How Film Festivals Can Save Us

Why film festivals are essential for the survival of the human race

How the Fantasia Film Festival opens minds
challenges commonly held assumptions,
and connects a diverse populace.

It kind of goes without saying but it needs to be emphasized anyway that mass media in Western Society has helped create a culture riddled with conflict, paranoia, insecurities, and a fear of the unknown. Anything different from the norm tends to incite apprehension which leads to fear, anger, angst, and then inevitably hatred. We are in dire need of media forms which instead encourage camaraderie and acceptance despite our differences. Film festivals such as The Fantasia Film Festival does exactly just that. The Fantasia Film Festival opens minds by encouraging discourse, critical thought, and self-reflection, challenges commonly held assumptions of what is deemed as the “norm”, and connects a diverse populace.

The sheep are free.

The Fantasia Film Festival exposes attendees to a variety of artistic expressions one may not see in mainstream cinema. This exposure to multiple expressions tends to encourage attendees to have an open mind and perhaps question commonly held assumptions, or at the very least encourages self-reflection. How’s that, you ask?

“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda.” ― Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

It takes some basic understanding of how the mainstream media works to answer that question. When the same ideas and beliefs are presented time and time again by the mainstream media, the public is essentially told what to think about. If you’re thinking there is no way media affects your way of thinking at all, that’s the trick. Manufacturing your consent is successful because you (we) do not realize we are being manipulated. I will not get into the effects of mainstreaming into too much detail in this post. Noam Chomsky already does that perfectly, and I urge you to read his writings if you haven't already done so. To put it simply, being exposed to a variety of viewpoints in contrast to the same ideas over and over again help produce a society of critical-thinkers.

It’s true that there are more independent films available nowadays with the rise of social media, crowdsourcing sites, and independent film distributors. Unless you are actively looking for specific films or know of them, however, you end up getting lost in the mess of information out there. It’s quite a conundrum, isn’t it? There is a limited amount of info in mainstream media and on the other side an overabundance of info on the net. Well, the folks behind film festivals do the legwork for you. They may not be able to showcase every talented filmmaker and next thought-provoking indie/cult film out there but they serve as excellent starting points.

The unconventional thrives.

“A critique does not consist in saying that things aren't good the way they are. It consists in seeing on just what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established and unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based... To do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy.” ― Michel Foucault

The Fantasia Film Festival encourages (or at least does not discourage) the production of films which push the envelope. The festival provides an opportunity for artists/filmmakers who may not have the needed connections to big film distributors to share their work with an international audience. Festivals such as The Fantasia Film Festival encourage unconventional artists (ones who may not fit the common fold) to keep going. We need more of these artists. We need folks who think outside of the box and take chances. Filmmakers who take these “leaps of faith” have a tendency to push us through their films to be better versions of ourselves. Much in the same way Foucault mentions the significance of performing criticism on familiar notions and accepted practices, films which do not fit the conventional 'mold' make us question what we already thought we knew about society and ourselves. We may not end up ‘liking’ a film which would not fit the typical films of that genre but it begs us to really ponder the question - why in the world not? And that’s a start.

An imagined community strengthens.

Attending a film festival also heightens the feeling of being part of a community - an incredibly diverse community. Attendees of the Fantasia Film Festival tend to be composed of both young and old, coming from different races and cultures, folks in suits, students, professors, industry folks, filmmakers, and artists - all coming together because they share an appreciation or curiosity for experimental/avant-garde/unconventional films. Online communities exist too and you will catch me as the last person to ever say one forum is more ‘real’ than the other. They are both equally real in the connections they form. Congregating in person, nevertheless, differs from congregating online especially when it comes to watching films. Sometimes the audience help makes the film experience that much meaningful and enjoyable. Live audience reactions and engagement adds to the overall watching experience. It’s hard not to get caught up with the rest of the audience’s reactions. That is why watching a cult film like the Rocky Horror Picture Show or a comedic gore-fest film like The Night Watchmen with an audience or with others tends to be more fun than watching it alone.

As long as film festivals such as the Fantasia Film Festival continues, I say there is still hope for the human race. At the end of the day, and you are free to argue with me of course, it is the artists who will end up challenging our collective ignorance which will only lead to our own demise and ultimately ensure our survival.

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For more info on the Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia Film Festival website
Fantasia Film Festival on Facebook