Flops or Cult Classics: A conference explores the meaning of film failure

The Cinema Studies Graduate Student Association (CSGSA) at San Francisco State University are an imaginative bunch of people and each year they choose a topic to discuss that sheds light on the state of film. This year, from October 18-19, they will explore films consigned by someone somewhere, rightly or wrongly, to the trash heap of history.

FAILED CINEMA is a two-day conference that will explore failed media, acknowledging all the nuanced and slippery connotations encapsulated in the very concept of failure. If a film achieves critical acclaim and countless accolades, yet disappoints in its returns at the box office, has it failed? Some “bad” movies have faded into obscurity while others have endured as guilty pleasures and cult classics.

3d Rubber Stamp - "Failed"

Mychal Shanks, president of the CSGSA, noted that from the perspective of young students trying to get into films, the likelihood of lauded achievements in the media industry feels pretty small. So they felt they should explore just how small.

This conference allows them to examine the “life of a film” once it has been released and evaluate the criteria for success. Perhaps there is no such thing as a failed film. After all, Mychal told us, SPACE JAM, currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, received a chilly response from critics but became a pop culture sensation.

If you want to attend the conference, you can do so for free. If you are interested in contributing, the CSGSA welcomes presentations, video essays, papers, films and other forms of visual media from filmmakers, film thinkers and film analysts.  Topics may include but are not limited to:


  • Critically panned films

  • Domestic/International box office failures

  • Shelved films and uncompleted projects due to studio interference, financial pitfalls or cultural controversies.

  • Cult films, their fanbases and the studios or creators responsible for them.

  • Films that failed in their own country but were successful abroad (with critics or audiences)

  • Financial/production failures, movies that had issues related to their production that either caused their failures or prevented their release

  • Controversial subject matter that caused a film to fail at the time of its release

  • Intentionally “bad” movies (i.e Sharknado)

  • Failed remakes/adaptations

The deadline for submissions has been extended to August 15th, 2018 at their website http://sfstate.orgsync.com/org/csgsa

We look forward to seeing the lineup and wonder if someone will present on the world of independent films, where the idea of failed cinema is harder to apply. Success for some independent filmmakers is the respect of their peers, film festival awards, the longevity of their films, a good write-up, and the depth of interaction with their audiences. Personal and profound. Making money, reaching millions and getting a Variety review is icing on the cake.

– From the laptop of Deirdre Evans-Pritchard, Executive Director at DCIFF