Author: Burgess, Diane Louise
This dissertation argues that the Toronto and Vancouver International Film Festivals have been undervalued as showcases and in fact these hybrid public-private institutions are catalysts in the global, local and regional articulation of English-Canadian cinema culture. As a threshold to mainstream release and a non-theatrical venue, the festival operates in the gap between the production and consumption of film commodities. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s model of the field of cultural production, this gap is re-conceptualized as a productive space structured by the relative positioning of stakeholders engaged in the negotiation of hierarchies of cinematic value. Festival space mediates the interests of international trade, cultural diplomacy and cinephilia, balancing a need for programming autonomy against the intervention of global Hollywood in the political economy of independent cinema. In the Canadian context, the value of national cinema is both a vexatious economic issue in that indigenous films consistently earn less than a 5% domestic box office share and a symbolic one to the extent that lacklustre theatrical performance is seen as an indication of the chronic absence of a popular national cinema. While TIFF endorses public accessibility and an industrial rationale, VIFF situates itself as a community event with a focus on providing an exhibition alternative—both of which are consecrated by urban cultural policy with the development of Bell Lightbox and the Vancouver International Film Centre. Press coverage, festival publications and policy reports provide insight into the field of forces shaping festival buzz and evolving organizational identity in the divergent historical trajectories of these events to embedding as permanent space. Despite a realignment of Canadian Feature Film Policy toward industrial objectives and performance indicators, the value chain from film festival to box office persists as a policy blind spot, reinforcing a split, rather than creative intermixture, of cultural and industrial measures of audience access. This dissertation contends that, through the creation of vibrant local film scenes that connect regional production to the international marketplace and cosmopolitan consumption, Canada’s major film festivals play a critical role as intermediaries in cinephilic, governmental and industrial struggles to define cinema’s symbolic and economic value.
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