The way films are bought and sold can seem quaintly archaic; we still drive our sheep to market in the Age of Wal-Mart. In the film industry, the 24/7 rat race one associates with other forms of trading is stuck in a choreographed series of events.

At one level, this is natural enough. Film markets exist alongside festivals that bring together content and commerce in a unique way. Hectic bidding wars in fevered screenings are a reminder this business is different.

It's a regular feature at industry conferences, that a speaker will sagely look to an anomaly in the film industry and tell us that if films were widgets, our whole business model would be up the creek. And if a fox were a fish, it wouldn't catch many chickens.

Nonetheless, as buyers and sellers remind us in today's Screen (see In Focus, p6), the pattern of the year has been changing.

While the complaint that the certainties of the past - with a clear pattern to the year - are gone is fair, we should remember it's the natural consequence of success. The international market has been expanding and there have been opportunities for newcomers.

Incumbents, such as Berlin, have sensibly expanded to soak up some of this potential but there's a limit to what can be accommodated by most of the established festivals.

Rome is the most obvious example of a new event seeing its opportunity in the physical limitations of an existing giant - Venice. But Rome is also a good example of a city recognising the importance of film to tourism and the growing creative economy.

Abu Dhabi looks like another lavish example of a new event seeing a gap in the calendar. There's a further business synergy: studios increasingly want to promote their films in international markets, while having Nicole and Angelina on the boulevard, strasse or piazza works a treat when marketing a city.

So are the complaints about the way the calendar is panning out merely short-term frustrations generated by growing pains'

That can be judged by how well or badly the festival and markets serve their core purpose as the connecting tissue between international talent and audiences. They are platforms for discovering talent and promoting great films and the means by which such content finds distribution. But that mission has been less clear in recent years. The role of some festivals as marketing opportunities for US films in international markets has unquestionably grown and film-makers who might once have found a berth at festivals no doubt feel there's a squeeze.

Yet, given that this has been a year where the festival sands have been shifting, there have been some fantastic discoveries with critics hailing strong years at Cannes and Venice.

Some festivals and markets are dealing with an overcrowded and sometimes confused market by sensibly reviewing dates, such as Rome and Edinburgh.

Some are making sure they play to their strengths, renewing their raison d'etre. Frederic Maire at Locarno, for example, has been talking about the festival's role in unearthing new talent.

Buyers and sellers may find certain festivals will become world-class specialists in niche areas rather than being Cannes-lite. The market, in other words, will find its level and there will be losers in the process.

Widening choice may lead to more careful scrutiny of real value for money when the expenses arrive at the finance department or the credit-card bill is opened. Expensive locations need to deliver every single year and that kind of pressure is all to the good.

There was a time when experts confidently predicted the film festival would be an early victim of the internet. Online viewing and sales will be a big factor in the way the long tail is turned into commercial opportunity. However, the festival and film markets have survived and are expanding because they work.

Look past the red-eye and the hangovers, and film festivals remain institutions to be celebrated - and competition, however irritating, only serves to prove the point.