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Pick a Fest, Any Fest

If it seems as if there's an event for every taste, you're not far off. Surprisingly, overlap isn't a big issue.

April 28, 2002|KENNETH TURAN

In two weeks, the movers and shakers of the international film world will gather in the South of France for the Cannes Film Festival. Although Cannes is the world's biggest, most prestigious international film event, it is by no means the only one. As this excerpt from Kenneth Turan's "Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made" (published this month by the University of California Press) makes clear, the festival universe is an especially wide-ranging and surprising one where one size definitely does not fit all.

No one wants to speak against the Bible, but the sentiment in Ecclesiastes famously insisting "to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven" in no way applies to the universe of film festivals.

Month in, month out, from the Flickfest International Outdoor Short Film Festival starting in early January in the Bondi Beach area of Sydney, Australia, through the Autrans Festival of Mountain and Adventure films ending in mid-December in the high, thin air of southeast France, there is barely a day on the international calendar where some film festival is not being celebrated in some exotic city somewhere in the world.

Haugesund, Norway, Oulu, Finland and Umea, Sweden, have festivals, as does Trencianske Teplice in the Slovak Republic, India's Thiruvananathapuram, Iran's Kish Island ("the pearl of the Persian Gulf"), the Australia beach resort of Noosa and the Italian city of Udine, which unexpectedly bills itself as "the world's largest showcase of popular East Asian cinema." There are nearly 60 Jewish film festivals in existence but only one QT event, in which director Quentin Tarantino annually takes over the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas, and shows favorite films to benefit the Austin Film Society.

There is even an intentionally stateless movable feast called Transfest which facilitates "the simple idea of introducing film festivals which take place somewhere in the world, in another place." Festivals have become such a growth industry that Missoula, Mont., has two and a petite but trendy town like Telluride, Colo., now has three (MountainFilm Festival and IndieFest 2K in addition to the regular Telluride event). And, especially in Europe, various coordinating bodies have grown up to try to create order out of the impending chaos.

On the largest scale, the European Coordination of Film Festivals, created to remedy "the disparity of practices and some dangerous excesses and trends" of the continent's proliferating fests, listed 76 festivals when it began in 1995 and had more than doubled to 154 in 20 countries by 2000.

Even with all these official bodies, no one seems to be exactly sure how many festivals there are in the world, not even books created specifically to keep track of them. "The Variety Guide to Film Festivals" by Steven Gaydos lists more than 400, while three other books ("International Film Festival Guide" by Shael Stolberg, "The Film Festival Guide" by Adam Langer and "The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide" by Chris Gore) record over 500 each.

Not surprisingly, film festivals are especially a growth area in the United States. So much so that critic David Thomson, in an arch list in Movieline magazine titled "100 Questions We Honestly Want to Ask Hollywood" ("What is Tom Cruise going to do instead of aging?" "Why do they make the new James Bond films seem as if they were made in 1962?") found space to wonder, "Can anyone name five cities in America that do not now have film festivals?"

This proliferation is visible across the board. While New York, ever the cultural behemoth, hosts an estimated 30 festivals (the wildest being the New York Underground Film Festival, annually home to questionable items like "Home Brewer Serial Killer" and "Farley Mowat Ate My Brother"), North Carolina boasts 13, including something called the Hi Mom Film Festival in Chapel Hill.

It's one thing for just about every city within cheering distance of Los Angeles (Palm Beach, Malibu, Idyllwild, Temecula, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Santa Clarita, the Silver Lake neighborhood proper and the surfside trio of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Hermosa Beach) to have a festival, it's another to witness a similar proliferation in the Midwest.

Garry Trudeau astutely gave a nod to this fest-mania in his "Doonesbury" comic strip by having B.D.'s actress wife, Boopsie, the star of "Chugalug," "Beerblasters" and "Pompom Pam," be the subject of the Barbara Ann Boopstein Film Festival, sponsored by the Aspen Ski Patrol and highlighted by, she is pleased to report, "a panel discussion of my film work! Led by Roger Ebert!"

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