Last week, Miami Beach's Colony Theatre hosted the second annual Miami Turkish Film Festival.
Surprised? So was I. The news that there is a Turkish film fest 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 increasingly diverse, which means more diverse people wanting to see their own stories on the big screen. But I can think of at least 15 annual fests that take place 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, I'll just say that clearly there are too many festivals and not enough revelers.
Most film fests are born from community need — meaning there's a substantial subsection of the larger community to support the fest. That's why the Miami Jewish Film Festival and the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival have been around since the late '90s and are thriving — Miami has large Jewish and LGBT populations, and the fests do admirable jobs of staging good events for their audiences. The Miami Short Film Festival's focus on short-form filmmaking has, against the odds, found and expanded its audience in its decade-long existence, while the city's two biggest film events — the Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) and the Borscht Film Festival — have solidified their place atop 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, though 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 the Italian Film Festival and the Sicilian Film Festival? Rather than a Turkish film fest, why not have a Middle Eastern one 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 expats or Francophiles in the city to support such an event?
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This week sees the kickoff of the European Film Festival, formerly known as Romance in a Can. It's a logical addition to our city's film landscape, with a good mix of cinema from across the continent, which a substantial number of Miamians call home. Yet the question begs to be asked: Why are the Italian, Sicilian, and French fests not under the auspices and banner of the European one?
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 the local 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.
Film festivals are great community events. They can bring together diverse viewers to experience films they would likely never discover on their own. But when the focus of the festival is too narrow, or the target audience too small, the event becomes unsustainable. What could have been a rich film landscape founded on collaboration becomes a disjointed smattering of themed screenings. That does not make a festival.