Film Festivals and Ideology Critique: A Method


  • Rachel Johnson University of Leeds



film festivals, ideology, migration, film circulation, film canons


Film festivals play an important role in the construction and circulation of not only individual films but entire taxonomies of cinema, from their “discovery of new waves” (Elsaesser 2005: 99) to their production of “hegemonic …canons” (Vallejo, 2020: 158). The effects of this taxonomical power are felt across filmmaking, criticism, and scholarship, foregrounded in renewed calls to decolonize film festivals and film culture more broadly (Dovey and Sendra 2022[forthcoming], Shambu 2019). This article mobilizes and adapts “New Lacanian” theories of ideology critique to propose a methodology for studying the ways in which film festivals construct meaning for films and, cumulatively, entire canons. Outlining concepts such as the festival apparatus, the festival paratext, and the cinematic Real, I trace the coordinates of a three-tier critical procedure that brings into dialogue festivals’ operational and material contexts, their representation of themselves and their films, and the unruly, aesthetic qualities of the films that festivals exhibit. I demonstrate the application of this approach to a recent cause célèbre of Italian migration cinema, Fire at Sea, its awarding and representation at the 2016 edition of the Berlin International Film Festival instantiating the enduring legacy of Neorealism and a “brutal humanist” stance directed towards refugees in the new millennium (Schoonover 2012). Moving between theoretical discussions and the application of this method of ideology critique, I demonstrate how we might interrogate structures of meaning implicit within film festivals’ rhetorical operation, offering a ground from which to better understand film festivals and, if desired, advocate for change.




How to Cite

Johnson, R. (2022). Film Festivals and Ideology Critique: A Method. Cinergie – Il Cinema E Le Altre Arti, 11(22), 7–24.