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Why Standing Ovations Matter: Unpacking The Impact And Importance

The phenomenon of standing ovations at film festivals, particularly at prestigious events like Cannes, has long been a subject of fascination and discussion. Filmmakers often recall these moments with a mix of pride and bemusement, as the duration and fervour of applause sometimes take on a life of their own in media narratives.

Steven Spielberg, reflecting on the reception of his film ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ at Cannes in 1982, remarked on how the reported duration of the standing ovation seemed to grow exponentially in subsequent retellings. What began as a six-and-a-half-minute ovation in the room transformed into a twenty-minute ovation by the time the news reached Los Angeles.

Image Courtesy: Cari Cole

This exaggeration is not uncommon in the industry, where the length of applause becomes a marketing tool, enhancing the film’s prestige and generating buzz.

However, the meaning behind these standing ovations can be complex. While they are often seen as a measure of a film’s artistic impact, they also reflect the audience’s enthusiasm for the people involved—the filmmakers, actors, and crew. 

At major film festivals, attendees include not only film critics and enthusiasts but also socialites, financiers, and industry insiders. The applause may be as much about celebrating the talent and legacy of the individuals as it is about appreciating the film itself.

Image Courtesy: The Hollywood Reporter

Films with star-studded casts or renowned directors often receive longer ovations, highlighting the audience’s reverence for these cinematic figures. The duration of applause can convey the audience’s excitement and respect for the creators rather than solely reflecting their evaluation of the film’s quality.

David Kajganich, a writer and producer, captured this sentiment when discussing Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All at the Venice festival. He noted that standing ovations are as much about honouring the people behind the film as they are about the film’s impact on the audience’s emotions. In essence, these ovations serve as a blend of appreciation for artistic achievement and recognition of the talent and dedication that brought the film to life.

-Sushmita Sarkar

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