5.2 Distribution

When attempting to answer the question of why film festivals exist, discussions tend to gravitate to the problem of distribution. In a competitive market that is driven by commercial objectives and molded by the aggressive strategies of major film companies, it is difficult for non-mainstream films to find theatrical distribution. Film festivals provide several “answers” to this problem. Gideon Bachmann (2000) distinguishes between “wholesale” and “retail” events: the former act primarily as markets where sales agents sell films, the latter are essentially exhibitors (cf. also Mark Peranson’s model of two kinds of festivals: business festivals and audience festivals [Peranson 2008, section 1.1]). “Wholesale” festivals revolve around the business of niche cinema markets, which is risky, but potentially lucrative when sufficiently tuned into the specific needs of “quality” products (Biskind 2004; Perren 2001, section 5). “Retail” festivals, on the other hand, fulfill a local function, showing films not (yet) available in regular theaters to people from the region. With the increasing pressure on art house exhibition and simultaneous boom in mid-sized and smaller film festivals, festivals themselves have become an alternative distribution method. Sales agents respond to the new situation by asking screening fees and revenues from ticket sales, putting added pressure on the low-budget festival organizations. In the studies below these current trends are described and evaluated. Some suggest an expansion to a “festival acquisition model,” in which films can be bought for distribution at film festivals (Bachmann 2000; Gaines 2008). Others speculate about the influence of digitalization on future distribution models (Gaines 2008; see also De Valck 2008, section 9.5).


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Bachmann, Gideon. 2000. “Insight into the Growing Festival Influence: Fest Vet Discusses ‘Wholesale’ and ‘Retail’ Events.” Variety, August 28, 2000. https://variety.com/2000/film/news/insight-into-the-growing-festival-influence-1117785609/.

Berra, John. 2008. “Selective Exhibition: The Sundance Film Festival and Its Significance to the Independent Sector.” In Declarations of Independence: American Cinema and the Partiality of Independent Production, 143–60. Bristol, UK, Chicago: intellect.

Burgess, Diane. 2012. “Bridging the Gap: Film Festival Governance, Public Partners and the ‘Vexing’ Problem of Film Distribution.” CJFS 21 (1): 2–20.

Burgess, Diane, and Kirsten Stevens. 2023. “Locating Buzz and Liveness: The Role of Geoblocking and Co-Presence in Virtual Film Festivals.” In Rethinking Film Festivals in the Pandemic Era and After, edited by Marijke de Valck and Antoine Damiens, 59–80. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Burgos, Sergi Mesonero. 2008. “A Festival Epidemic in Spain.” Film International 6 (4): 8–13.

Calderón Acero, Camilo Andrés. 2020. “Industria Cinematográfica Y Exhibición En Colombia: Apuntes Para Una Oferta Alternativa.” [Film Industry and Exhibition in Colombia: Notes for an Alternative Exhibition]. Mediaciones 16 (24): 8–21. https://doi.org/10.26620/uniminuto.mediaciones.16.24.2020.8-21.

Carroll Harris, Lauren. 2017. “Theorising Film Festivals as Distributors and Investigating the Post-Festival Distribution of Australian Films.” Studies in Australasian Cinema 4 (182): 46–58. https://doi.org/10.1080/17503175.2017.1356611.

Chávez Carvajal, Hugo. 2017. “Circulación Y Distribución De Cine Etnográfico En América Latina.” [Circulation and Distribution of Ethnographic Films in Latin America]. Universitas XV (27): 19–43. https://doi.org/10.17163/uni.n27.2017.01.

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Loist, Skadi. 2014. “Rêves transversaux: La circulation des films queer dans le réseau des festivals.” Transl. Brigitte Rollet. Diogène, no. 245: 80–103. https://doi.org/10.3917/dio.245.0080.

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(Last updated: 11. April 2024)