Film Festivals and Film Curating

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 2
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Arts & Centre for Creative Industries, Media and Screen Studies

Module overview

Festivals have multiplied and spread to become the single most important arbiter of taste in cinema – more important than scholars, or critics, more important even than film schools. - Cameron Bailey, co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival

Traditionally, Film Studies has offered insights into the worlds of cinema and filmmaking through presenting close-ups on national cinemas, particular filmmakers (auteurs), or specific films.  The study of film festivals has recently established itself as an exciting and vital part of this field of study, as well as within the field of Creative and Cultural Industries, helping to rematerialize Film Studies by paying attention to how and why certain filmmakers and films become valorized through the international film festival circuit while others are overlooked. The study of film festivals and the people involved in making them (directors, curators, juries, audiences, filmmakers) helps us, too, to move away from the “immanent criticism” (Julianne Burton) so often practised in Film Studies, where a film scholar offers his or her individual “expert” analysis of a film, towards an understanding of the socially constructed meanings of films, particularly in geographically diverse locations.

This course offers a historical and contemporary exploration of the important roles played by film festivals in defining, validating, exhibiting, distributing, and (increasingly) producing global cinemas. While it introduces students to the inner workings of the oldest and largest international film festivals (such as Venice, Cannes, Locarno, Berlin, Rotterdam, and Toronto), it takes a critical postcolonial approach to the analysis of festivals worldwide and focuses in particular on the treatment of African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American films and filmmakers on the circuit. It also looks at smaller, more unusual film festivals – such as the Slum Film Festival in Nairobi, Kenya, and the FiSahara International Film Festival in the Sahrawi refugee camp of Dakhla, Algeria – to raise debate about cultural difference and resistance to global standardization and professionalization in local film cultures and industries. Equally important to the course is an exploration of the interface between the kinds of films usually accepted and awarded by film festivals, and those ‘popular’ film industries – such as Nollywood and Bollywood – which tend to be overlooked by festivals.

Attention to the processes of valuation and cultural legitimation at festivals can also help us to reflect on our own work as curations, as statements about what counts and what does not. Students in the course will thus be encouraged to think of themselves as curators, and will also be trained in some of the practical dimensions of founding, directing, and curating film festivals. In addition to writing standard scholarly essays, they will be required to develop their own idea for a film festival, or a programme within a film festival, which they will present at the end of the course.

Guest lectures by curators and filmmakers, as well as visits to festivals, will form an important part of the course.

This course is available as an open option.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate the ability to:

  • recount the historical development of film festivals, from the 1930s to the present day
  • offer a postcolonial critique of the global standardization of cinema and the marginalization and exoticization of certain regional cinemas, such as African and/or Asian cinemas, at certain festivals
  • identify and analyze certain films that have been successful at film festivals, and understand why
  • articulate the tension between what is often classified as ‘arthouse’ as opposed to ‘popular’ cinema
  • understand the different roles played by film professionals in the festival world (e.g. festival directors, curators, producers, sales agents, distributors, exhibitors, film directors, publicists, juries etc)
  • understand the key theories and concepts in the field of Film Festival Studies
  • navigate a major film festival
  • organize all aspects of a small film festival
  • curate a film festival programme


One two-hour seminar and two-hour class screening per week

Scope and syllabus

A full syllabus will be given to students at the beginning of the course.

Method of assessment

  • A 1,500 word film festival programme/project (worth 40%)
  • An essay of 1,500 words (50%)
  • A 10 minute group film festival presentation (10%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules