3 Top International Film Festivals

International Film festivals have played a prominent role in garnering interest in world films. Festivals such as Cannes Film Festival, Berlinale and Toronto Film Festival have been longstanding. These Film Festivals have given a platform to many good films which would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Renowned directors, actors and producers grace the event with their presence and huge corporate sponsors promoting their brands do not miss rubbing off some glitter from these star studded events.

But the age old wisdom of all that glitters not being gold holds true for these festivals. Time and again, these festivals are marred by controversies ranging from choice of films to be screened to women artists not being awarded.

Cannes film festival is one of the most popular film festivals where films from all over the world participate. This festival has a long history of controversies and scandal. The first of many controversies was the need to shut down the festival in 1968. Revolution was boiling in every corner of France and all events and activities had been cancelled. Many film makers withdrew their films to show support for the protestors and eventually the director of the festival was forced to announce the festival as discontinued. The establishment of The Berlin International Film Festival which is also one of the notable festivals is believed to have its roots in the Cold War itself.

Choice of films for screening has caused controversies in many Film Festivals. Fahrenheit 9/11’s reception by the progressive jury and audience at Cannes caused disappointment for many people who were not critical of the U.S. Government. Explicit sex and violence depicted in films Irreversible and The Brown Bunny, in 2004 and 2003 respectively, caused much outrage in the audience and most walked out with a few remaining, only to boo. In 1970, in Berlinale, a jury member strongly objected to Michael Verhoeven’s film ‘O.K.’ which showed U.S. soldiers to Vietnam involved in war crimes.

More recently, there have been controversies regarding choice of films for awards with reference to subject, home country and ridiculously enough, even the gender of film makers.

At Venice Film Festival, 2012, the international jury chose to give three awards to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master which is a fictional story about formation of a new religion. The press and critics in general have shown disapproval and also furor over the fact that Italian films were not recognized. Acclaimed director Marco Bellocchio expressed his anger when his film Bella Addormentata which has been given raving reviews by critics did not receive any notable award and said that he would boycott this Festival in future.

At Cannes there has been a petition signed by 2000 people that accuses Cannes Film Festival of being sexist because it has so far awarded the Palme d’Or to only one woman in 64 years. Spokespersons for the festival responded that the festival only represents the industry and there being actually few women in the industry, the award list also had only a few women. The jury at Cannes does have imminent women to judge the films. Many agree that a film should be selected for its genius and not sex of the maker.

There are other problems too such as scheduling of film screenings, interviews and events which becomes difficult due to the sheer number of participating films. Judging the films becomes difficult and Matteo Garrone who has won the jury prize at Cannes two times and served as a jury member at Venice said that it was a bad experience which he would never want to repeat.

In spite of problems and controversies, international film festivals continue to be popular for the wide range of films that use these festivals as launch pads. The dark spots will continue to be overlooked as long as stars continue to walk the red carpet.

Sundance International Film Festival

Originally known as “Utah/United States Film Festival”, the Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent film festival in America. This festival creates opportunities to showcase new work and talent from American and International film-makers to the public and important personalities in the film world. Annually held during the 3rd week of January (spanning over 7 days), the Festival brings together emerging talent, original and authentic storytellers and an amazing audience.

The main feature of Sundance Film Festival is that it comprises of two main competitive sections of films:

  1. Dramatic films
  2. Documentary films

Both sections consist of 3 main categories from American and International films:

  1. Short films
  2. Length films
  3. Out-of-competition films.

Every year, the Sundance Team reviews innumerable independent films from across the globe. It discusses almost any kind of topics, representing different genres, languages and culture. From animation to aboriginal, to trendy films, Sundance has everything to boast about.


The festival occupies more than 3 theaters and is held at various places in the Utah area of Park City such as the Sundance Resort, the Main Street of Park City, Kimball Junction, Ogden, Sundance Village and Salt Lake City.


In 1978, the Utah Film Commission initiated a film event in Salt Lake City, known as “The Utah/US Film Festival”, under the auspice of Sterling Van Wagenen (head of Wildwood and Robert Redford’s Company). This was done in a bid to draw attention of filmmakers towards Utah. The goal of Utah Film Festival was to highlight retrospective films, raise competition and make visible the potentiality of American independent films in Utah. Although 60 films were screened, the event did not work very well, perhaps due to the some misconceptions about the city or the name of event was not well known. However, it gained recognition due to the involvement of actor Robert Redford and the country’s yearning for venues celebrating American films.

In 1991, the event was shifted to Park City, where Robert Redford (American actor, producer and director) founded The Sundance Institute. Later, the management of the well-developed institute was taken over by Sterling. After undergoing several name changes since 1985, eventually the Festival came to be known as “Sundance Film Festival” in 1991.

Chicago International Film Festival

The Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) is the oldest competitive film festival in North America. The festival has successfully completed 48 events by 2012. This is the ultimate platform for artists, film-makers and film-lovers to share new discoveries and their passions about movies. The Festival is supposed to bring about a dynamic change in the international cinema through the city of Chicago.


