As the 2014 Vancouver Queer Film Festival gets underway and with the 2014 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival just around the corner, is it time to ask if the seemingly endless proliferation of film festivals still relevant in a world of Netflix, YouTube and the 500 channel universe?

Something for everyone

A Google search may return the usual suspects, but you don’t have to dig very far to find other festivals targeting very specific audiences.

Given our multicultural make-up it perhaps isn’t surprising to see that Vancouver is home to festivals targeting specific countries and regions, but you may be surprised to find out just how many are represented:  Asia, South Asia, Europe and South Africa all have their own festivals, as do the French, Jewish, Italian, Polish, queer and Buddhist communities.

We even have festivals targeted specifically at youth and women, plus others that are even more specialized, exploring outdoor films, the oceans and social justice.

Building community

One of the biggest arguments for the growing number of film festivals is their ability to build community.  For many festival goers, just being in the same room with like-minded individuals is enough to get them into the cinema.

In a country that claims to celebrate diversity though, do some of the more specialised festivals that cater to a specific ethnic or other cultural group create barriers?  One could argue that by becoming so focused, festivals shut-out potential audiences from outside their own sphere of influence, further isolating the groups they claim to serve.

Our lives reflected

Without film festivals the lives of many communities would simply not be reflected on the silver screen in Vancouver.  This is especially true with a homogenized Hollywood view where a bale of talking turtles is considered culturally diverse.

With the shrinking number of independent and festival movie houses in recent years, our chance to actually see diversity or our own lives reflected back at us is becoming less and less likely.  And forget films in a foreign language because without film festivals the art of the English subtitle would go the way of the silent film. Festivals give us a unique opportunity to see our heritage, our interests, our very lives in a way that will never happen at the local multiplex.

The online game changer

Are online options like Netflix and YouTube making the film festival obsolete?

With movies finding their way to Netflix at a quicker pace, we are no longer relegated to waiting a year for our favourite festival to make an appearance to satisfy our needs.  We can now get our fill of foreign language, documentary and independent films from the comfort of our recliners.  And while it may not have the ability to grow or bring a community together that a festival might, it is definitely filling a void.

The future for film festivals

There is little doubt that the appetite for film festivals is far from waning.  With at least one festival in any given month taking place in Vancouver alone, film-goers can’t seem to get enough.  But who can blame them?  Until movie studios are no longer driven by the economics of the next loud special effects blockbuster or potential Oscar flick, the ubiquitous film festival will continue to bring communities together and, perhaps more importantly, reflect a reality that Hollywood could never do.

And while the internet may challenge that notion more and more, nothing will ever fully replace seeing our stories and our lives on a thirty foot tall movie screen.

Here are just some of the film festivals that take place in Vancouver throughout the year: