Film festivals are no longer simply about prizes and specialist knowledge — they have an important new role to play. The Festival of German Films Ludwigshafen is hoping to make the most of this newfound purpose.
Cinema, and in particular film festivals, are an excellent illustration of the changing cultural landscape. Once essentially seen as exhibitions of the film industry, such festivals have in recent years begun to accept and embrace their new role — as champions of the cinema-going experience.
Michael Kötz is the director of the Festival of German Films, which has been held annually since 2005 in Ludwigshafen, the city opposite Mannheim along the Rhine River. He says festivals used to provide the space for a "specialist, critical discussion" about new films and were in part responsible for "determining the economic value of cinematic products."
The latter, he points out, has become even more important in recent years, if only really for "20 or so of the roughly 2,000 film festivals worldwide."
Keeping the blockbusters at bay
Of course an important function of festivals today is to give space to films that would otherwise never reach an audience — either because they can't find a distributor or because they are jostled out of the mainstream cinema space by their mightier Hollywood blockbuster competition.
According to Kötz, this also helps the festivals to hammer home the "attractiveness of the cinema as a place" and the unrivalled quality of "an intensive film experience, which is only possible in that place."
One window on the world
A final, vital role of the festival is to bring people together to "look at the world through a single window" and to be "deeply touched by what they experience together," says Kötz.
This doesn't mean competing with cinemas — in fact festivals are more of a "temporary but lasting celebratory advertisement for the cinema-going experience," Kötz explains.
While it doesn't get near to the kinds of visitor numbers seen at the Berlinale film festival each year, Ludwigshafen still draws a respectable crowd of around 100,000.
With an attractive location on the banks of the River Rhine and an increasingly broad program (despite its name, non-German films are also included), the Festival of German Films Ludwigshafen hopes it can make the most of the film festival's newfound role.