It has been a quiet few months on the film festival front. The last two biggies, Sundance and Berlin, were back in the depths of winter; but now things are suddenly getting interesting. Tribeca, the New York trendoid-magnet, has just started, and Cannes, the swanky Cote d'Azur schmoozathon, has reared its finely contoured head on the horizon. The UK is even getting in on the action, with the much-anticipated arrival next week of Sundance London, an offshoot of Robert Redford's indie-maven event in Park City, Utah.
Sundance London is an example of that industry buzzword "diffusion", whereby name events set up franchises overseas. Tribeca has been doing it since 2009 in Qatar, co-organising the Doha film festival. It's a byproduct of the digital age; festivals are powerful brands, and no longer seen as single-location physical events. Sundance is following the NFL to the UK capital; American football has been played there, on and off, since 1991. But whether Sundance London will discover that setting up shop in the O2 arena in Greenwich is not such a good idea remains to be seen; even free-floating global brands need to make sure their physical dimension is both attractive and accessible.
Be that as it may, film festivals are asserting themselves ever more strongly; the competition between them is increasing as they jostle for supremacy. It never stays still: some have forged ahead, some have fallen behind, as the film world itself evolves and retrenches. You might judge them by the amount of wet-from-the-lab premieres they get, or how many A-listers turn up to pad across the red carpet, or how many deals get struck behind the scenes. So here, taking all that into account, is our assessment of the ins and outs, the ups and downs, and the winners and losers of the festival circuit. Andrew Pulver
Robert Redford's indie showcase is still a mecca for credible film-makers eager for a leg-up. Its position in the calendar (January) means that Sundance manages to both steal a march on the likes of Berlin and SXSW … and potentially nobbles itself when it comes to chances of Oscar success. A film must sustain 13 months of buzz if it is to start in Park City and triumph in Hollywood.
USP Arty dramas, spiky comedies, US-centric documentaries (the category with which Sundance has lately enjoyed the greatest ratio of Academy Award success).
Audience Bona-fide directors to watch, buyers, US-centric press and minted yanks eager for a hol in which the apres ski is seeing films and spotting slebs.
Glamour The winter sports backdrop lends a curiously hedonistic air, but the films themselves are often screened in fairly small town venues, such as a gymnasium.
Credibility Still riding high on a reputation built on breaking major talent such as Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Steve James, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky and Jim Jarmusch. And, even in middle age, still the hippest fest. But it needs to keep hitting big winners out of the park or start branching out (cf Sundance London).
Anglophilia Tasteful but sporadic. Stephen Frears and James Marsh both had films here this year. But it's a long way from home, in every sense.
Friend of Oscar Passionate, but prone to tiffs. In 2010, 15 Academy nods came from nine Sundance films. But in 2011, though two documentary nominees were shown first in Utah, there was less love for the fiction picks (Like Crazy, Tyrannosaur, Martha Marcy May Marlene).
Harvey or Haneke? The big fella would feel at home. But Haneke is too actually icy for these fluffy peaks.
In three words You got ski(ll)s.
The more serious, less glamorous younger sibling of Venice, Berlinale brings the heft of the arthouse with most of the glitz buffed off. If celebrities do arrive it is often to promote Project Worthy (Ralph Fiennes with Coriolanus in 2011, Angelina Jolie with In The Land of Blood and Honey this year). Perhaps the cold keeps the A-list away?
Audience With venues spread across Berlin from its Potsdamer Platz hub, the festival does a great job of opening up its programme to the whole city. You'll see queues of last-minute ticket hunters stretching back from the booths in the Arkaden shopping centre, while information on upcoming events is splashed liberally across the U-bahn. A truly democratic festival serving a public with a huge appetite for film.
Glamour Not much. Certainly nothing to compete with the sparkle of a celeb-crammed Croisette on a sunny day. Berlin is a fascinating city, but far from easy on the eye. And did we mention the weather?
Credibility High. Berlin's competition strands are varied and wide-roving. The talent campus, which invites young film-makers from around the world to participate in a week's worth of workshops hosted by that year's big names, is an indication of the festival's dedication to supporting new work at grassroots level. The Shooting Stars event, which brings together young actors from across Europe "to further future work opportunities"is well-meaning, if a little off the pace. The UK's representative this year? Riz Ahmed.
Anglophilia The run of success in the early noughties for British (co-)productions by Patrice Chéreau (Intimacy, 2001), Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, 2002) and Michael Winterbottom (In This World, 2003) has slowed recently. Brits tend to get a decent spot on the jury though – Mike Leigh took the head's chair this year, Tilda Swinton was 2009's bigwig, while Charlotte Rampling had the honour in 2006.
Friend of Oscar? Berlin's Bears awards are often ignored in LA, but the festival does occasionally foster an Academy hit. The last 12 months have been good thanks to the success of Asghar Farhadi's A Separation (best foreign language Oscar) and Wim Wenders' Pina, which also had its debut in Berlin, and was nominated for best documentary.
