Film Festivals (Dorota Ostrowska, Birkbeck College, Univ. London; Winter 2009/10)

Film Festivals, module in MA History of Film and Visual Media 2009-2010

Dr Dorota Ostrowska
Birkbeck College
University of London
MA History of Film and Visual Media 2009-2010


This module focuses on a particular mode of film exhibition, distribution, and recently, production, which is associated with international film festivals. The module examines how film festivals have changed in the post-war period as they have strived to strike a balance between the art, spectacle, politics and business of cinema. This historical exploration is an opportunity to examine key elements of film festivals associated with programming, funding, relationship to film industry and cities in which film festivals are located, criticism and awards.
The phenomenon of film festivals began to emerge at a particular historical junction in Europe in the late thirties of the 20th century which also saw the rise of nationalist and fascist politics. In the post-war period major international film festivals in Cannes, Venice and Berlin were equally important for promoting the art of cinema and the notion of film auteur as they were for showcasing national film production often from the isolated places behind the Iron Curtain and from post-colonial nations of Africa and Latin America. In the post-Cold War period the processes of globalization accompanied by the advent of digital technologies emphasized the economic dimension of the existing film festivals, which apart from exhibiting films became also important market and business places, and more recently even production hubs for world cinema. Recently we have seen a proliferation of thematic and specialized film festivals linked to the government policies to promote creative industries in the recognition of the fact that such festivals are able to generate revenue through a particularly focused film spectacle.
The module includes a compulsory practical component consisting of a 12 day fieldtrip to the Berlinale (International Film Festival in Berlin) 11th-21st February 2010, which will offer an invaluable insight into the workings of a major international film festival and global film industry.


The module is assessed by a 5,000 words essay whose topic must be agreed with the tutor. The students are also required to present and submit a 2,000-2,500 words research report from their fieldtrip to Berlinale. The report will be marked and commented on but the mark will not be carried forward and will not count towards the final assessment. The elements of the report may be further developed in the essay. However, the essay and the report must remain two distinct pieces of research work. The report is to be submitted on the final day of the term (Friday 19th March).

SYLLABUS (Winter term 2010)

Seminars: Tuesdays 6:00-8:00, Room G20, 43 Gordon Square
Week 1 (5th January) Showing off: fairs, exhibitions and film festivals
Week 2 (12th January) Programming, curating and talent fostering
Week 3 (19th January) Festival as an “event”: jurys, awards and critics
Week 4 (26th January) Showbiz: film markets and film industry
Week 5 (2nd February) Star power on the red carpet: advertising cinema
Week 6 (9th February) Festival geographies: localities, cities and communities
Week 7 (11th-21st February) FIELDTRIP TO BERLINALE
Week 8 (23rd February) no class
Week 9 (2nd March) no class
Week 10 (9th March) Fieldtrip reports presentations
Week 11(16th March) no class


Biskind, Peter (2004). Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of the Independent Film. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Dayan, Daniel (2000). “Looking for Sundance: The Social Construction of a Film Festival.” Moving Images, Culture and the Mind. Ed. Ib Bondebjerg. Luton: Univ. of Luton Press. pp. 43–52.

De Valck, Marijke (2007). Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Univ. Press.

Elsaesser, Thomas (2005). “Film Festival Networks: The New Topographies of Cinema in Europe.” European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Univ. Press. pp. 82–107.

Evans, Owen (2007). “Border Exchanges: The Role of the European Film Festival.” Journal of Contemporary European Studies 15:1 (2007): 23–33.

Fehrenbach, Heidi (1995). “Mass Culture and Cold War Politics: The Berlin Film Festival of the 1950s.” Cinema in Democratizing Germany: Reconstructing National Identity after Hitler. Chapel Hill/London: Univ. of North Carolina Press. pp. 234–259.

Iordanova, Dina (2008). “Editorial (Special Issue on Film Festivals).” Film International 6:4 (2008): 4–7.

Iordanova, Dina (2006). “Showdown of the Festivals: Clashing Entrepreneurships and Post-Communist Management of Culture.” Film International 4:5 (2006): 25–37.

Iordanova, Dina with Ragan Rhyne (eds) (2009). Film Festival Yearbook 1: The Festival Circuit. Wallfower Press.

Porton, Richard, ed. Dekalog 3: On Film Festivals. London: Wallflower Press (2009).

Rosenbaum, Jonathan (2000). “Trafficking in Movies: Festival-hopping in the Nineties.” Movie Wars, How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See. London: Wallflower. pp. 143–173.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan (2003). “Sampling in Rotterdam.” Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia. Eds. Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Adrian Martin. London: British Film Institute. pp. 52–60.

Schwartz, Vanessa (2007). “The Cannes Film Festival and the Marketing of Cosmopolitanism.” It’s So French! Hollywood, Paris and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture. Chicago/London: Univ. of Chicago Press. pp. 56–99.

Shrum, Wesley Monroe Jr. (1996). Fringe and Fortune: The Role of Critics in High and Popular Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

Stringer, Julian (2001). “Global Cities and International Film Festival Economy.” Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a Global Context. Eds. Mark Shiel, and Tony Fitzmaurice. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 134–144.

Turan, Kenneth (2002). Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made. Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press.