At first glance, Australia appears to be experiencing a golden age of film festivals. In Melbourne alone, myriad events beyond the Melbourne international film festival jostle for cinema lovers’ attention, and dollars.
There’s Italian, French, German, Scandinavian, Human rights and arts, Young at heart, Football, Turkish and Great British film festivals, to name just a few, each running for sometimes weeks at a time throughout the year.
Amid the deluge, it’s easy to miss that many of these aren’t independent events, but are run by one chain: Palace Cinemas.
“We do try to promote them as their own distinct identities,” says festivals coordinator Alice McShane, one of five Palace staff members working year-round on the 12 festivals they run, including British, French, Italian and American Essentials. Elysia Zeccola-Hill, a member of the family who founded and continues to run Palace, serves as festivals director, alongside a festival manager, two coordinators and an assistant.
McShane says the festivals “are a means of testing the waters, because it’s so expensive to distribute film … enormously, enormously expensive”.
She cites the example of Icelandic film Rams to demonstrate how Palace uses festivals as a proving ground for films that can then go on to wider release. The group’s distribution arm, Palace Films, acquired it for their Scandinavian film festival, where it was so successful that they later released it into the broader art house circuit.
McShane notes that other distributors also use Palace’s festivals as launching pads. British war dramedy Their Finest, distributed by Transmission Films, screened once at each venue in the Young at heart seniors film festival, with every session selling out. The film has since been given a general cinema release. “It’s one of those…