While there are myriad experiences to be had at any international film festival, there are strict taxonomical guidelines — known only to a small conclave –defining the exactly seven types of film festivals. Following is a brief account of each.
1. No-Time-to-Eat-or-Breathe Festivals
Expect brief, elevated moments of self-satisfaction interspersed with longer, soul-drenching stretches of status anxiety. Everybody is there and you know one of them, vaguely. People are always very busy at such film festivals: there are meetings and deals and Thumbs Ups being doled out. Careers are being made. There is tangible opportunity. You can smell it, tinged with the sharp whiffs of the halitosis that's inevitable with the commensurate slip in personal hygiene and the glut of close-talkers. How can people do all this work on two hours' sleep? And what work are they doing?
There are only five first-type film festivals. They are located in Park City, Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto.
2. Looks Like a #1, But with Jeans
The second-type film festival seems really really similar to first-type festivals. It is not. They are never equal. This is not allowed by the conclave. It's deceiving because many of the first-type festival people are here, at the second-type festival, but they are dressed more casually. They speak with you, sometimes. And it gets even more confusing, especially in places like Pusan, and Locarno, and Rotterdam, and Karlovy-Vary, where for many attendees this second-type festival experience is identical to a first-type festival experience. These people are known as the locals, and the high ratio of local delegates to international delegates is the primary distinction between first and second-type film festivals. There are also second-type festivals in Austin and lower Manhattan. Recently, London seems to have become a second-type festival too. There are probably others, or will be.
3. Specialized Festivals
The primary condition for a third-type film festival is some form of specialization. Third-type festival tags (in the order that I thought of them, just now): Documentary, Animation, Human Rights, Environment, LGBT, Jewish, Asian, Indigenous, Breasts (yes, in Toronto… but, actually, I was just thinking of breasts), Mountains, Africa, Children, Horror, Underground (wtf is that, anyway, these days?), Short, Student, Latin… there are many more.
If you're presenting a film at a third-type festival, it is more than likely that you have either already presented your film at first and/or second-type festivals, have been declined by those same festivals, or are super specialized. However, third-type festivals are a chance to get with your peeps, to allow your film to do the work it was meant to do, and to bask in the warm glow of unconditional love (or envy, depending).
4. That Special Festival Where It's Always 1968
The fourth-type film festival exists on an island of inscrutability, privilege, curatorial discipline and authority. The "canon" is invoked. It's always 1968. Auteurism needs no defense. There is only one fourth-type film festival. The first filmmaker to correctly identify this very exclusive species of festival, in the comments section below, will receive a complimentary festival consultation from the author of this article.
5. The Regional Festival that Earns Lots of Local Pride
In fifth-type festivals, nation or city-state branding, good intentions, copious star-fucking, kitsch, and inconceivable amounts of wealth mingle with skank, dubiousness and, let's say it, often a whole lotta decadent fun. A smattering of first and second-type festival people are there, where they actually have time to participate in panels and dine with you. Rarely does a guest realize that this festival is actually screening films. The ice sculptures perched in the desert heat could fund several indie productions. The prize-money, especially for documentary, is basically like winning a lottery.
Yet, let's be generous with this relatively new type of festival, as they've injected significant investment and resources into their regional film creators and cultures. As the conclave welcomes all opportunities to attend these burgeoning fifth-type festivals, and hope they understand satire (which is born from love), they need not actually be named.
6. The "Unique" Regional Festival
Type-six film festivals combine characteristics of the primary five types of festivals, excluding the fourth type (so unique that gene samples of this festival-type are cryogenically preserved in Phillip Lopate's freezer). Sixth-type festivals are tricky, contradictory, elusive in their behavioral patterns. Sometimes they mimic first and second-type festivals by demanding things like an "East Coast" or a "Lower Moravia" premiere. In other permutations, the sixth-type festival actually tries to distinguish itself, curatorially, by refusing to drink from the same fucking tastemaking cup as all the other-type festivals. Sometimes the head programmer is also the dude who runs the box office, picks up the five guests from the airport or bus station, and tends bar at the cocktail party. Type-six festivals are the heart'n'soul of the film festival circuit, but also can be problematic.
There are, to date, 3,678 sixth-type film festivals in the world.
7. The Off-the-Beaten-Path Festival Where Magic Happens
The seventh type of film festival is everybody's favorite. Take this literally: It means that any festival can transmute into a seventh-type festival if it is among your personal favorites. This means that the experience should feature several of the following: 1) business was done, to some extent, 2) you had a transformational experience at a cinema screening, 3) close personal friendships were formed, 4) you were hungover at least once, 5) you fell in love (lust is fine, too), 6) you had a group dinner that felt like a group dinner in a Woody Allen or Eric Rohmer movie, 7) you attended an outdoor screening, on a river bank, 8) there was a parade, 9) your hotel had free wi-fi (sometimes it's the small things), and/or 10) you want to move to the host city.
Sean Farnel is working through some issues in Toronto, Canada. He'll next be defending himself at Full Frame, April 4-7.