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by Sean Farnel
February 27, 2013 1:37 PM
34 Comments
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The 7 Types of Film Festivals You Will Meet

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.

Examples of seventh-type festivals can be found in Tui, Spain, or Prizen, Kosovo or Copenhagen, or this very weekend, in Columbia, Missouri. Happy 10th, True/False!

Sean Farnel is working through some issues in Toronto, Canada. He'll next be defending himself at Full Frame, April 4-7.

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34 Comments

  • Phil | March 18, 2013 11:30 AMReply

    #4 is Director's Fortnight at Cannes, duh! I need a free consultation, so I hope I'm right.

  • Jonah F | March 6, 2013 2:41 PMReply

    It's already been said since I'm coming to this article a week after it was posted, but I'll guess Sodankylä for Type-4. I've never been so I can't be sure. Midnight Sun does seem to be heavily auteurist and theory and "canon" focused.

  • B Pretty | March 2, 2013 9:08 AMReply

    The 4th type took place on the wall of the pub (on a Wednesday, since it was Pub Night) at the Regina Campus of University of Saskatchewan in the winter of 1968. There were multiple screens all interacting at the same time and nobody really remembered what happened the following morning.
    The 7th was in Sydney and the outdoor screening was on Bondi Beach. I think Russell and Nicole showed up.

  • Jonathan M | February 28, 2013 4:56 PMReply

    #4 I'm guessing Amsterdam.

    I went to a short film series from the Amsterdam FF once. I wonder what they were thinking.

  • Ryan | February 28, 2013 3:03 PMReply

    I don't think #4 can be Telluride. It has only been around since 1973.

  • @PhilaIndie | February 28, 2013 9:38 AMReply

    Great break down. Festivals happen all over the world. Take a festival tour as a vacation! We hope you check out our festival, the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival - where magic truly happens.

  • Marisa | February 28, 2013 1:44 AMReply

    Assume you pay your way at these festivals when you go Sean? Wouldn't want to think you were taking money away from a chance to pay the filmmakers.

  • seafar | February 28, 2013 8:42 AM

    Ha! Anonymous personal dig. You're awesome. Feel good about yourself today. The work I do for and at film festivals is done at way way below anything that would resemble a wage. Mostly they throw in a few hotel nights and/or some airfare. I also am very generous with my time and knowledge in support of independent filmmakers.

  • KOF | February 28, 2013 12:43 AMReply

    For a filmMAKER:
    #1 if you want a chance at making a living/career.
    #2, #3, #5, #6 if you want a place to screen your films (although SXSW is a 1a).
    #4 if you made the #1 club.

    For filmGOERS all fests can be a great time, if you love films.

  • Eyeswiredopen | February 28, 2013 12:43 AMReply

    Type 4 = Telluride. I hereby claim my free return airfare, hotel suite and festival pass.

  • Eyeswiredopen | February 28, 2013 12:41 AMReply

    Festival Type 4 = Telluride. I hereby claim my free festival pass, return air ticket to and from Sydney, and accomodation. Cheers.

  • Merge | February 27, 2013 11:46 PMReply

    #4 should be the Ann Arbor Film
    Fest, but it's not. Ann Arbor has been going since 63.

  • GREG | February 27, 2013 11:12 PMReply

    4 has to be the Midnight Sun Film Festival.

  • Andy | February 27, 2013 8:26 PMReply

    Homer Simpson watches a black comic on TV.
    Black Comic: "Yo check this out. Black film festivals look like this: dom dom ch dom dom do. Yeah but see white film festivals look like this: dee ditdo dee ditdo dee"
    Homer: "Bahaha it's true, it's true we're so lame."

  • Laurie Kirby | February 27, 2013 5:36 PMReply

    Very funny! Just like the Oscars, we all need to poke fun at ourselves sometimes. Next time, make the clue a little harder-or are you just looking for a free gig? I love that you know that there are 3678 festivals of that ilk which makes you much more savvy that the rest of us!

  • Danalorus | February 27, 2013 5:16 PMReply

    four good sixes: Maryland, Sidewalk, Cucalorus, Borscht...

  • KATRIINA | February 27, 2013 5:06 PMReply

    Number 4: You must refer to Midnight Sun Film Festival. The only thing exceeding the amount of real authors in small Finnish village during the fest, is the incomprehensible number of mosquitos. One bite me too.

  • Linda Kutrubes | February 27, 2013 4:14 PMReply

    #4 - Woodstock Film Festival - where it is always 1968.

  • matthew david wilder | February 27, 2013 4:00 PMReply

    Four is New York Film Festival--thank God! Viva 1968!

  • Ellen | February 27, 2013 3:47 PMReply

    I met my boyfriend of 2 years at the TCM Classic Film Festival #7. Best fest I've been to and no one leaves feeling rejected!

  • KoK | February 27, 2013 3:44 PMReply

    The Off-the-Beaten-Path Festival Where Magic Happens - All of the things You list here have been happening at the ReelHeART International Film Festival since 2004. Now in it's 9th year and in a city of 4 Million people and 80+ festivals that include #1-#6, ReelHeART has managed to put the Filmmaker and Screenwriter first and making that experience for them the best festival they've been to in their festival journey. Warm Welcomes, Transformational experiences, close personal friendships and a whole lotta hangovers ;-) Check them out

  • Isold | February 27, 2013 2:55 PMReply

    Nr 4 is ND/NF without a doubt.

  • Nicholas Paton | February 27, 2013 2:24 PMReply

    Type 4: Hamptons International Film Festival

  • KoK | February 27, 2013 3:44 PM

    The Off-the-Beaten-Path Festival Where Magic Happens - All of the things You list here have been happening at the ReelHeART International Film Festival since 2004. Now in it's 9th year and in a city of 4 Million people and 80+ festivals that include #1-#6, ReelHeART has managed to put the Filmmaker and Screenwriter first and making that experience for them the best festival they've been to in their festival journey. Warm Welcomes, Transformational experiences, close personal friendships and a whole lotta hangovers ;-) Check them out

  • Boom. | February 27, 2013 2:20 PMReply

    Sad to say there's also the "scam" festival, which shouldn't even dare call itself a festival, but it does and lives to dupe filmmakers.

  • Christopher Bell | February 27, 2013 2:33 PM

    Agreed. Good list but was hoping to see that on here, too.

  • seafar | February 27, 2013 2:18 PMReply

    I now realize Telluride could also, maybe, be a #4 ...but it was NYFF that jumped to mind as not either a #1 or #2, but something different....actually, Telluride is a #2, mainly because there is the talk of buying and selling that is not evident at NYFF, hence spoiling the curatorial purity.

  • seafar | February 27, 2013 2:14 PMReply

    Hey "DanTheMan"...I agree, totally lazy...so you should do it. What are the good #6's? (ps...I stole the title from William Empson...I liked the title...so there had to be 7 :)

  • Dantheman | February 27, 2013 2:05 PMReply

    A little lazy on your part to lump the really good 6's in with the bad 6's. Shouldn't the goal of this type of publication, let alone this time of article, be to highlight exactly those festivals that are #6's but really well run and curated?

  • seafar | February 27, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    and the winner of the in-article giveaway is....Bridget. (it was too easy). email me if you'd like to claim the prize....it's firstname.surname on gmail.

  • Bridget | February 27, 2013 1:59 PMReply

    4th type film fest: NYFF?

  • James | February 27, 2013 2:09 PM

    That was my first thought, as well... :)

  • Carl Mumford | February 27, 2013 1:59 PMReply

    Type 4 = Telluride

  • Mike | February 27, 2013 5:52 PM

    I have attended many of these festivals and personally thought #4 was Telluride also.