Every day there are several film festivals happening simultaneously in different parts of the world. They vary in size, format, theme, vision and programme. Equally different are the theories, methods and approaches to research, frame and “reframe” them. Yet, “what are we reframing?” “What is the research question when we study film festivals?” Is film festival studies a discipline, even, or are film festivals “heuristic devices” – borrowing Lindiwe Dovey’s words (2015) – through which we study film culture? These are some of the key question that launched the ‘Reframing Film Festivals’ at Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice last 11-12 February 2020, with the renowned film festival scholar Prof Dina Iordanova. The international conference, organised in partnership with the Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro, gathered over 70 researchers, practitioners and students working on the field, organised around 13 panels, two keynotes, and two talks and film screenings at Teatro Ca’ Foscari. A sister event, or second episode, as the co-organisers Marco Dalla Gassa (from Venice) and Federico Zecca (from Bari), put it, will be hosted from 25 to 26 March 2020. This is precisely what took Estrella Sendra there, who will be presenting the paper ‘Africa and/in Festivals: Decolonising Film Curation’ as part of the sixth panel ‘Constructing Local and National Identities’ in Bari next 25 March. The conference was an enriching space for the research-led teaching approach at Winchester School of Art, with panels that have inspired the teaching of the ‘Festivals and Events’ strand led by Estrella Sendra, as part of the team-taught module Global Media 2: Industries and Debates, led by Dr Megen de Bruin-Molé, in the MA Global Media Management.
The conference opened with the keynote of an emblematic scholar on film studies, Dina Iordanova, Professor of Global Cinema and Creative Cultures at University of Saint Andrews, who emphasised the very essence of the existence of film festivals, with her presentation ‘The Corrective Role of Film Festivals.’ These, according to Iordanova, depart from the awareness of the fact that there is a body of films that are made but not seen. Their aim is then to showcase the unseen cinema. Therefore, when creating a film festival, we create a context for what is not seen. Festival are corrective in that their main function is to change power dynamics between stakeholders, since political and industry stakeholders are often at odds. The thought-provoking keynote included a reflection on how the Busan International Film Festival in South made the Parasitephenomenon possible. When film director Bong Joon-ho received the historic Oscar, he started making claims about the greatness of Korean Cinema. This, Prof Iordanova argued, evidenced a national industry ambition. That is, “even though Bunsan is international, it has foregrounded what is happening to Korea in the global state.” Prof Iordanova further shared her views on how the studies on film festivals should move forward, suggesting a historical approach to festivals, an analysis of how they come about, and of the politics of the industry.
The various panels included one on World Cinema and Festival curatorship. Which included a presentation of East Asian Film Festivals in the European Film Festival Circuit, an analysis of the staging of Iranian cinema in Berlinale and another on particular interest of Estrella Sendra, by Farah Clémentine Dramani-Issifou, curator of BeninDocs and Belleville en Vue(s), in Benin and France, respectively, and currently a PhD candidate at CELSA and Gaston Berger Universities in Paris and Saint-Louis, respectively. Dramani-Issifou spoke about the two-fold artistic and political intention of the festival, in order to counter-balance false stereotypes about Africa in France, “a country where humanity has been rejected.” The researcher further stressed the difficulty of defining what is Africa, and how the films that are included in the programme are by filmmakers who identify themselves as African. A very strong panel was that on Theories and Methodologies, chaired also by Prof Dina Iordanova. Particularly enlightening was Dr Rachel Johnson’s presentation, from University of Leeds, who presented ‘Film Festivals and Ideology Critique: A Method.’ “Can we describe film festivals as ideological? And if so, how do we study such ideological dimension? What do we understand by ideology?” Dr Johnson then shared a three-tier method to research festivals, looking at the film festival apparatus, the paratext and the film texts. Further panels included archival methods, such as ‘Film Festivals: Origins and Histories’, ‘Amateur and Archive Film Festivals’, or how festivals shape film history in different contexts, with a strong focus on small festivals, such as presentations by Dr María Paz Peirano, from University of Chile, and Aida Vallejo, from the University of the Basque Country. The conference papers were complemented by evening talks and screenings, in conversation with key figures in film festivals, such as Alberto Barbera, director of the Venice International Film Festival. Full details of the programme can be found here.