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KU researcher to focus on the impact of film festivals

Friday, April 5, 2013

LAWRENCE  -- For the casual moviegoer, attending a film festival is a chance to check out the latest indie flicks and perhaps catch a glimpse of a favorite actor or director.

For film scholar and KU professor Tamara Falicov, the politics, economics and demographics behind film festivals are every bit as intriguing as the films themselves.  

“Many people see them as pure entertainment, but there is a lot more to film festivals than they may realize,” Falicov said. “When people think of the Cannes or Sundance festivals, they might think of them as glamorous, but they’re also very important in the business realm.”

“Framing Film Festivals,” a forthcoming book series with a tentative debut date of March 2014, will present contemporary research on the function of film festivals around the world, as well as the cultural and economic impact they can have on communities. Falicov will co-edit the series.

Falicov is the department chair and associate professor of film and media studies, as well as a core faculty member of the Center of Latin American Studies, at KU. She will share editing duties for the book series with University of Amsterdam professor and Film Festival Research Network cofounder Marijke de Valck. The series will be published by Palgrave MacMillan.

The “Framing Film Festivals” series has the potential to be groundbreaking because academic research on film festivals is a relatively new field, Falicov said. Meanwhile, festivals continue to expand in the amount of weight and power they hold within the film industry. Many filmmakers are highly attuned to which festivals might serve as the best launching pad for their projects.

There is no shortage of topics to explore, she said. She expects the series will delve into examination of niche and identity-based festivals (such as LGBT or women’s film festivals), marketing and censorship issues, as well as festivals’ relationships with their host cities.

Another area of increasing interest: The growing number of festivals raising money to assist with the production of new films.

“The question is whether there are strings attached, to some degree, if a film is being funded by a festival in a wealthier nation,” Falicov said.

For example, the San Sebastian Film Festival of Spain has prioritized providing funding for the production of Latin American films in recent years.  

“It can be a great opportunity for these films to be purchased and circulated, but you may wonder if the film ends up truly reflecting, say, Argentine culture, or does it end up reflecting more of what Europeans think Argentine culture would be?”

In countries such as Cuba, a festival may be one of the few means citizens have to see new movies, Falicov said.

“Some countries don’t get a lot of movie (screenings),” Falicov said. “The Havana film festival (Festival of New Latin American Cinema) is always packed because it’s a chance to see films from all over the world.”

The goal is to release the first book in 2014, followed by three more annually for five years.

“We want to help young scholars and newly minted PhDs (publish research),” Falicov said. “They're the ones doing cutting edge work on this topic.”