12 Wednesday, September 11, 2019 18:40

Do film festivals help or hurt their host cities?

“I found shelter in a bakery from the water canons and tear gas,” says Yasemin*, a resident of Istanbul, recalling one fateful day in April 2013. She is not describing one of the many demonstrations that would snowball into Istanbul’s massive Gezi Park protests only a month later. Yasemin is remembering the 32nd Istanbul International Film Festival.

The Emek Resistance, as it came to be known, started when the Turkish authorities began to demolish the film festival’s flagship location, the historic Emek cinema. News that the 875-seater 1920s building was to be replaced with yet another shopping centre (Istanbul had around 100 shopping centres at the time; today it has 114) politicised old and young festival-goers alike.

Istanbullus like Yasemin took to the streets to demonstrate against unchecked urban development in the district of Beyoğlu. It was a precursor to a summer of city-wide dissent. Sundance is often one of the first things international business and government leaders know about UtahWhat the 2013 Istanbul International Film Festival triggered was in many ways unique — but its political and social impact was not.

Film festivals have long facilitated alternative cultural practices, avant-garde aesthetics, and the meeting of groups marginalised due to their political beliefs, sexualities or ethnicities.Film festivals have been around for almost a century, but more than three-quarters of those currently active were created in the past 20 years.

Today there are over 500 major international film festivals, and thousands of local, niche, and intermittent ones. They are a truly global phenomena, cropping up everywhere from the Gambia, where the Cinekambiya International Film Festival promotes indigenous language films, to Iraqi Kurdistan, whose Duhok International Film Festival continued right through the 2016 siege of nearby Mosul.

But, from Venice to Park City, Cannes to Shanghai, do film festivals turn their host cities wealthier year-round or bleed their resources? Do they help preserve a city’s character or globalise it?
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Protestors confront police during a demonstration in Istanbul against the controversial demolition of the city’s historic Emek Cinema in 2013.

Photograph: Selin Alemdar/Getty ImagesThe world’s earliest film festivals, Venice and Cannes, were founded in 1932 and 1939 respectively but only blossomed after the second world war. Technology improved as Europe focused on economic recovery and urban reconstruction, spurring a re-invigoration of the arts.

Film festivals also coupled conveniently with post-war efforts at international diplomacy and tourism – in fact the first president of the Venice Film Festival was the founder of a hotel chain.Today, film festivals operate more like micro economies. They can make smaller cities boom by bringing in business, giving young people a reason to remain in the region, and developing a city’s national and international links.

. Park City in Utah,.....

News Code: 345257  |  The Guardian
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