It all started in Venice in 1932 – the world's first film festival. Then other festivals began popping up for a variety of reasons, some political, given the growingly fascist government in Italy: Cannes in 1946, Edinburgh in 1947, Berlin in 1951, and so on, until the present day, when a journalist can spend a decent portion of the year (and salary) covering Sundance, the Toronto Film Festival, Telluride, South by Southwest, Fantastic Fest, New York Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, CineVegas, and, more recently, San Diego Comic-Con, just to name as a few, as well as the aforementioned international festivals if they're really lucky.

As time has passed, the fests have become more than venues for movie buyers and sellers to haggle over movies or arbiters of taste in the finest of arthouse flicks. Along the way, critics and journalists have gotten into the festival circuit, which is a win-win for the movies and the writers; small films get the buzz that's sometimes a good push for them to get picked up by distributors, and the writers get access to films before they get hot, making them tastemakers and generally ahead of the curve when it comes to Oscar season, film trends, and insider-y scoops that can only occur when you find yourself sharing an elevator with a Weinstein. Festivals can be great litmus tests for movies that take forever to get picked up – you can pretty much guarantee they're gonna be a stinker by the time they arrive in theaters for a weekend and disappear after that.

Plus, they're fun. Really fun. Fun and exhausting and exhilarating for the writers and the publicists, who get to reunite with colleagues and buddies, check out great movies, make new connections, and all that good stuff. By the end, you're running on no sleep, nothing makes sense, you've seen 20 films in five days and done half as many interviews, and hopefully you'll be able to pay off the trip by the end of the year. And it was worth it.

But as the media churn speeds up and bigger movies like Jennifer's Body and Up in the Air (which both have distributors attached and plenty of star power to attract regular movie-goers) become showpieces and plenty of journalists are vying for five minutes with the biggest stars and the hottest directors, part of me is overwhelmed with the overexposure, especially since most of the same people are going to be doing more press for their movies once the release date looms closer. And let's be frank – a tired director or star who has already done a day or two of press does not give good interview. In fact, I've interviewed people who were damn sick of talking about the movie they were there to promote, and that was months before the film came out. And then there's Sundance, which has become more of a carnival of see-and-be-seen people like Paris Hilton and other people who could give half a crap about film.

I know that's only a small part of the process and the allure and the usefulness of festivals – they can be crucial for building up word of mouth for indie films. But how much is too much? And which parts, if any, make a difference to anyone outside the business?

categories Movies, Cinematical