How Film Festivals Influence the Oscars

OCTOBER 7, 2019
Cate Blanchett being photographed at the Venice Film Festival.
Cate Blanchett at the 2018 Venice Film Festival

While the Cannes Film Festival in May can be a launching pad for Academy Award fare, it is often the Venice Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival, and the New York Film Festival in the fall that help kick off and shape awards season. With the New York Film Festival entering its second week, we take a look at why these festivals matter and what the early buzz could mean for the Best Picture race.

What are film festivals?

A film festival is an organized event that presents films to audiences and professional critics. Sometimes festivals are centered on a specific subject, genre, or language, but many are open to all types of films. For independent or beginning filmmakers, these events can help them network and find buyers for their projects.

Cannes, the Venice Film Festival, and the Berlin International Film Festival are known as the “Big Three” and are considered the most prestigious international festivals. For the entertainment industry, independent film festivals are popular outlets for distributors to find projects. Sundance is one of the largest in North America and in 2019 found buyers for more than 30 films, including Central Casting projects Late Night and Luce.

Many of these festivals screen films in competition and winning could mean bragging rights, a monetary award, or a distribution deal. It can also land your film in the Academy Award conversation.

How are film festivals connected to award shows?

While some categories, like Academy Award Best Documentary Feature, require films to win qualifying awards at a competitive film festival, for most award hopefuls, festivals are important for the buzz factor. According to Variety, 10 of the past 11 Academy Award Best Picture winners made their debut at one of the main fall film festivals. The only exception was France’s The Artist, which debuted at Cannes in the spring of 2011.

The Golden Globes in January are the first major event of award season and with nominations typically announced in early December, the fall festival circuit is the perfect place for contending films to garner maintainable buzz. Movies that attend spring festivals and those released earlier in the year can have a harder time competing with the new critical attention of debut films.

How do these festivals influence award voting? It’s all about the narrative. The size of a film’s audience and post-screening reviews can make or break a project’s chances before it’s even released to theaters. Movies that receive acclaim and accolades from fall events can build their award campaigns around the success. The risk films take when debuting at these festivals is having their Oscar dreams dashed by poor screenings and bad reviews. Every year a few films disappear from the Academy Award conversation after premiering poorly one of the major festivals.

Want an advanced look at this year’s potential Oscar nominations? Check out how films stacked up at these events:

You can learn more about how the entertainment industry works in our articles How Do You Win an Emmy Award and History of the Summer Blockbuster.

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By Meghan Dubitsky

Article Category:

Hollywood History