Long back in 1960s, when commercial Hollywood movies dominated the theatres in Chicago, Michael Kutza (graphic artist and film maker) felt the need to initiate an alternative to it. Since its foundation in 1964, he has been a long time founder and artistic director of the Chicago International Film Festival.

The first event was inaugurated in Carnegie Theater in1965. The festival earned more prestige due to the presence of some important figures from American cinema like Stanley Karmer (film director/producer), King Vedor (film director/producer) and Bette Davis (film actress).

Hundreds of extraordinarily talented directors from various countries such as Martin Scorsese (USA), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Germany), Peter Weir (Australia), Dariush Mehrjui (Iran), Maria Louisa Bemberg (Argentina) were discovered under the auspice of this festival.


The mission of this festival lies in fostering a positive contribution to the impact of ‘art form’ in ‘moving image’. Its main goal is to develop cultural relationships worldwide. However, the Festival mainly seeks to provide the local audience with an opportunity to experience a wide range of films and discover fresh talent. It focuses in showcasing premiers of Chicago films, and many other American or international films. The audiences do get a rare chance to interact with many film-makers and stars, after each screening. The Festival also tends to bring together performers and film makers around the planet to honor them for their achievements in international cinema.

Recently Launched Programs:

International Connections Program
An International Connections Program was launched in 2003 to create awareness about the cultural diversity of international films in Chicago. Foreign films are allowed to be screened for free in Chicago (from July to September), in order to make the festival more appealing to the staff and public of different ethnicities. The program serves as an educator to the Chicago population about the importance of global films. . Their main objective it to engage the audience in innovative techniques while working with the Chicago International Committee. Its committee comprises of members from various cultural organization in Chicago who attempt to highlight the potentiality of international films. They foster cultural communication through cinematic arts

International Screenings Program

In 2004, the International Screenings Program was presented to celebrate the diversity and richness of human experiences. Since then, the program showcases 22 rare films from more than 40 countries. They include wide range of genres displaying quirky-comedies, eye opening documentaries, hair-raising thrillers and emotionally charged dramas. This 45 minutes program has been voted as “The Best Free Film Series” by Chicago Reader magazine.

The event is composed of various sections and competitions that award different talents, as following:

International Competition
Actors, directors and scriptwriters compete in this section for the Gold Hugo Award, which is considered as the Festival’s top honor.

The Docufest Competition awards the Gold Hugo to those challenging documentaries that have a global impact on the social and political stream, through true stories.

New Directors Competition
This section explores the first and second feature films that have their US premier in Chicago. This section is an act of celebrating the spirit of innovations and discoveries.

Black Perspectives
Initiated in 1997, this section consists of professionals promoting films issuing the significance of African-American Community. It includes panel discussion of such films and pays tribute to the artists and film makers.

Cinema of the Americas Program
This section seeks to survey fresh talent with vibrant work from Central and South America, Mexico and Caribbean. It includes those from Chile and Argentina to Bahamas and Brazil.>

After Dark Competition
This section awards the scary movies that take the audience away in a journey towards the darkest corners of the world.

Short Film Competition
Honors films included in the short movie’s category.

Reel Women
The Reel Women section spotlights the contributions of female film makers. Female talents are honored in this section.

World Cinema
Include the latest classic narratives, representing cultural sounds and stories from around the globe. It also includes the box-office hits from established film makers.

These are awarded to the bold and daring movies exhibiting new perspectives on sexuality.


Although, the Festival’s primary success seems to be depended upon the private funding from “Cinema/Chicago” (a non-profit parent company of CIFF), its success basically depends on its deep rooted background and amazing vision of uniting the world.

During the 1960s, the Festival intended to expose film-goers to new films. Today, its main motive is to raise awareness about the significance of international film culture prospering in Chicago film industry. If you are a movie-lover, it is practically mandatory for you to attend this event. The Festival has successfully attempted to promote communication and expression with a beautiful medium, that is, the universal language of films. The Festival has emerged as a global uniting haven, through this 2 weeks extravaganza of parties, films, stars and film makers.

In 2004, the International Screenings Program was presented to celebrate the diversity and richness of human experiences. Since then, the program showcases 22 rare films from more than 40 countries. They include wide range of genres displaying quirky-comedies, eye opening documentaries, hair-raising thrillers and emotionally charged dramas. This 45 minutes program has been voted as “The Best Free Film Series” by Chicago Reader magazine.

Cannes International Film Festival

One might wonder that Cinema was invented in America, then how come a reasonably tiny town like Cannes hosts one of the oldest, prestigious and most publicized even- The Cannes Film Festivals? Everyone knows that Cannes is not even the capital city of France. Is it the climate which gives it a unique selling point? Or is there any history behind it?

Originally known as ‘Grand Prix du Festival International du Film’ the Cannes Film Festival took its roots in 1946. The festival is held annually (normally in May) at the ‘Palais des Festivals et des Congrès’, in the resort town of Cannes on French Riviera (on the Cote d’Azur). Celebrities all across the globe from different backgrounds flock to Cannes, in fact they are always awaiting for “invitation-only” festival.


Long back in 1930s, the world’s first international film event- “The Venice Film Festival” was held in Venice. However, the films and awards were chosen and dictated to a selected people. This created a political partiality in prize distribution, since awards were limited only to a selected films and people of those nations.

