Film Festivals Around the World Celebrate the Art and Industry of Movies

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I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we travel to film festivals around the world to learn about their different histories and goals. Some of the festivals are major competitions, while others are smaller events to help draw attention to more experimental movies.

Some festivals have a set theme or subject matter, while others show a wide selection of movies. These many gatherings are important events for artists, the movie industry, the media and movie lovers.

One of the most well known film festivals in the world takes place in the French town of Cannes during twelve days in May. The Cannes Film Festival started in nineteen forty-six as a social gathering for showing movies. Later, the popular event developed into an important competition.

Every year, members of the Cannes jury give awards for the best movies, actors and directors out of more than twenty competing movies. This year the jury included American actor and director Sean Penn and Iranian writer and director Marjane Satrapi. The awards were announced Sunday.

The French film "Entre les Murs," or "The Class," won the top prize, the Palme d'Or.  Laurent Cantet directed this movie about a teacher working in a school with many problems in Paris.

Critics praised the performances of the non-professional actors who play the students.

Benicio Del Toro was named best actor for playing the revolutionary leader Ernesto Guevara in the movie "Che."  Sandra Corveloni won the best actress award for playing a working-class mother in Brazil in the film "Linha de Passe," or "Line of Passage." And Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan was honored for his movie about family secrets called "Three Monkeys."

Visitors to the festival also saw a series of short films, as well as films which did not compete for awards. But the Cannes Film Festival is more than about honoring special movies and seeing famous actors. The Marché du Film is one of the largest movie markets in the world. Each year, more than ten thousand people from almost one hundred countries gather to watch about nine hundred movies. This event helps link people from all areas of the movie industry. And, it helps filmmakers sell their movies to distributors so they can be shown in theaters around the world.

The Venice International Film Festival starts in late August. Started in nineteen thirty-two, it is one of the oldest movie festivals in the world. This year, "Burn After Reading" by American directors Joel and Ethan Coen, will open the festival. The movie has several famous American actors including George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt.

The Venice and Cannes film festivals are widely considered "A List" or top festivals. The International Federation of Film Producers Associations lists these festivals as well as twelve others as "Competitive Feature Film Festivals." Others on this list include festivals in Berlin, Germany; San Sebastian, Spain; Montreal, Canada; Tokyo, Japan; Moscow, Russia and Cairo, Egypt.

In February, a movie by American director Martin Scorsese opened the fifty-eighth Berlin International Film Festival. "Shine A Light" gave an energetic look at the performances of The Rolling Stones rock and roll group.  The singer Madonna presented the first movie she directed called "Filth and Wisdom." Over three hundred eighty other films were presented at this festival. The Brazilian and Argentine movie "The Elite Squad" won the festival's Golden Bear award.

Other film festivals have very specialized subjects. For example, in Belgium you can go to the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival. For twenty-six years this festival has been showing science fiction and horror movies from around the world.

If this event seems too frightening, you can attend the International Children's Film Festival in Frankfurt, Germany. At this event children even get to vote along with adults on which film receives a LUCAS award. In Turkey, the International Istanbul Film Festival shows movies about art, music, dance or literature.

If you like animation movies, you could explore the Hiroshima International Film Festival in Japan or the International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, France.

There are also many festivals for documentary movies. In Spain, the International Festival of Documentary and Short Film of Bilbao is celebrating its fiftieth year. At the Hot Docs festival in Toronto, Canada, the Best International Feature Documentary Award this year went to "The English Surgeon." This movie tells about a British brain surgeon who helps patients suffering from brain tumors in Ukraine.

SILVERDOCS is an international film festival for documentary films that takes place at the American Film Institute's Silver Theater. This festival in Silver Spring, Maryland is in its sixth year. The event helps bring attention to documentary films from around the world. Next month, the festival will honor the American director Spike Lee for his work in making powerful movies about social injustice.

In the United States,  two of the most well known film festivals for independent films are the Sundance and Telluride Film Festivals. Movies shown at these events are produced without the support of the major Hollywood studios. Filmmakers often show their movies for the first time to important people in the movie industry. Movie distributors can buy films that otherwise might be undiscovered and show them in theaters. Sometimes movie distributors start pricing wars as they compete to buy the rights to a movie they think will be a financial success.

The Sundance Film Festival is organized by the Sundance Institute. The actor Robert Redford helped start the Institute in the early nineteen eighties. His aim was to create an environment to discover and support new and independent filmmakers. The festival takes place in and around Park City, Utah. The most recent one took place over ten days this past January. The director of the Sundance Film Festival, Geoffrey Gilmore, spoke at the awards ceremony.


"And as the festival comes to a close, I am struck by a profound sense of significance and emergence this year. Of another generation of independent filmmakers, of another year of really superb independent film."

"Trouble the Water" won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for documentary film. It tells how a wife and husband struggled to survive in New Orleans, Louisiana after the destructive effects of Hurricane Katrina.

The prize for best dramatic film went to "Frozen River" directed by Courtney Hunt. This movie is about two poor women trying to bring Chinese immigrants illegally into the United States from Canada. Here, the director talks about her movie.


"This is a story about a white woman and a Mohawk Indian woman who team up to smuggle illegal immigrants across the Canadian border into New York State. It's a unique situation where a reservation actually straddles the Canadian border and through it runs the St. Lawrence river, which freezes in the winter. And so the way these two smuggle, and the way the smuggling is done there is by driving across the ice. To me, that sort of everyday adventure that pushes people into another realm was fascinating to me. I don't think you have to have a big international kind of movie with explosions and pyrotechnics and all that to have this sense of adventure."

This year, the thirty-fifth Telluride Film Festival in Colorado will take place on the weekend of August twenty-ninth. Telluride does not offer a prize. Instead, it is an honor for the makers of movies to be one of the twenty films or fifteen short movies chosen for the festival.

The festival shows all kinds of movies including documentary and animated films. The only requirement is that the movie has not been shown in North America before the festival. A movie shown at Telluride can get important attention from movie industry experts as well as the media. And, the event has an element of surprise. The festival does not announce what movies will be shown until the weekend visitors arrive.

On any given day, a film festival is probably taking place somewhere around the world. And we have only discussed a small number of them. These important and exciting events help to celebrate the art and industry of movies.

This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember. You can read scripts and download audio on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

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