Festivals vary in how they choose their films and what types they show, in the degree of geographical diversity they seek, in their willingness to give prizes, and in many other respects. The New York Film Festival presents films chosen by a five-member selection committee—two permanent members who are full-time employees of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and three rotating members (film critics or scholars) who serve terms of three to five years. The event has broadened its scope over the years, adding more special screenings and sidebar programs, including an annual weekend of avant-garde cinema that is unique among major festivals. It remains noncompetitive, however, and considers itself a "public festival" where the intended audience consists primarily of movie buffs, in contrast to the large contingents of film professionals who attend larger-scale North American and European festivals.
By common consensus, Cannes is the single most important film festival in the world. This is partly because of its age, partly because of its size, and partly because success tends to breed success—in other words, the festival traditionally thought of as the most influential is indeed the most influential for that very reason. The Cannes program is chosen by the festival director with the advice of assistant programmers assigned to specialized fields (documentary, Asian cinema, short films, and so on). Robert Favre le Bret, Gilles Jacob, and most recently Thierry Frémaux have had final say over the selection since 1972, when the festival eliminated its policy of allowing each participating country to choose its own presentations. Cannes divides its programs into several categories. The most highly visible is the Competition, usually comprising two features for each day of the twelve-day event, many of them directed by established auteurs of world cinema. Films directed by favored newcomers, including actors with Cannes credentials like Johnny Depp ( The Brave , 1997) and Vincent Gallo ( The Brown Bunny , 2003), also make their way into the Competition from time to time, although in the eyes of most critics the results in these two cases were disastrous. The main sidebar program, Un Certain Regard ("A Certain Look"), focuses on movies by newer or less-known talents whom the festival considers worthy of attention and support.
Robert Redford is an internationally known actor, producer, and director who has become an influential festival impresario via the Sundance Film Festival, until 1991 known as the United States Film Festival. Redford acquired the seven-year-old festival in 1985 as an adjunct to the Sundance Institute, which he founded in 1981 to encourage filmmaking outside Hollywood by supporting new directors and screenwriters, and by facilitating the exhibition of independently made fiction and documentary features. The institute now sponsors film-development workshops, a film-music program, and theater projects as well as the festival and the television outlet (the Sundance Channel) for which it is most widely recognized. It has also established the Sundance Collection at the University of California at Los Angeles, an archive that acquires and preserves independent films.
Screening movies is still the institute's most prominent activity: in 2005 the Sundance festival showed more than 200 films for almost 47,000 spectators, three times the attendance of a decade earlier. It also serves as an important marketplace for American and international cinema, attracting distributors and exhibitors on the lookout for fresh, offbeat work. Its reputation for such fare was sparked largely by the 1989 premiere of Steven Soderbergh's debut film sex, lies, and videotape . The festival's openness to a wide range of fiction, nonfiction, and international movies has also helped Sundance programmers retain a commitment to "indie" filmmaking while sidestepping issues related to the increasingly blurred boundaries between mainstream (i.e., Hollywood) and independent styles and modes of production.
As a youth Redford studied painting in Europe and attended New York's prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts to hone his acting skills. He is also a longtime environmental activist. Such activities signal an artistic ambition and social awareness that run against the grain of Redford's commercially driven Hollywood career, perhaps explaining his decision to put so much money and muscle into organizations dedicated to independent cinema. His performance in the hugely popular western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) made him a top-ranking celebrity. He also starred in such box-office hits as Barefoot in the Park (1967), The Sting (1973), The Natural (1984), and Indecent Proposal (1993). The more thoughtful side of his creative personality has surfaced in films such as All the President's Men (1976), in which he played one of the Washington Post reporters who exposed the Watergate political scandal, and Ordinary People (1980) and Quiz Show (1994), which he directed.
As Actor: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Sting (1973), The Way We Were (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975), All the President's Men (1976); As Actor and Director: The Horse Whisperer (1998); As Director: Ordinary People (1980), The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), A River Runs Through It (1992), Quiz Show (1994), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
Anderson, John. Sundancing: Hanging Out and Listening In at America's Most Important Film Festival . New York: Avon Books, 2000.
Dyer, Richard, and Paul McDonald. Stars . London: British Film Institute, 1998.
Friedenberg, Richard, and Robert Redford. A River Runs Through It: Bringing a Classic to the Screen . Livingston: Clark City Press, 1992.
Two other series operate outside the formal boundaries of the festival: the International Critics Week, where selections are chosen by a panel of film critics, and the Directors' Fortnight, founded in 1969 as a competitor to the official festival, which was interrupted in the politically charged year of 1968 by disruptive protests involving such major directors as François Truffaut (1932–1984) and Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), leading figures in France's revolutionary New Wave filmmaking movement. All of these programs coexist peacefully with the festival and with the concurrent Film Market, established in 1960 as a place where producers, distributors, exhibitors, and
others involved in the circulation of new movies can meet, network, and do business with one another. Features shown in the festival may have additional exposure in the market's eighteen screening rooms, although priority for entry to these showings is given to film-industry professionals who purchase market credentials in advance. The market's program for 2004 included approximately fifteen hundred screenings of more than nine hundred films, more than five hundred of them world premieres and the great majority not included in the festival itself. The market also sponsors a Short Film Corner that typically screens hundreds of shorts. In all, these programs attracted more than eight thousand participants in 2004, representing seventy-four countries. The market is thus considered a key interchange for international acquisition and distribution of movies made around the world.
Overall attendance at Cannes is skewed heavily toward film professionals, including film journalists and critics, who see the major entries in regularly scheduled press screenings beginning at 8:30 every morning and proceeding until late evening. The prizes at Cannes are awarded by a jury with a different membership of notable film-world personalities (directors, producers, performers, screenwriters, etc.) each year. At times jury decisions diverge greatly from the impression made by a given film on festival-goers in general, as when Bruno Dumont's ambitious French production L'Humanité (1999) won the Grand Prize of the Jury as well as best actress (shared) and best actor awards after being jeered at during its press screening. The prizes given at Cannes vary a bit from one year to another, but always include the top Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) award as well as a Grand Prize, a Jury Prize given to a technician, and prizes for best actress, actor, screenplay, and director. In addition, honors are given by a separate jury to three short films; the Cinéfondation of France bestows three awards; and the Caméra d'Or prize is given to the best Competition or Certain Regard film directed by a first-time filmmaker. The highest prizes at Cannes, especially the Golden Palm, are considered the most prestigious of all motion-picture honors with the possible exception of the Academy Awards ® .
The Toronto festival awards several prizes, but the practice has a lower profile than at Cannes. The People's Choice Award is determined by audience ballots after each public screening; the Discovery Award is voted on by members of the press, representing several hundred international media outlets; and juries select the recipients of awards for best Canadian feature, best Canadian feature by a first-time director, and best Canadian short film. In addition, an independent jury administered by the International Federation of Film Critics gives an award for the best feature by an emerging filmmaker. (More commonly known by its European acronym, FIPRESCI, this organization establishes prize-giving juries, composed of film critics, at many festivals around the world.) Toronto is generally seen as the most important North American festival and a close second to Cannes in terms of global influence. Its wide-ranging program is divided into numerous categories including Galas and Special Presentations for high-profile features, Masters for works by recognized auteurs, Director's Spotlight for works by especially adventurous or under-recognized filmmakers, National Cinema for features from a particular country selected for attention that year, Wavelengths and Visions for experimental and avant-garde works, and until 2004, Perspective Canada for domestic productions. As at Cannes, film professionals make up much of the audience, but many local moviegoers can be found in the public screenings (as opposed to the press screenings) as well.