Harvey or Haneke? Austerity, severity, humility – Berlin likes Mike.
In three words? Intellectual with frostbite.
Cannes dominates the European festival circuit. With a massively prestigious competition list, the Un Certain Regard sidebar and the separately programmed Director's Fortnight and Critics' Week, it really can hoover up the best of international cinema. And in the colossal rotunda at the back of the Palais building, a gigantic, thriving market keeps the atmosphere feverish. There is a massive cop presence on the streets to deter those who feel like nicking some bling from begowned and tuxedo-ed types on the Croisette.
USP Cannes shrewdly balances upscale international cinema with intelligent and vaguely auteurist Hollywood fare, finding space for blockbusters such as Pirates of the Caribbean out of competition. Also showcases sensational re-releases of classic movies.
Audience The festival is not open to the public; everyone needs press or professional accreditation, but tickets are made available to people who live in the town. A vast media army rolls up every year.
Glamour Every night the red carpet is packed with the Hollywood names adored by Cannes' commercial sponsors – chief among them L'Oréal – French telly stars and exotic Euro-celeb royalty whose tans seem to have been obtained on Alpha Centauri. Until recently, the red-carpet steps were flanked by a quasi-military képi- wearing honour guard, but this has been quietly dropped: a rare example of Cannes toning things down. Elton John and Harvey Weinstein often host A-list parties up the coast in Antibes.
Credibility Still very high, although things took a dip in 2003, with a dismal lineup of films, which included Vincent Gallo's hysterical The Brown Bunny. But the competition films, and the eventual Palme d'Or, are widely and respectfully discussed and generally get shown around the world.
Anglophilia Reasonable. Cannes has given its top prize to six Brits: Carol Reed, Lindsay Anderson, Alan Bridges, Roland Joffe, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach; seven if you count the US-born Richard Lester. It has a soft spot for its favourite UK master, Loach, but infuriated Leigh by turning down Vera Drake in 2004. (In high dudgeon, Leigh took it to Venice where it won the Golden Lion.)
Friend of Oscar? Not really: generally, Cannes is a cultural alternative to the Academy. This year's big winner The Artist was unveiled in Cannes, and the Palme D'Or, Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life, did get some Oscar nominations, but the winners tend to be strictly non-Oscar, and the Academy's foreign film picks are not usually influenced by Cannes.
Harvey or Haneke? To a remarkable degree, both: Harvey Weinstein is a big Cannes presence, proclaiming his robust views on the quality of the films, and keeping a sharp eye out for acquisitions. Michael Haneke has long been a revered master in Cannes, and his work exemplifies the difficult, uncompromising work that finds a berth here.
In three words Cannes – and will.
Not long ago, Venice vied with Cannes to be Europe's most glamorous, buzzy film event, but a quirk in the calendar has seen its status erode. Toronto, with its audience of Hollywood power-players, tends to get the big autumn premieres and awards contenders.
Audience Without a film market, most of the attendees dodging the mosquitos on the Venice Lido are journalists. (Venice is starting a market this year, so expect a change.) There's a healthy attendance from ticket-buying non-delegates.
Glamour Opening night at the Palazzo del Cinema is as flash a red-carpet event as you could find in Europe. It didn't take much for last year's The Ides of March to tempt George Clooney from his Como hideaway. Stars tend to like a photocall overlooking the water. But with few promotional events for non-festival movies, there's nothing like Cannes' deluge of A-listers.
Credibility The Golden Lion is arguably as valued as the Palme d'Or, though perhaps not as newsworthy: recent winners include Lust, Caution, The Wrestler and Sokurov's Faust. The career Golden Lion is also a nod of serious substance: David Lynch, Hayao Miyazaki and John Woo have all been honoured in the last decade.
Anglophilia: Last year's hat-trick was an exception, as Venice shares Cannes' slight snootiness to Brit cinema.
Friend of Oscar? Of increasingly marginal influence. Though Venice is well positioned for the Hollywood awards season, films with Oscar aspirations tend to opt for Toronto. Ides ended up spluttering, while Tinker Tailor … drew a blank.
Harvey or Haneke? Leans slightly towards the Harvey end of things. Though Venice programmes a lot of unheralded art cinema, it's not exactly a breakout zone for any of it. Films that do best here are starry art-lite extravaganzas – perfect Weinstein material, in fact.
In three words Ciao, bello George!
In 1998, Variety wrote that Tiff was "second only to Cannes in terms of high-profile pics, stars and market activity". A decade on and Time magazine went one better, reporting that Tiff had grown into "the most influential film festival, period". Such ascendancy is ascribed to its remarkable track record with Oscar tips, but it's also down to savvy sidebar programming, swanky new premises, increasingly squeezed release windows that favour an autumn rather than summer debut for awards contenders, plus an eagerness on the part of LA-types not to make a longer-haul flight than they need to.
