Surprised? So was I. The news that there is a Turkish Film Festival in Miami is a shock -- this town is not exactly known for its large Turkish community.
It seems like every week there's a new film festival clamoring for attention and audiences. Sure, this is a pretty big city, and it's growing more and more diverse, which means more diverse people wanting to see their own stories on the big screen. But I can think of at least 15 different fests here in Miami, and I'm sure I'm missing several. That's more than one a month. And having checked out some of these events myself.... Well, let's just say that clearly there are too many festivals and not enough revelers.
Most film festivals are born from community need -- meaning there's a substantial sub-section of the larger community to support the fest. This is why the Miami Jewish Film Festival and the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival have been around for as long as they have and are thriving -- because Miami has a large Jewish and LGBT population, and the fests do admirable jobs at putting on a good event for their audience. The Miami Short Film Festival's focus on short form filmmaking has managed, against the odds, to find and expand its audience in its decade-long existence, while the city's two biggest film events, The Miami International Film Festival (or MIFF, as its known) and the Borscht Film Festival have solidified their place at the top of the local festival echelon. MIFF's dedication to bringing top drawer international and Ibero-American films as well as big-name filmmakers to Miami -- and its track record of having done so for three decades -- makes it the grand dame of the scene. Borscht, while newer, has skyrocketed to become a huge player in the community, not solely for its dedication to telling Miami stories and cultivating local filmmakers, but also for its reach and influence in the highly sought-after "under 25" market. The existence and popularity of these festivals make sense, given our social makeup.
Still, there are other festivals whose existence more than baffles. Is it necessary to have both an Italian Film Festival and a Sicilian Film Festival? Rather than a Turkish Film Festival, why not have a Middle Eastern Film Fest and bring everyone together? Clearly, if these groups joined forces, they could expand their reach and resources and create a larger, more worthwhile event. Another fest, last year's France Cinema Floride, brought French-language films to Miami over a weekend at the Tower Theater. Are there really enough French ex-pats or Francophiles in the city to support a film festival?
This coming week is also the kick-off to the European Film Festival, formerly known as Romance in a Can, whose mission is, obviously, to showcase the cinema of Europe. Here's a logical addition to our city's film landscape, with a good mix of cinema from across the continent that substantial numbers of Miami residents call home. Yet the question begs to asked: why are the Italian, Sicilian, and French festivals not under the auspice and banner of this European fest?
The problem is not as simple as having too many film festivals. It's that many in Miami's film scene are just raising the flag of their own event, without first carefully assessing Miami's film landscape as a whole. An overcrowded festival scene, stacked with narrowly focused events, will create audience fatigue and eventually thin out theater attendance across the board.
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Film festivals are great community events. They can bring together a diverse crowd to experience films that they'd likely never discover on their own. But when the focus of your festival is too narrow, or the target audience too small, all you have is an unsustainable event. What could've been a rich film landscape founded on collaboration becomes a disjointed smattering of themed film screenings. That a festival does not make.
Kareem Tabsch is the co-founder and co-director of O Cinema.