Over the last decade, film festivals have attained such an exalted status that they sometimes threaten to overwhelm the films they present. "Sundance To Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made" is Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan's attempt to give readers a clear-headed, first-hand perspective of events.

Over the last decade, film festivals have attained such an exalted status that they sometimes threaten to overwhelm the films they present. “Sundance To Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made” is Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan’s attempt to give readers a clear-headed, first-hand perspective of events that usually receive breathless and glossy coverage. Describing film fests as “picture windows onto a wider, more diverse world,” Turan’s focus is not so much on the films presented but on the unique style of each event. The result, however, is a collection of well-informed but uninvolving essays. While Turan steers clear of E! Channel hyperbole, his reporting could use a strong point of view.

In a slim collection of 12 pieces, Turan devotes as much space to an obscure biannual fest in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso as to the much better known Sundance. This should come as a relief for anyone who’s seen one too many photo spreads of celebrities playfully throwing snowballs in Park City.

While Turan is careful to note the economic and cultural impact of Cannes and Sundance, he’s most eager to argue the significance of fests where Graydon Carter’s name doesn’t mean a thing.

Indeed, Turan is at his best when focusing on little-known events such as the Lone Pine Film Fest. Held just three hours east of Los Angeles, it celebrates only those films shot in the Alabama Hills. (There’s a lot of Westerns.) An all-silent festival in the unlikely locale of Pordenone, Italy also rates a chapter.

In addition, the book includes wholly adequate festival reports from Havana, Finland’s Midnight Sun and even the exhibitors’ confab known as ShoWest.

Unfortunately, Turan’s confidence as a film critic doesn’t seem to extend to being a fest critic. He tends to become mired in statistics more suited to press releases and favors mild-mannered anecdotes over strong opinions. (Goran Markovic, “the director of the delightful ‘Tito and Me,’ ” says that the favorite films of Yugoslavian strongman Tito often became favorites at the Sarajevo Film Fest.)

This drawback becomes most frustrating in the piece that closes the book, “I, the Jury.” Turan’s experience of being a juror at the Montreal World Film Festival offers the perfect framework for a behind-the-scenes look at the strange and cloistered world of fest juries.

However, while he acknowledges hearing of juries where members took pets to screenings or skipped out to play a set of tennis, that wasn’t his experience. Instead, he tells us, his experience was orderly and jury topper Jeanne Moreau was nothing but fair — elements that don’t make for much of a story.

It’s to Turan’s credit that he doesn’t try to create drama where likely there was none. But the book suffers from a lack of colorful, closely observed detail or an over-arching theme.

Sundance To Sarajevo: Film Festivals And The World They Made

U. California Press; 192 Pgs.; $24.95

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Kenneth Turan
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