Jean Zay, the Minister of ‘Education and Fine Arts’ was very keen to establish an international cinematographic and cultural festival in France, to compete with the already famous ‘Venice Film Festival’.

In 1939, the first edition of this festival was initiated under the presidency of Louis Lumière. However, it was canceled due to the outbreak of World War II. After the rivalry ended, the first festival was inaugurated on 20 September 1946, known as “Festival du film de Cannes”. This festival was sponsored by the French ministries of ‘Foreign Affairs and Education’, in which films representing 18 countries were presented.

Although, the Festival was banned between 1948 and 1950 (due to budgetary problems), the festival was declared as the permanent home for film festival events in 1952. After the appointment of its president Gilles Jacob in 2002, the festival adopted its official name “Festival de Cannes”. At early stages, the event appeared to be more like a “film forum” rather than a competition, since the films were nominated by their own respective countries, rather than the festival’s jury members. After years of many ups and downs, alterations and additions, the festival was a stunning hit in the entertainment industry. Till today, the Festival is dictated as the most prominent event, with its remarkable history.


Initially, several locations were considered for hosting the festival. Finally a choice was to be made between Biarritz (on Atlantic coast) and Cannes (on the Mediterranean). Officially, Cannes was well known for its sunny weather, backdrop of yachts and palm trees, and elegant sceneries. However, what clinched the festival to this city was the trouble-free agreement by the municipal authorities to hand over its support to build a dedicated venue for this important occasion. A casino from this town agreed to host that event in Cannes, an enticing beach city at southeast of Nice (the second largest French city). During the event, celebrities attract crowd from different parts of the globe, thereby, increasing tourism, population and rental charges (so much that the annual turnover of hotels are earned in just 12 days). Surely, Cannes is a “movie town”.


The foundation of the festival was based on the principles of drawing public attention towards celebrities, raising the profile of films from different backgrounds, developing and maintaining the world of movies, boosting the film industry at international level and a worldwide celebration of cinema. Today, The Cannes Festival, with its enormous efforts, has faithfully attempted to complete this mission and has even succeeded at it.


The jurors are appointed by the Board of Directors of the Festival. The jury members consist of respectable personalities from a wide range of internationally well-known artists. The members are decided on the basis of their work, art of judgment, their personal and official background, and high opinions from their peers.


The highest and most esteemed award given at the Festival is the “Palme d’Or” (or “Golden Palm”) to the director of the best film. It is a 24 carat hand-casted gold palm affixed on cushion made from a piece of cut crystal. Other prestigious awards include:

  1. Grand Prix (chosen from the competing feature films)
  2. Jury Prize (chosen from ‘official section’ of movies)
  3. Short Film Palme d’Or (chosen from short films)
  4. Best Actress Award (chosen from ‘official section’ of movies)
  5. Best Actor Award (chosen from ‘official section’ of movies)
  6. Best Director Award (chosen from ‘official section’ of movies)
  7. Best Screenplay Award (chosen from ‘official section’ of movies)

Red Carpet

The moment we hear about the Cannes Film Festival, ‘red carpets’ start flashing before our eyes. The Festival is most famous for its red carpet on which celebrities all around the world enter this revered grandeur event. It is usually dominated by celebrities in silver and golden evening gowns, dramatic fishtail silhouettes and well stitched formal black tuxedos, turning and ramping around. The red carpet no doubt appears to be ‘a milky way’ to cinema. The flashes of clicking cameras, add to the splendor of this carpet. The 2 km red carpet is changed three times in a day.


This auspicious event has become a vital showcase for films of any genre or medium of language. For Europeans, it is regarded as an extremely important gathering for selling films, due to their artistic quality. It serves as serious platform for producers to launch new films and search emerging talents. It is a major attraction for distributors to meet celebrities from different parts of the planet to sell their media products. This non-public event having a budget exceeding £20 million is attended by movie stars from all over the world. At one point of time, it was primarily a social event which offered at least one prize to almost all the guests.

The increased media coverage and the appearance of famous stars on the red carpet have given a legendary international reputation to the Festival. The Festival showcasing more than 4000 films from 100 countries, has such hype in world that the population of Cannes nearly triples up during this season. With an addition of 6 new languages apart from French and English (Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Russian), the festival has earned huge publicity. The massive exposure to media (with more than 4500 journalists chasing after celebrities) has gifted it with amazing popularity. No wonder, at one point of time, it was considered as the 2nd largest media event, after the Olympics. So much that, a security of more than 700 police keeps an eye on celebrities for protection.


Although, one might have heard a lot about the sheer magnificence and power of the Cannes Film Festival, however it is difficult to express the glitz and glamor that follow the event. By maintaining a strong connection from the past and by preserving its core values, the Cannes Film Festival is ever ready for new adventures with original concepts. The secret to Cannes’s long lasting success is its passion for cinema, sharing of various cultures and experiences, discovering new talents, gathering numerous journalists and professionals, conceiving new projects. Not to forget, it’s dynamic attitude is what lies behind the inevitable success.

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