Award campaigns, marketing make film events more like business

Nine reps from the world’s major film festivals who gathered Friday said they feel good about the work they do, but fretted over the increasing commercialization of the fests.

In the sophomore session of the Variety Cannes Conference Series, the toppers said things have changed since they took over their roles, citing such factors as campaigning for awards, thesps who expect star treatment and companies aggressively marketing their products.

“Festivals have become platforms for many things,” said Sundance Film Festival’s Gary Gilmore, “but you can get overwhelmed by marketing platform realities.”

Apologizing for Venice inventing the whole business in 1932, Moritz de Hadeln noted how previously “the only star was the director. This changed under pressure of the yellow press and TV, the need to deliver glamour.”

Telluride’s Tom Luddy said it’s “becoming increasingly clear films in festivals are the kind (of films) which win Oscars and there’s a closer connection between the fall festivals and the campaigning.”

The panel’s moderator, Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos, asked whether there is too much Hollywood-related activity at fests — which stoked the flames as Gilmore “worried about being the vehicle for entourages who come through and act like they own the place or preening celebs who can’t be convinced to sit down.”

Toronto’s Michele Maheux said, “Now it’s four times the publicists, et cetera. Entourages are out of hand.” Telluride’s Luddy added “agents, managers, attitudes and cellphones” to the hate list.

Toppers were upbeat about fests despite 9/11, SARS, war with Iraq and terror alerts, with Karlovy Vary’s Julietta Zacharova “hoping for normalcy. Things are getting better. Guests are coming, films confirmed. Our audience is young and enthusiastic.”

Pusan’s Kim Dong Ho has also “no problems with the invitations. We have more than 100 films coming.”

Repping the 2-year-old Tribeca, Peter Scarlet reported “more sponsors than in the first year, audiences almost tripled and some 500,000 people visited. The corporate community rallied round. Only two or three guests cancelled.”

Berlin’s Dieter Kosslick said this year’s slogan, Towards Tolerance, “has been perfect for celebrities and independent filmmakers. The Americans educated for us 50 years on how not to make war and now Germans have problems with making war.”

But toppers were happiest talking about the films and filmmakers they’ve promoted over the years. New York’s Richard Pena cited “Pedro Almodovar and Atom Egoyan. The elite is now spread throughout the world.” Karlovy Vary’s Zacharova was proud “of opening films up to the world.”

For young filmmakers, toppers touted local initiatives such as Berlin’s Talent Campus, the Sundance Lab, Toronto’s matching filmmakers with producers, New York’s collaboration with existing institutions. Venice’s de Hadeln reported “strong demand from Italian film schools and we’re working on it.”

One audience member was pleased to see two women on the panel, with Kosslick promising “a complete 100% transgender panel!”

The conference was presented by the Maryland Film Office and sponsored by Filmfinders.

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