Film festivals should not become a replacement for distribution, festival experts said at today’s Rotterdam panel entitled Film Festivals, Who Needs Them?

“Many film festivals tend to be a substitute for distribution. The theatrical exhibition sector has collapsed in many places in the world,” said Marie Pierre Duhamel of Venice. “We can’t be substitutes for how cinema should be seen by a nation.”

But the reality is that sometimes a festival launch can draw more audience members than a limited theatrical launch in some countries. “For a normal [Dutch] release, sometimes we can offer just as many audience as we can do here at the festival just in a few big screenings,” Rotterdam’s own Gerwin Tamsma [pictured] said. He thinks that a festival audience is a different audience than a usual cinema audience.

Michelle Carey of Melbourne pointed out the flaw of “seeing theatrical distribution as the end point, with the festival just to enable that.”

When asked if there were too many festivals in existence, Tamsma said that was not for festival organisers themselves to answer. Tamsma said: “The industry can decide how many it needs, it will be an economic solution of which fests to support and not to support.”

Hans Hurch of the Viennale bemoaned the growth of many festivals. “It should still hve a heart you should feel,” he said. “[Some festivals] tend to become like a machine, you have to feed it, and then sometimes you have to stop it.

The panelists didn’t think that online platforms (for consumers, like Mubi; or for the industry, like Festival Scope) will replace the festival experience, but they will impact festivals in the years to come.

Tamsma added: “If in time everyone adjusts to seeing films on monitors, then that opens the discussion on what is cinema? There is a danger in this constant availability.”

“The future will be much more diverse, but for most of the films we show now, they are made for certain conditions[being shown on cinema screens],” added Duhamel .