Since the organisation of the first film festival in Venice in 1932 as part of the Biennale for Contemporary Art, a network of film festivals has spread from Europe – with Venice, Moscow, Cannes, Karlovy Vary, Locarno and later Berlin[1] – all over the world.

It is estimated that the international market currently comprises around 10,000[2] film festivals. And while Kenneth Turan stated in his standard work Sundance to Sarajevo 15 years ago, „there is barely one day on the calendar where some film festival is not being celebrated in some exotic city somewhere in the world“[3], in October 2013 alone the association of Berlin film festivals advertised its platform berliner-filmfestivals.de with the sloganEvery day a festival day!„.

Apart from the central role that film festivals play for cinematic art by presenting marginalized cinematic perspectives, new narratives and cinematographic innovations, their key value lies in providing audiences wih access to a large part of cinematic art that classical cinema has long denied arthouse films.

Julia von Heinz, (And Tomorrow the Entire World) describes her view of film festivals in an interview with the trade magazine Blickpunkt:Film, as follows: The importance of festivals is growing continuously. There are now almost fluid transitions between regular cinema exploitation, curated series, small and major festivals, film weeks. … It is no coincidence that more and more festivals are emerging, even in small towns, and growing very rapidly… Filmmakers are seeking out these places just as much as audiences. I have noticed that a film screened at such an event attracts a much larger audience, especially in smaller cities, than if it is simply included in the regular program. One can only encourage cinema operators towards taking this course of action.

Eighty-five percent of films shown at film festivals never reach commercial screens,” as Gideon Bachmann (director of the European Film Institute) already pointed out in 2000 in a Variety-article and the 11 so-called “A” filmfestivals “where films are first seen”, he calls the “11 ‘wholesalers’ are the professional, global marketplaces for new product”.

Few analyses to date have provided more detailed insight into the structures and processes of the film festival markets, nor into their history. Thus far, only a few researchers have addressed this important topic. In addition to some colleagues in the international sector, we are striving to gain more knowledge about the German film festival landscape.

[1] 1932 Mostra Internazionale del Cinema Venedig, 1935 Internationales Filmfestival Moskau, 1939/1946 Festival International du Film Cannes, 1946 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, 1946 Festival Internazionale del film Locarno, 1951 Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin (Berlinale).
[2] This figure is an estimate based on the Festival Directory (Filmfestival.com) with its 6,000 film festivals listed, as well as estimates by individual European film festival researchers, submission platform operators, submission agencies and world distributors.
[3] Turan, Kenneth (2002): Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press.

[Update: Okt. 2020]