Hollywood Uplink – July/August 2006: What is a Family Film Festival?

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July/August 2006

        Issue: 15:07

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What is a Family Film Festival?
by Dick Rolfe, chairman, The Dove Foundation

There are two types of film festivals: one for the general audience and one that focuses on movies suitable for the family. It’s important to distinguish between the two. While the fundamental goals of these two types are similar, the ways in which each one goes about accomplishing their goals are very different.

All film festivals, regardless of type, celebrate the creative process. General audience film festivals tend to deal with more openly controversial subjects as part of that creative process. They are also likely to resort to more graphic portrayals of their subject matter. That is why open film festivals are heavily populated by R-rated movies.

To win an award at one of these festivals, one must select a “hot” topic to get the attention of the judges. Two examples of recent festival winners that dealt with controversial issues and also won great acclaim at film festivals are Brokeback Mountain, a western about two homosexual cowboys, and Million Dollar Baby, a cleverly crafted movie that tried to make a case for assisted suicide. It’s interesting to note that neither of these “award-winning” movies performed well at the box office.

There is a general audience film festival for every conceivable theme or issue.  Some cater to specific cultures and ethnicities, while others, mainly documentaries, focus on lifestyles like homosexuality, or environmental issues such as global warming or world hunger.

Family films come in two styles; animation and live action. Animated films are produced mostly for the younger set, but they usually contain themes emphasizing such profound issues as redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness and sacrifice. Live action family movies tend to focus on the same themes, but the subject matter is directed at a more mature audience.  

A significant ingredient that separates family films from the others is the way they portray those themes. When describing family fare, words like “wholesome,” “virtuous,” “positive” and “uplifting” come to mind. Like music lyrics, movie themes can be expressed sublimely or egregiously. Portrayals of sex, violence or rough language are expressed differently in these two types of films. Family films “turn the volume down” to a more universally accepted level. This is most often done by sticking with implied, rather than graphic portrayals of inappropriate behavior.

There are 840 film festivals worldwide according to Internet Movie Data Base  (http://www.imdb.com). The most popular festivals outside the US are the Cannes Film Festival, (http://www.festival-cannes.fr), the Toronto International Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival (http://www.berlinale.de), and the Venice Film Festival (http://www.labiennale.org/en/cinema). A producer friend of mine said these foreign festivals are more for the purpose of advance publicity than they are a pursuit of an award.

The best known film festival in America is the Sundance Film Festival (http://festival.sundance.org), founded by actor/director, Robert Redford in 1981 in the mountains of Sundance, near Park City, Utah. According to festival literature; independence, creative risk-taking, and discovery are the guiding principles of the nonprofit Sundance Institute. The Slamdance Film Festival (http://www.slamdance.com), also in Park City, was founded in 1994, and has become popular among independent filmmakers as an alternative to Sundance.

Local and regional festivals have sprung up at an amazing rate. One key advantage to these smaller events is that they are a great place for upcoming filmmakers to launch their careers by submitting their work to a team of qualified judges.

Many general film festivals are seeing the wisdom of including the family audience. The USA Film Festival (http://www.usafilmfestival.com) has been in Dallas for 36 years. Twenty-two years ago, they began offering a separate KidFilm Festival (http://www.usafilmfestival.com/kidfilm06/KF06p3.html). Their literature claims it is “the oldest and largest family film festival in the United States.” They further state that, “Film and video are our most accessible art forms (and one of our most valuable teaching/learning tools), and KidFilm gives audiences of all ages an important opportunity to see (and discuss) great films together!”

n 2002, the Tribeca Film Institute successfully launched the First Annual Tribeca Film Festival (http://www.tribecafilmfestival.org/). Created by Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro, the mission of the Tribeca Film Festival is to enable the international film community and the general public to experience the power of film by redefining the film festival experience. The Tribeca Film Festival was founded to celebrate New York City as a major filmmaking center and to contribute to the long-term recovery of lower Manhattan.

To their credit, the organizers of Tribeca have devoted a large segment of their festival to the family audience. They even had a panel discussion called WHAT WOULD JESUS…DIRECT?, featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire, As Good as It Gets); Jonathan Bock, President of Grace Hill Media; Micheal Flaherty, President of Walden Media, (Chronicles of Narnia, Because of Winn-Dixie); Ralph Winter, Producer (X Men I, II, III, and Fantastic Four). Micheal and Ralph are members of The Dove Foundation Advisory Board.

The International Family Film Festival (http://www.iffilmfest.org) in Dallas, TX is dedicated to quality family programming. They ask that all the material presented during the festival will somehow entertain, engage, and further educate viewers for the purpose of gaining new perceptions and insights into the family.

Another outstanding festival that focuses on family-friendly material is the Heartland Film Festival (http://www.heartlandfilmfestival.org), a non-profit organization in Indianapolis, IN. established in 1991 to “recognize and honor filmmakers whose work explores the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life.”

Religious entertainment is an $8 billion a year business so it’s no wonder that following the blockbuster success of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, Hollywood began to mine the Christian market for some new ideas with hopes that the faithful would follow. And they have.  In a movement that mixes spirituality with economics, studios are embracing a future of filmmaking about matters of faith.

Several religious film festivals have come into prominence recently. The Damah Film Festival, (http://www.damah.com), founded in 2001, is held in Culver City, CA, home of Sony Pictures. Damah (taken from the storytelling form known as the parable) encourages an emerging generation of filmmakers from diverse perspectives to voice the spiritual aspect of the human experience through film. The festival provides a forum for these artists to develop, discuss and display their vision.

Another newcomer to the religious film festival arena is The 168 Hour Film Project (http://www.168project.com) which gives each entrant filmmaker, cast and crew a verse of scripture and one week (168 hours) to write, direct and edit a short film that exemplifies the verse. All films are created simultaneously during production week to premiere at the 168 Hour Film Festival.  At the end of the festival, awards are given to entrants for categories such as Best Picture, Best Actor and Actress, and Best Screenplay.

Today’s movie ticket prices are extremely high, making a big screen movie experience nearly prohibitive for a typical family. During prime times, tickets run between $7 and $12 dollars each, depending on the city. Even during lower priced matinees, a family with 4 children will pay about $40 to see one movie. When you add $6.00 for one popcorn/soft drink combo, $2.50 for a box of candy, and $3.00 for a hot dog, the average family can barely afford one or two movies a year.

The Dove Family Film Festival (http://www.dove.org/festivals.asp?ArticleID=29) is quite unique from the events I’ve described so far. It was not established to hand awards of recognition to filmmakers. Rather, its purpose is to make uplifting, wholesome movies readily available for families to watch…at affordable prices.  

Twice a year, in the spring and fall, we select eight recently released movies that have received the Dove Family-Approved Seal. In cooperation with a theater chain and media sponsors, we offer FREE movie passes to children ages 12 and under. Moms and dads and older siblings pay a reduced admission fee typically around $2.50. Each festival exhibits one movie a week for eight weeks. The outpouring has been tremendous! Parents or guardians that would never have had the money to take their children to enjoy an uplifting wholesome movie can now afford that experience as many as 16 times a year. 

So you see? There are actually three types of film festivals; two that honor filmmakers and one which serves movie-goers. Go online to the Dove Family Film Festival page. Look for the dates and cities of the next Dove Family Film Festival. If you don’t seen one close to where you live, contact us. Perhaps you could help us to organize one in your city.


The Dove Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  Our mission is to encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment.  We are supported primarily by donations from families such as yours who want to move Hollywood in a more family-friendly direction.  All donations are tax deductible.
Copyright © 2006 The Dove Foundation. All rights reserved.