In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Festivals

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Monographs
  • Anthologies
  • Dossiers / Special Issues
  • Bibliographies
  • Toward Methods of Studying Festivals
  • Programming
  • Film Industries
  • Festivals as Organizations
  • Reception
  • Activism and Identity Politics
  • Global Space Economy
  • International Platforms, National Cinemas, and the Global Art Cinema
  • Books on Individual Festivals

Cinema and Media Studies Festivals
Marijke de Valck, Skadi Loist
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0155


Film festivals are a ubiquitous phenomenon. Estimates vary between five hundred and three thousand film festivals taking place yearly. Yet what defines a film festival is not self-evident. Film festivals have been described as alternative exhibition sites—alternative to regular cinemas and permanent art houses—and are typically conceived of as medium-length events taking place over the course of a couple of days. While there are examples of traveling festivals, most display an intimate relation to one location, returning annually or biannually to a host city. Within these parameters there remains plenty of space for variation, however, in types of films being screened, audiences that are served, outreach to industry, funding, and other aspects. The literature that has appeared on the topic of film festivals, predominantly since the 1990s, addresses these multiple aspects and thus displays divergent approaches to the field. The thematic categories used for this bibliography reflect the material currently available. They are not meant to be definitive, because the field of film festival studies is young and growing. In 2008 and 2009, discussions on the future of film festivals were happening everywhere: in the film business, at festivals, and in academia. Thus a high volume of publications marks these years. The proliferation of work on film festivals can be understood, on the one hand, as a response to the changes in the media production and exhibition landscape that forced professionals to develop new financial models, and, on the other, as part of a growing interest in the creative industry and cultural events landscape on the part of politicians and tourism officials. Despite the surge in publications, the field of film festival studies is still developing. There are not many books that are overviews, for example, nor are there any textbooks or reference works. But there are a great deal of case studies on single festivals. There is also plenty of journalistic writing on film festivals, as well as anniversary editions published or sponsored by the festivals. This bibliography presents a selection of the latter body of work in the Books on Individual Festivals section. In the other sections, only academic work or journalistic work that has a broader scope is included. This bibliography does not include the older tradition of sociological and anthropological study of festivals in general.

General Overviews

In the young field of film festival studies, there are only a few publications that offer an overview or introduction to film festivals, dealing with the phenomenon of film festivals at large and suggesting frameworks for understanding their dynamics. In chronological order of appearance: Turan 2002 offers the first broad critical take on the world of film festivals. Turan puts his finger on many of the pressings issues, but he does not advance a theoretical argument. Stringer 2003, an unpublished (but accessible) dissertation, picks up the theoretical lacuna in Turan and sketches a conceptual framework that is widely used and developed further by other festival scholars. Elsaesser 2005 is an eloquent synthesis of festival scholarship up until that date, which is used to explain European cinema and festivals with a network approach. De Valck 2007 also uses network theories to explain the workings of the film festival circuit. De Valck’s work offers a broad approach to film festivals, giving a theoretical account of the European film festival phenomenon with historical scope, and is a good introduction to film festivals in general. Reichel-Heldt 2007 analyzes the German festival landscape with a focus on national cultural politics. In 2009 the first edition of the Film Festival Yearbook series, edited by Dina Iordanova, appeared (see Iordanova 2009). In the introduction to this edition on the international film festival circuit, Iordanova points to the limits of network approaches by arguing that there are parallel circuits that seem to operate disconnected from each other, as well as many festivals that form assemblages with local stakeholders rather than being significantly formed through global connections. In the same volume, de Valck and Loist 2009 presents an overview of the field of film festival studies. Based on de Valck and Loist’s annotated bibliography (see Loist and de Valck 2012, cited under Bibliographies) the article offers an elaborated overview of the themes, topics, and approaches to film festivals. Finally, Wong 2011 continues the young tradition by considering the multiple layers of film festivals and their interrelation.

  • de Valck, Marijke. Film Festivals: From European Geopolitics to Global Cinephilia. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.5117/9789053561928

    Using an actor-network theory approach the author investigates the rise of film festivals from their origins on the European mainland to the present-day international film festival circuit. With different angles for its case studies on Berlin, Cannes, Venice, and Rotterdam, the book sets out to explain festivals’ functioning and success.

  • de Valck, Marijke, and Skadi Loist. “Film Festival Studies: An Overview of a Burgeoning Field.” In Film Festival Yearbook 1: The Festival Circuit. Edited by Dina Iordanova and Ragan Rhyne, 179–215. St. Andrews, UK: St. Andrews Film Studies, 2009.

    General overview of the field of film festival studies. Sketches the contours of an emerging field and adds suggestions for further research. Also includes annotated bibliography of research on film festivals.

  • Elsaesser, Thomas. “Film Festival Networks: The New Topographies of Cinema in Europe.” In European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood. By Thomas Elsaesser, 82–107. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.5117/9789053565940

    Article in a collection of Elsaesser’s essays on European cinema. While making a case for a central role played by film festivals in the constitution of European cinema, the piece provides insights into the complexity of film festivals.

  • Iordanova, Dina. “The Film Festival Circuit.” In Film Festival Yearbook 1: The Festival Circuit. Edited by Dina Iordanova and Ragan Rhyne, 23–39. St. Andrews, UK: St. Andrews Film Studies, 2009.

    The article argues for an understanding of film festivals as an alternative exhibition—instead of distribution—network, while also discussing the limits of network approaches by noting the existence of parallel circuits.

  • Reichel-Heldt, Kai. Filmfestivals in Deutschland: Zwischen kulturpolitischen Idealen und wirtschaftspolitischen Realitäten. Frankfurt: Lang, 2007.

    This German-language monograph analyzes the German film festival landscape with a focus on national cultural politics. Reichel-Heldt stresses the cultural relevance of festivals and is concerned about increasing competition for public funds and sponsorship. Gives in-depth analyses of the Berlin International Film Festival, Filmfest Emden Aurich Norderney, and the Hamburg International Short Film Festival.

  • Stringer, Julian. “Regarding Film Festivals.” PhD diss., Indiana University, 2003.

    Dissertation on film festivals. First book-length academic study on film festivals that provides a framework for approaching film festivals as objects of research. Addresses five areas of research: film festival as institutions, festival nations, festival cities, festival film, and festival communities.

  • Turan, Kenneth. Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

    Overview work on film festivals written by a film critic who traveled the festival circuit professionally. Distinguishes among festivals with business, geopolitical, and aesthetics agendas. Includes a case study on a film festival that failed.

  • Wong, Cindy Hing-Yuk. Film Festivals: Culture, People, and Power on the Global Screen. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011.

    Monograph with broad scope on film festivals, with chapters on their history, structure, and practice; festival films; criticism; the public sphere; and business, and a case study on the festival in Hong Kong.

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