The Buffalo International Film Festival offers a different experience to filmgoers
blog by The Canisius Griffin • September 21, 2011 @ 8:00am
Film festivals are important for a number of reasons. They function as a showcase for both new talents and Hollywood heavyweights. Films without proper studio backing (think not “Transformers”) rely on the festival circuit to build buzz within the industry and among film buffs. A successful run can often mean great things for a film, its actors and the talented minds behind it. At their core, festivals both big and small are a celebration of film and the craft that goes into it.
The films that play at festivals like Cannes or Toronto International Film Fest (TIFF) are different than those dumped into theaters at lightning pace over the summertime. It’s often the smaller, quieter films that studios rely on come awards season, films bolstered by strong performances instead of 3D explosions; films featuring talented character actors like Steve Buscemi instead of flavors of the week like Megan Fox.
Behind the scenes there is plenty of wheeling and dealing going on. While films play over the course of a week or so, studio executives watch, wait and eventually begin to snap up hot properties and films that play well with audiences and critics. Studios can generally come away with a good number of films for relatively low prices since filmmakers utilize festivals to show and sell their films to interested parties. It is great if critics and festival attendees like the film, but without interest from studios, the film might not go anywhere. The acquisitions are typically cheap so studios need only set a date and market the film accordingly.
TIFF, which began on September 8th and finishes up this weekend is an important event for both studios and filmmakers. Along with the Cannes, Venice and Tribeca film festivals, TIFF is one of the most crucial film festivals. It signifies the end of the summer movie season and reminds studios that awards season is approaching quickly. Many of the films premiering at TIFF will be picked up and receive limited runs during the months of November and December in order to be in contention for the Academy Awards and other institutions ceremonies.
This year’s fest featured films like “The Descendants,” “Shame,” “Drive,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Rampart,” “A Dangerous Method,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” “Melancholia” and “The Ides of March.” Remember some––if not all––of those names because in a few months those will be the names called at the Academy Awards. Prestige films are great but not always the best if studios are hoping to expand their pocket books. Those types of films typically receive short runs in major markets so as to qualify, not rake in money.
Instead, studios are also on the lookout for films that can similarly be acquired cheaply and marketed to the masses. Case in point: Paranormal Activity. After playing several festivals, starting in 2007, PA was picked up by Paramount/Dreamworks in 2008 following a successful showing at the Slamdance Film Festival. Slamdance takes place in Utah and runs alongside the Sundance Film Festival. Though less popular, it survives because it only features films with budgets lower than $1 million, compared to Sundance’s major premieres and celebrity involvement.
Paramount acquired the film for just $350,000, and it managed to make $194 million worldwide. In terms of a return on investment, the studio really hit the jackpot. They had originally planned to remake the film and cast more recognizable stars, but plans were scrapped when someone with a brain realized the film worked because of its believability. A sequel was released the following year and managed a respectable $169 million while a third is set for release this October as well. Needless to say, someone at Paramount received a promotion and a corner office after the successful PA acquisition.
Not surprisingly, cheap horror films and comedies are usually a studio’s best bets here. Two stories out of TIFF solidify that notion too. “You’re Next” played during TIFF’s “Midnight Madness”, a block reserved specifically for horror films. According to The Hollywood Reporter, audiences “at times pressed against the seats in suspense, tensely gripped handles, laughed, and cheered when someone bit the dust in magnificent fashion.” THR also reported that executives from Lionsgate (a studio synonymous with low-budget horror), Summit, Weinstein Co. and CBS Films were seen in the theater lobby making calls and pacing fervently, most definitely excited by the audience’s reaction to the film. After an intense bidding war, one of those studios will end up with “You’re Next” in their lineup. It’s also one of these rare instances where the filmmakers hold more cards than the studios. Rather than jumping at the first decent bid, they can make demands and ensure their films integrity.
“Goon” was another film that scored with audiences at TIFF. It’s a comedy set in the world of minor league hockey, starring Sean William Scott and Liev Schreiber. Following its showings at TIFF, Magnolia Pictures bought the US rights to the film for $2 million. They had this to say of the acquisition: “’Goon’ is a pucking (editor’s note: HA) blast. It’s a complete crowd pleaser that has all the elements of a future comedy classic.” The filmmakers now have an early 2012 release date to look forward to.
Every year, there are a number of success stories like this, big and small. Filmmakers, actors and certain films receive recognition in the form of awards, too. Whether the object of the festival is to score a major distribution deal or just show a project to film fans, at the core of every film festival is the simple notion of celebrating film.
This October, the Buffalo International Film Festival (BIFF) will run from October 14th-23rd. The festival runs on a smaller scale than its Canadian counterpart, but it still features massive amounts of entertainment unique to Buffalo. Throughout its ten-day run, films both new and old will be screened. Musical acts will also be performing throughout the week and filmmaking workshops will be held for any aspiring filmmakers. It’s Buffalo’s signature of taking an idea and putting its own spin on it.
Whether they features filmmakers around the world or just budding local talents, the idea behind film festivals remains clear: showcase films and the unique talents behind them. They create a platform that might not otherwise exist for some filmmakers and without them it might be easier to get lost in the sea of bloated, often forgetful films that populate theaters throughout the year.
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