With the Berlinale kicking off, which for many of us in the European Queer Film Festival scene is the unofficial start of our programming year, I know I’ll soon be back at my keyboard writing posts entitled “Winners at [Festival Name].” It’s become a compulsory element of many festivals: the award.
Somewhere back in the distant past, someone decided that bestowing awards was The Thing To Do. I know why there are festivals, but I’m really not sure why there are awards. Since they’re a part of the landscape, what do they mean for a festival?
1. Work. Allocating films to an award category. Dealing with the audience award voting slips (‘tree-friendly’ electronic SMS voting, coming soon to a festival near you!): distributing, collecting, tallying those little slips. Wrangling a jury, if you have one.
2. Expense. Whether it’s a modest cash prize or not, offering an award costs something. Someone has to get it sponsored (more work), or it comes out of the main budget.
3. Profile. This one is a positive one. At the very least, the local queer media should be paying attention and getting the word about about your festival. If you’re lucky, it’s better than that.
4. Submissions. I think this might have been one of the reasons behind the original concept of having awards. More films = more choice, better program. Better program = builds audience. (Or something like that.)
5. Investment in the future. Hopefully, even if it’s only a modest windfall, a cash award comes in handy for covering outstanding costs or helping an artist get on with their next project.
Some festivals like to crow about the size of their prize purse. Some filmmakers seem to especially love awards and proudly display the laurels on their film’s website (and on the DVD cover!). Sometimes there’s a groovy award designed by a local artist that sits on the table at that never-easy-to-make-entertaining awards ceremony on the festival’s closing night. Sometimes a filmmaker will get up and thank a jury for an award they didn’t even know they were in the running for (I remember being at the Teddy Awards when Duncan Tucker picked up his Siegessäule Reader’s Jury Award for TRANSAMERICA, where he seemed bemused but happy to win).
Are they worth the effort? Probably, if you have an engaged audience who will actually vote in the case of audience awards, since they give the programming team a very direct (and sometimes blunt!) indication of their response to the film. Certainly, if your festival’s getting good press out of it. And absolutely, if you’re a filmmaker who could really use those extra euros!