Chicago International Film Festival senior programmer and Industry Days programmer Anthony Kaufman explains the business of films playing at the Festival.
When you go to the Chicago International Film Festival, you’re not just watching a movie. You’re actually involved in a complex and global industry that operates at the nexus of several interlocking points, between culture and commerce, high-art and popular entertainment. When you buy your ticket, and fill out your Audience Award ballot, you’re actually playing an integral part in the future economic conditions of that film and the artists behind it.
Movies are an expensive art-form, so the stakes are high. There’s always a small selection of films that come to the Chicago International Film Festival via Hollywood-affiliated companies whose livelihoods are secure—whether Roma, Green Book, Mudbound, or Moonlight; catch them first before coming to a screen near you!
But the majority of films that play at our festival are orphans looking for a home. Some are picked out from film festivals like Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, and Venice, while others are submitted directly to our programmers via filmmakers or sales agents, who want to raise the value of the films they’re representing and sell them at a profit. Either way, if the films don’t have U.S. distribution, they need festivals, audiences, and press to raise their profile, generate publicity and attention, and help them find an audience.
In many cases, festivals are the only time a movie will ever be seen in a U.S. movie theater. Festivals become an alternative distribution circuit—with their concentrated time period, promotional girth, and niche audiences and communities with special interests, the Festival becomes a focal point, nurturing the cultural prestige of contemporary auteur filmmakers looking to cement their stature. Foreign-language films, in particular, which by and large are finding difficulty being distributed at all, need festivals like Chicago to give them a platform from which to shine and survive.
Sometimes, a choice spot at Chicago International and other festivals will help that film land a distributor or kick off a release onto other U.S. screens. While we don’t have a “market” like Berlin or Cannes, the Chicago International Film Festival’s Industry Days program connects distribution companies to films and filmmakers, and helps launch films such as Are We Not Cats? (2017), Blueprint (2017), Maktub (2017), Father the Flame (2018), and The Raft (2018), which all were acquired and distributed after their warmly received North American or World Premiere showings at the Festival.
So the next time you’re planning your viewing schedule at the Chicago International Film Festival or other events like it, remember; you’re not just choosing to see a movie, you’re making an investment in it. You’re staking a claim. You’re saying: This is the type of culture that I want, and these are the types of movies that I want the film business to support, too.
The 55th Chicago International Film Festival takes place October 16-27, 2019 at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago. Passes are on sale now.