Is Digital Technology Hurting Film Festivals?

The good news: Digital technology is now available to everyone. The bad news: Digital technology is now available to everyone.
There was a time not too long ago when if you wanted to make a short film and submit it to film festivals you had two choices. You could choose between shooting it in 16mm or 35mm. The people who made these films were either film students from universities or serious film makers who were confident risking their money (or someone else?s) to create their vision. For the most part, these people had a story to tell and a plan. Simply ?experimenting? or ?dabbling? in film was (and still is) a costly endeavor.

Enter the digital age. The cost of playing with visual images today is virtually non-existent thanks to inexpensive camcorders and simple desktop editing programs. Technology has created a way for anyone of any age to experiment with moving pictures. As film festivals grapple to keep up with this changing technology, many have begun to accept submissions made in digital format. This has created a challenge as festivals everywhere are now being inundated by home spun amateur material more suited for MySpace or YouTube. The sheer volume of these submissions is causing concern to many in the festival circuit. Polished film makers fear that quality films are being overlooked because the viewing staff simply can?t watch every submission. Other film makers worry about festival staff risking burnout, because the overload might cause them not to be able to recognize a good film when they finally get to one. Festival directors and coordinators are also feeling the pinch.

According to Mark Felicetti, a member of the board of directors of the Valley International Film Festival near Los Angeles, ?We once had 50-100 submissions. This past season we had approximately 500, give or take a few. Of the short films submitted, fifty percent were disturbingly poor.? He continues, ?The stuff we receive might have one clever idea or include a funny bit, but you can?t make a movie out of a bit. These things may be hilarious at family gatherings, but they don?t belong in a film festival.? The solution for some festivals has been to simply accept films only shot on traditional film format, which has proven to be effective in weeding out the dabblers and those less serious. For other organizations who accept digital formats including festivals/ showcases on line, they might have to re-define their criteria for acceptable submissions.