The Movie Lovers

The world makes out all right at the International Film Festival

MARK PERANSON: For the most part, film festivals give false hope to foreign filmmakers that there are a lot of people worldwide who really care about foreign films. I'm kidding.

BOB COWGILL: I think an international film festival should provide two essential elements: a program of remarkable aesthetic value and a window unto the diversity of world cinema. The number of foreign films that play in major U.S. cities is much lower today than it was in the halcyon days of the late '70s. A good festival will help correct the balance--in one gargantuan two-week orgy of movie watching.

AMY TAUBIN: A film festival is also a social event. So while it's an opportunity for audiences to get acquainted with countries and cultures they know nothing about, there can also be a discourse around these strange films that goes beyond the kind of conversation you'd have with your date or your spouse or your kids as you exit the multiplex.

Tim Lane

B. RUBY RICH: Bring the world to your town and your town to the world, so to speak.

PERANSON: There are many different kinds of festivals, and they serve very different purposes. There's no point comparing a festival like the MSPIFF to Cannes or Toronto. There's no industry presence at the MSPIFF--which is a good thing, since the primary purpose of a festival shouldn't be to service the business community. But of course this also has an impact on the films that are shown.

COWGILL: Our audience development in Minneapolis--our ability to create awareness of the festival, to increase the interest and sophistication of the audience--isn't in the league of New York or Toronto, and I can attest that this fact weighs heavily in considerations of what the festival could and should be. But neither are we in Omaha or Kansas City or Oklahoma City--and for that, as a film lover, I'm grateful. Nevertheless, I'm always afraid that at any moment we could slip into the darkness, cinematically speaking--into a film culture that's completely controlled by Time Warner, Disney/Miramax, Sony, et al. In that sense, the role of the MSPIFF is to preserve civilization as discerning film lovers would want it out here in the plains.

MATTHEW WILDER: I think the most important thing for a festival that's a notch or two below New York and Toronto in terms of visibility is to get across the strongest possible work--even at the expense of maintaining all the delicacies in the geographic smorgasbord. There are so many extraordinary movies out there right now--movies that don't fit into the standard pattern of art-house distribution--that it's much more necessary to give them a proper berth than it is to ask, "So--what's Latvia up to this year?" Because the answer might be, "Well, not much, really."

COWGILL: Personally, I sometimes do feel that less is more. But when I was executive director of Minnesota Film Arts, I became persuaded that the MSPIFF approach--the "geographic smorgasbord," I suppose--is not only valid culturally, but is expected and valued by many festival patrons. Our festival has grown out of ethnic constituencies of the Twin Cities, and it continues to serve those constituencies. So there remains a kind of grassroots programming initiative [at the MSPIFF], as there has been ever since Al Milgrom started the festival more than 20 years ago. Would it be better for the MSPIFF to follow the New York model--with fewer films, each one meticulously curated, each one drawing a larger audience? Perhaps something would be gained in terms of intellectual and aesthetic cohesion. But the merits of serendipity--the sheer abundance of films in the MSPIFF, the unusual combinations that you're apt to find--are real, too. I don't think New York offers that.

PERANSON: My philosophy is: The more films, the better--as long as you can afford it. If you screen a film and only five people show up--and three of them hate it--you're still doing your job.

RICH: I've seen all kinds of festivals over the years: festivals meant to jump-start tourism or production, festivals meant to further the social or financial ambitions of those organizing them, festivals spun out of film societies, festivals set up to appeal to cinephiles who are unsatisfied with commercial distribution. It all depends on the time and place. In general, they're a way to turn films into events, like opera or dance--one-time-only occasions for which you "had to be there."

PERANSON: In the last decade especially, festivals have provided an alternate distribution system for films that might otherwise fall through the cracks. A "festival film," pejoratively speaking, is one that can only play in festivals; there's little to no audience for it elsewhere. But for that poor foreign filmmaker who has been toiling away for years on a film, he or she would love to see it play anywhere--to see people's reactions, to see a bit of the world. You could argue that festivals preserve the film culture by supporting filmmakers as much as audiences.

CP: But do some festivals mainly support the industry at the expense of both filmmakers and filmgoers? Whatever its virtues--and without a doubt it has them--a festival like Sundance seems to play directly into the culture industry's obsession with marketing and publicity.

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