June 21, 2006
N.Y. film festivals proliferate
By Gregg Goldstein
NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - It's an epidemic. In the
New York City area, well over 50 film festivals have sprung up
over the last few decades, most of those in the last 10 years
With more than a film festival a week, and the average fest
running about eight days, there's hardly a moment in which New
Yorkers can't see the latest works from independent filmmakers
"Organizers bring festivals here because they know that
filmmakers want to be in New York, for the depth and diversity
of our city's neighborhoods and people," says Katherine Oliver,
commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and
Yet the question still lingers: Is this good for the New
York film industry and film lovers, or just sensory overload?
Certainly it provides a wider choice than a Manhattan
multiplex, and a chance for films to get into the public eye.
But the sheer number of fests is daunting, even for the
most obsessive filmgoer.
This month alone has seen the debut of the Staten Island
Film Festival (where a smaller film like "The Celestine
Prophecy" can grab attention with a best narrative feature win)
and the ninth annual Brooklyn International Film Festival --
not to be confused with the fourth annual Brooklyn Underground
Film Festival in April, or Brooklyn's sixth annual Coney Island
Film Festival in October, or Brooklyn's Sundance Institute at
BAM, which debuted in May.
Name an ethnicity and New York likely has a film festival
to match -- the New York Turkish Film Festival or the Red Shift
Film Festival for Russian offerings.
Asian-Americans have two fests, but the African-American
community trumps them with four, most notably the Urbanworld
Vibe Film Festival, which launches Wednesday.
"On the one hand, it's kind of great," IFP executive
director Michelle Byrd says. "On the other hand, it's really
difficult to eke out time in your schedule. It's unrealistic to
think all these films are going to be covered by the media or
seen by buyers."
The Tribeca Film Festival is arguably the city's biggest
fest market, but it's a small fish in a global pond. Yet
Tribeca did yield several sales this year, showing its
continuing growth, and even publicity from smaller fests can
reach distributors on their home turf.
Still, in the center of independent film, why are so many
executives still trekking to Utah, Canada and France while
overlooking what's in their backyard? Perhaps the answer lies
in the city's great strengths: its diversity and its standing
as one of the top cultural capitals of the world.
Unfortunately, diversity and high culture don't usually
attract distributors, just cineastes.
The Film Society of Lincoln Center's New York Film
Festival, at 44 years old the longest-running fest in the
city's history, has never aimed to become a market.
With a lineup dedicated to presenting the creme de la creme
of cinema, many of the films already have U.S. distribution,
and those that don't are often critically acclaimed but obscure
This fest's genesis and the city's diversity set a tone for
all the niche fests that followed. And while Sundance changed
people's perspective on the profitability of independent films
and kick-started a slew of new festivals around the U.S., this
phenomenon simply created more "virtual" art houses,
supplementing the many that have closed since the 1980s.
In the end, fests may give some niche films much-needed
awards and publicity on their way to theaters, DVD or oblivion.
But in a city known for instant gratification, indie filmmakers
shouldn't count on it just yet in New York.