In this day and age of the inter webs, and the ease of feedback, why should this even be a question?
Film festivals, it has been debated, are either a useless thing or a very useless thing. And the reason they are for the most part a useless thing, is because film festivals so clearly select films according to a very narrow set of criteria that are not necessarily clear.
What is clear? It’s clear that film festivals now get inundated with thousands of entries from hopeful filmmakers.
In the old days, making films was expensive. You had to buy film. Rent a film camera and lighting equipment that was worth thousands of dollars and could cost that much just to rent. You had to maybe hire crew, actors, have a production team. Then when production was done, you had to get the film processed, audio mastered. Film is expensive. So that limited how many films could actually be feasibly made. How many of those films were any good got inevitably whittled down. So a film festival likely would only have received a scant minority of these film products from filmmaking hopefuls.
A film festival had to make clear choices about what films should be selected to put on their program, because there were very real variables that needed to be considered: how big their screening venue was, and how much it would cost. How many volunteers and employees it could get together. How many people would actually show up and purchase tickets. How to make this film festival different than that film festival. Maybe it was just about screening locally-made films. Maybe it was about getting some prestige and becoming the next Cannes, the next Sundance.
The digital costs of making a film are much cheaper. Getting locations, crew, cast, and all the other physical costs of producing the film are still the same costs. Equipment may be cheaper or it may be exactly the same cost as well, depending on the quality and where this equipment was manufactured. But making a film and being able to submit it to a festival was turned from a many-step procedure into a simple click of the button to upload and submit.
In the old days, perhaps it was easier to run a film festival. There no doubt was fewer of them. But the ease in making a film, and submitting it, has also created the ease in hosting the film through a film festival–and charging filmmakers for the privilege in submitting a film to that film festival.
Perhaps the question of “whither accountability?” has always been present in a system that judges the quality of a film on purely subjective grounds. But in this day and age where there are so many film festivals and even more hopeful filmmakers, submitting their work, it is clear that some kind of accountability needs to be put in place.
Why does a film get rejected? Does it even get seen? Is there some way these questions and issues can be answered adequately by a film festival?
It is clear that some accountability mechanism to make the judging process of a film festival clear is needed. A simple breakdown of a film, what works in it, what doesn’t, is all that would be required.
This system would ensure that the hopeful filmmaker gets some reassurance that someone has seen his or her work, and that there is some accountability for the money paid to submit a work. This is the least that a film festival can do: to honor a filmmaker’s hard work and passion.