FILM FESTIVALS - THE BIG SIX
As Sundance, the first of the world’s six major film festivals begins this week, Andrew L. Urban takes a snapshot of these vital platforms for new and somehow special cinema each year.
While there are over 6,000 recognised film festivals around the world each year, the top six are the ones that every filmmaker wants their film to be invited to, and preferably more than once. And preferably they want to be invited, too.
Sundance Film Festival, Utah, USA
January 16 - 26
Perhaps the coolest of them all, Sundance is young and feisty, although it began life as the Utah/US Film Festival in 1978 (in September) and in 1981 was moved to January – supposedly to attract Hollywood moguls who like to ski. In 1984 it was rebranded as Sundance (and celebrating its 30th this year as such) and Robert Redford’s association gave the festival terrific impetus. Now held in Park City, Salt Lake City and Ogden in Utah (as well as at the Sundance Resort), the event attracts over 40,000 patrons, but more importantly, it’s a significant showcase for US and international independent filmmakers – attracting the world’s talent and movie scouts. (More than 12,000 films submitted for consideration this year.) Competitive sections give platforms to American indie films as well as international works in drama and documentary, feature length and shorts. There are also non competitive sections, like NEXT and New Frontier, plus a Midnight section.
Berlin International Film Festival
February 6 – 16
It’s so cold in Berlin during this February event that the Festival has no trouble getting people into (warm) screening rooms; maybe that’s why it has the record as the biggest anywhere in the world, with about 500,000 admissions. And they have plenty to choose from, with as many as 400 films in various sections and sidebars, but the main competition, like Cannes, is limited to 20. The primary venue is the Stage Theatre in Potsdamer Platz; other venues include the world’s largest stage at the Friedrichstadt Palast. Coming up for its 64th edition in 2014, and (like Cannes) there is a major film market held simultaneously, attracting thousands of film professionals, to join the masses attending the festival screenings. The main film prize is the Golden Bear, and the Silver Bear is given out for direction, acting and short film.
Tribeca Film Festival, New York, USA
April 16 - 27
Unique in its motivation – a response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York – and one of its objectives, to revitalise New York’s badly hit Tribeca neighbourhood, this fest is not yet a teenager (the 2014 event will be No. 12). Where Sundance has Robert Redford as its icon, Tribeca has Robert De Niro, who founded it with Jane Rosenthal. De Niro bought the old arthouse theatre in the area and renamed it Tribeca Theatre, which hosts many of the sessions. The event has grown rapidly in both scope (some 170 features) and popularity (some 300,000 people) – little wonder in the Big Apple. At the 2013 festival, Australia’s Kim Mordaunt’s film The Rocket won the award for Best Narrative Feature. In 2013 Tribeca launched an online mini-fest of four shorts and four features; audiences can view & vote.
Festival de Cannes
May 14 – 25
The unchallenged king of film festivals, Cannes will be 67 in 2014, the veritable altar of cinema, awarding the Palme d’Or as the main prize. Unlike many international film festivals, Cannes doesn’t go for big numbers. The Official Competition usually has about 20 films, and the ‘little brother’ sidebar, Un Certain Regard (launched in 1978) keeps to similar numbers; the point of difference is the latter selects films that are somehow different or show the filmmaker’s unique take… Muriel’s Wedding, for example. But there are a few more films to be found Out of Competition, Classics, Shorts and in Special Screenings. Running in parallel but under its own steam is the Directors’ Fortnight, a non-competitive program looking for independent (sometimes iconoclastic) films – and easier to get tickets for. If you go to Cannes for the festival, you’ll be one of about 30,000 trying to glimpse a movie star.
Venice International Film Festival
August 27 – Sept 6
The world’s oldest: it celebrated 70 years in 2013, and is part of the wide ranging exhibition of art and culture, the Venice Biennale. Oozing class, screenings are held in the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido (and other venues), away from the city, in late August/early September. The main prizes are the Golden Lion (the ‘icon’ of Venice) for Best Film, the Silver Lion for Best Director and the Volpi Cup (named after the event’s founder) for Best Actor or Actress. In Italy’s Fascist era, the prizes were named after Mussolini. Other sections include Horizons and Controcampo, screening a selection of Italian features, shorts and documentaries. The mood in Venice is less flamboyant than in Cannes, but the films are always a treat. – some go on to Oscar glory.
Toronto International Film Festival
September 4 - 14
Hot on the heels of Venice each year in September, Toronto has become as important to the film industry as Cannes or Berlin, and attracts as many stars and filmmakers. Started in 1976, it’s relatively young but with its focus on independent cinema (like Black Swan, Slumdog Millionaire, Precious), it attracts the edgy and the bright, with matching atmos. Originally in the Yorkville district, since 2010 the festival has been centred on the wonderful TIFF Bell Lightbox cultural centre, with five cinemas, three learning studios, a student centre, a reference library, a lounge, a gallery, a rooftop terrace and a splendid three storey atrium. Five more cinemas are planned alongside and the adjacent 46 storey Festival Tower means really keen movie fans can live right there.
Published January 16, 2014
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World Premiere - Sundance, Jan. 16 – 26. John Slattery's debut feature stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Richard Jenkins (pic). The story of a man trying to conceal the truth about the construction “accident” that killed his stepson.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
World Premiere – Opening Night film, Berlin, Feb 6 – 16. . From Wes Anderson, the adventures of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. Opens in Australia April 10, 2014
Cast also includes: Saorsie Ronan, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Bill Murray*, Léa Seydoux, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman. Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bob Balaban*, Mathieu Amalric
*Murray and Balaban are also in George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, another Berlin selection (out of Competition, International Premiere). Opens in Australia March 13, 2014