Fests test what can’t be taught in class

Education Impact Report 2012

Top global film festivals are pop-up microcosms of the pic business: Places where, in an intense time frame, art and commerce mix. For university film programs, they are also an ideal teachable moment.

“My only interest in film festivals is if they have a market,” says Bob Bassett, the dean of Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman U., who shepherds student outings to Sundance and South Korea’s Busan film fests. Instead of focusing on the aesthetics of debuting films, “the purpose of those trips to film festivals is all about the business: How marketing is changing, how social media and digital distribution are kicking in,” he says.

Chapman is just one of many schools that organize film-fest field trips for select groups of students. Even more important than giving undergrad and graduate-level students the opportunity to meet filmmakers and see their latest efforts is the chance to observe the dynamics of film sales, publicity and deal-making firsthand.

“We see the top festivals as coral reefs of media bio-activity where students can engage and learn and become part of the media ecosystem,” says Frank Patterson, dean of the college of motion picture arts at Florida State U. The film school’s Torchlight Program facilitates student attendance at Cannes, Sundance and SXSW under the school’s auspices. A professor, such as FSU’s Paul Cohen, attends as well to help frame the experience.

At NYU’s Stern School of Business, 26 MBA candidates enrolled in Content and Commerce at Cannes take on specific academic assignments and then travel to the market and fest, where they meet senior distribution execs, filmmakers and attend premieres and screenings. However, “It’s not a tour group,” says Al Lieberman, exec director of Stern’s entertainment media and technology division. “We guide them, we have discussions and reviews, and then they are on their own.”

This will be the course’s ninth year; prior to the event, students analyze several film companies and the work of one non-U.S. director in the fest. A final paper is due that tackles the marketability of a competition film. “They take everything they’ve learned and report on how they would exploit the film,” Lieberman says.

Though their event lacks the market environment of Cannes or Berlin, Tribeca organizers have partnered with the Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in downtown Chicago, collaborating with students at the two-year production-oriented program to produce unique digital content, including pre-show trailers, for the Gotham-based sprocket opera.

“There’s a real focus on enhancing real-world experiences while students are enrolled,” says Jon Patricof, president and chief operating officer of Tribeca Enterprises. “The school embodies the belief that collaboration between film, media and technology is essential for the training of future industry leaders.”

The Road to Tribeca class entails meet-ups with filmmakers (such as David O. Russell) but also hands-on activities, from blogging to filming events.

As with all school programs, the key incentive is the leg-up it gives students. “It’s an important part of their educational experience,” says NYU’s Lieberman. “People come back and say, ‘This changed my life.'”


Film schools see fests as an ideal forum for students to observe the industry in action. Here are some instructors who lead those expeditions annually:

  • Arizona State
    Kevin Sandler
    Students interned and volunteered at Sundance 2012.

  • Columbia College Chicago
    Bruce Sheridan
    Students attend Sundance.

  • Columbia (New York)
    Ira Deutchman
    MFA students attend structured program at Cannes with meetings, screenings and seminars.

  • Florida State
    Paul Cohen
    Select students attend SXSW, Tribeca, Sundance and Cannes through the Torchlight Program.

  • Loyola Marymount
    Ariane Bicho
    Rotates fest attendance: In 2013, students can expect to attend SXSW, Berlin, LAFF, Annecy and Casablanca’s Recontres Sous la Tente.

  • NYU Tisch School of the Arts Asia
    Michael Burke
    MFA students participate in Palm Springs ShortFest.

  • Seattle U.
    Edwin Weihe
    “The Festival” offered as a course; per course requirements, students intern at Seattle Film Festival.

  • U. of Miami
    Dia Kontaxis
    Students attend Miami and Slamdance film fests.

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