and to seek out new ones. Here they offer a guide for taking your film on the festival circuit.

As complementary pieces, Sarah Jo Marks talks to publicists, festival directors, producers reps, sales agents, distributors to get their take on how to stand out in a crowd, while Michael Galinsky talks to filmmakers Lorenzo DiStefano (Los Zafiros) Louise Hogarth (The Gift) and Sam Green (The Weather Underground) about their year on the circuit—what they learned, how they might have done it differently and whether it helped their film.

As with any high-voltage phenomenon, the festival circuit has spawned tangential  enterprises. Joseph E. Miller talks to representatives from two fledgling businesses—Without A Box, which has helped to facilitate the process of applying to festivals, and FilmBuzz, which, through marketing surveys of audiences at regional festivals, helps to give filmmakers an idea of how their work plays out with test audiences. 

How better to round out a section on festivals than with festival coverage? Anette Olsen reports on the Yamagata (Japan) Documentary Film Festival; Tom Powers, on the Mill Valley (California) Film Festival; and Nicole Fleetwood, on Festival do Rio, which invited several members of the New York-based Black Documentary Collective for a summit with their Afro-Brazilian counterparts.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White