Film festivals will most likely retain their popularity. However, they are also likely to change their selection standards and exhibition formats as technological developments in cinema—such as the increasing use of digital systems in cinematography and projection processes—alter the nature of cinema itself. Most festivals have already shown an increased willingness to judge films for potential selection on the basis of video copies rather than 35 mm prints, and many have opened the door (in some cases grudgingly) to public screenings using video-projection systems, especially when the movie was originally shot on video. Another question that confronts the program directors of many general-interest festivals is whether they should focus primarily on the best of cinematic art—which may include obscure, difficult, and esoteric works—or turn in more commercially oriented directions. By courting movies with trendy themes, palatable styles, and major stars who may agree to make personal appearances, festivals could potentially draw larger audiences, attract greater press attention, and satisfy financial sponsors banking on association with celebrities and their projects.
The staying power of film festivals will continue to depend, in part, on providing an alternative to the multiplex. The shrinking number of art-film theaters, owing to competition from cable television and the home-video industry, also lends increasing importance to festivals. Exhibition patterns have always influenced cinematic styles, and the festival phenomenon has given indispensable exposure to new and unconventional works that might not otherwise be seen by the producers, distributors, exhibitors, and others who largely control the financial infrastructure of theatrical film. Also invaluable is many festivals' practice of spotlighting overlooked or forgotten movies from the past that would otherwise remain unknown to—or at least unviewable by—scholars and critics as well as curious movie fans. Ever since Venice commenced its festival activities in the 1930s, such events have amply proven their merit as what Richard Peña, the New York Film Festival program director, describes as "a refuge from the vicissitudes of the marketplace." Film festivals are indeed one of the vital signs of a thriving cinema.
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