USP Upmarket Hollywood, with especially enthusiastic cheerleading of Canadian film-makers (Sarah Polley and Guy Maddin premiered here in 2011). The market is mushrooming, the punters are enthusiastic yet dignified, and the films are guaranteed to be the ones you'll be discussing through to next spring.
Audience The public can buy tickets in a complicatedly democratic system, but mostly attendees are press, buyers and film-makers themselves. Outside Burbank, this is the place to catch the movies you'll need to see ahead of awards season.
Glamour What Toronto lacks in picture postcard backdrops it makes up for with the sheer slew of A-listers to be snapped next to a medium-height skyscraper.
Credibility The only major gong is the audience award – it's testimony to the savviness of punters that this tends to be something pretty classy. That the likes of Werner Herzog always open their movies here doesn't hurt, either.
Anglophilia Pronounced, but skewed towards the glossy. The Deep Blue Sea was here last year, also semi-Brit flicks Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Anonymous.
Friend of Oscar Bezzie mates. The King's Speech won the audience award in 2010. The Descendants, Albert Nobbs, Moneyball and many other gong-magnets chose Tiff to kick off their campaigns in 2011.
In three words The midas touch.
Also showing: the best of the rest
Seems to have lost its way since an initiative to reposition it as a festival of "discovery", and to shift it away from the August crowds at the fringe. In doing so, it's lost its USP: persuading big shots to turn up in June has proved well-nigh impossible. Still, it remains a people's festival, full of students and local cineastes, even if they have to trek out to the Fountain Park multiplex for screenings. These days, Edinburgh's best face is shown in Scottish-interest event screenings, like the restored version of The Man Who Would Be King, or this year's opener, Brave, from the Pixar team. Heavyweight premieres though, are extremely thin on the ground. AP
As Edinburgh suffered, London gained. The strategy review that branded Edinburgh's festival one of "discovery", designated London a "major international festival", with funding to match. Taking over two massive cinemas and building a giant gantry in Leicester Square for the world premiere of Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox in 2009 was a statement of ambition, and iIts exhaustive programming of mainstream film ensures a good celebrity quotient, and it benefits from the scramble for Bafta votes that begins in late autumn. Studios now compel their stars to visit London to woo support at private British academy screenings, then pop across the road to LFF events. All this activity is in addition to London's traditional practice of programming as many foreign films as possible, catering for and supported by the capital's multiple immigrant communities. And now its principal sponsors, the BFI, have become British cinema's lead agency, it can only get better.AP
In the Basque region of Spain, the festival supports not just Spanish (Pedro Almodóvar had his first festival outing at San Sebastian) and Latin American but Basque cinema too. (It has its own Zinemira. he city resembles a laid-back Rio. Festivalgoers turning up for movies at the modernist Kursaal Palace will see surfers pad past to the beach. There aren't many important premieres, but discoveries are there to be made. PB
"Keep Austin weird" say the T-shirts, and SXSW skews towards the off-kilter, with fanboy and genre flicks finding an especially welcome berth, while choice picks from Sundance (from two months before) ensure indie cred. Though headlines at SXSW are generally made in the music and interactive events that run alongside, the film wing has ballooned in impact under artistic director Janet Pierson. Recent debuts include Attack the Block, Kill List, Tiny Furniture and Natural Selection. But SXSW is defined by discussion and inclusivity, panels and parties: the friendly vibe stretched to public and talent alike, with a happy bleed between the two. CS
Not so much the little festival that could, but the one that does while the 0.1% watches. Tucked up in the Colorado mountains, Telluride's clique of über-cinephiles is drawn by its tendency to soft-launch an Oscar-grabbing goodie (eg, The King's Speech, The Crying Game) before the competition (Toronto, which starts a few days later) gets a sniff. The Davos of the film calendar where unspoken rules dictate that all new films must be US premieres and that the line-up remains a secret until the chosen arrive.Clean air, buzz films – but the cheapest entry is $390. "The most happening art movie town in America" (Roger Ebert) – but it makes Cannes look democratic. HB
Conceived by Robert De Niro in the wake of 9/11, to draw investors back to lower Manhattan. It has done the job – the festival has generated around $725m in local economic activity over its 11 years – but, while local celebs are supportive and attendance continues to climb, it can't draw international talent. Marvel's Avengers Assemble, the new Morgan Spurlock (Mansome) and indie darling Daryl Wein's Lola Versus are premiering this year. That's a film about protecting New York, a film about finding love in New York and a film made in New York. Tribeca's efforts to jump the nest include the Doha Tribeca film festival - a collaboration between the non-profit and the Qatari state that launched Jean-Jacques Annaud's Black Gold in November last year - and an online streaming service that makes festival films available across the US. Their success could dictate how far De Niro and co can take Manhattan. HB
Burgess Powers makes web sites highly visible so people can easily find them