Film Festivals: A Time for Loving the Medium

The word festival first appeared in English in 1589, brought over from the Middle French festivus. In the early years and right up to the 20th century, festivals were often religious in nature.

Christmas and other religious seasons were often based on festivals of eating and merriment. Lent, a period of denial in many Christian denominations, was broken by feasts, costuming, grand parades and dancing. Festivals have always been intermittent, with energy focused on high holidays and special occasions. They are meant to contrast with the rest of the year, characterized by workaday existence.

Festival-like social events are found in nearly every society. In some societies, elders instruct the young on living; in others, youthful energy is unleashed. Often festivals are seasonal. The harvest is universally an occasion for thanksgiving. Ancient Egyptians celebrated the flooding of the Nile and the success of the rice crop.

Beer festivals are not just held in Germany. There are beer festivals in Serbia, Norway, and even in China, Australia, and New Zealand. Beer festivals amount to happy rewards to for hard work leading down to inebriation.

The arts have long provided occasions for festivals. In England, festivals of visual arts, often called “fairs” (with or without the “e” at the end) have long been popular. The Three Choirs musical festival is held in the West of England. Arts festivals in England have been held since the 18th century in Norfolk, Norwich, and Brighton. These festivals, like all festivals, attract people who celebrate, eat, mingle.

What all festivals have in common is love and reward—love for religious figures, love for tasks completed, love for food brought to the table, love for art, fellowship and community. Festivals require work, nearly always given on a volunteer basis, for the greater good, for the enrichment of the whole. Festival organizers feel blessed that they can lift their communities above the everyday and recognize solitary labor. The community is grateful that priests, musicians, artisans, brewers, craftspeople, and local officials have toiled together to enrich the community.

Film festivals came into being a scant five years after the dawn of talking movies. The earliest festivals came to us from London, Berlin, and Cannes. The Edinburgh Film Festival is the oldest continuously-running film festival in the world, commencing in 1947.

American film historians point to the Columbus International Film and Video Festival as the first American film festival. It began showing motion pictures in 1953. Four years later the San Francisco Film Festival began operations and is credited with introducing many important foreign films to the U.S., including Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood and Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. This is the seventh year Fresno Filmworks has festivalized.

Film festivals too are about love. Film lovers weary of predictable Hollywood fare expect the fresh and novel at Filmworks festivals, held every April. There are so many worthy films in the world whose creators long to have people see and appreciate their art. They have virtually no chance of exhibiting their art beyond their countries except for the existence of festivals around the world. Now at this year’s Filmworks festival patrons can see films from Spain, Germany, and even Thailand, as well as little-known quality films made in the U.S. You are as big-hearted as people who over the centuries have gotten drunk at beer festivals or have had their souls moved at music festivals. Our motto this year: Come here. Watch films. Simple, basic, loving. Get drunk on our films.