An afterlife for film scores
In essence, the World Soundtrack Awards are the annual film music prizes, awarded at Film Fest Gent by the World Soundtrack Academy. It's a unique celebration of the art of film music and its protagonists. The history of the WSA goes way back, even before the first edition in 2001. Thanks to the WSA, the musical identity of Film Fest Gent is now enshrined in an exciting network of composers and film music professionals, who gather in Ghent annually for concerts, talks, matchmaking and the World Soundtrack Awards Ceremony.
Film Fest Gent played a major part in pushing film music into the spotlight. Pioneering a focus on film music, it inspired other festivals to pay more attention to film scores as a genre (and not just a supporting act). In the wake of the WSA, the European Film Academy launched a prize for best score in 2004 and festivals such as Krakow, Aubagne, Tenerife and Cologne also hopped on the wagon of emphasising the importance of film scores. Even the world-renowned magazine Variety recognises the influence of Film Fest Gent's focus on film music, placing the festival among the 50 not-to-be-missed festivals in the world. Dubbed the "little brother of the Oscars", the activities of the WSA have become essential to those working in film music.
The World Soundtrack Academy was founded in 2000, but it was the logical result of a decades-long process. In the 1980s, in search for an identity in a crowded film festival calendar, Film Fest Gent - in collaboration with the Festival of Flanders - dedicated its festival to the impact of music on film, resulting in an official film competition with this as its main theme. No other film festival in the world had a similar theme on its agenda. Besides the competition, the festival also decided to organise silent film screenings with newly composed music that was performed live. One of the highlights was the performance of a new score by Georges Delerue for the Russian Casanova (1927) in 1987. Delerue conducted the work himself in a packed Ghent Opera. That same year, Ennio Morricone gave a concert in a sold-out Kuipke in Ghent. Thus, the film festival became an established name in the film music circuit. Other internationally renowned composers such as Jean-Claude Petit, Nicola Piovani, Peer Raben, Stanley Myers, Carl Davis, Bruce Broughton and Michael Nyman also attended the festival to perform their work.
Below you can see a promotional film that the film festival made in 1988, to promote itself on behalf of the Flemish Community as part of a Flemish Week in Washington in the United States. The film, shot on 35mm, portrays the early festival years.
Yet, the protagonist in establishing the World Soundtrack Academy is German composer Hans Zimmer. In 2000, then managing director Jacques Dubrulle, music projects coordinator Marian Ponnet and Brussels Philharmonic conductor Dirk Brossé convinced the world-famous film composer to come to Ghent for the first-ever live performance of his film scores in the presence of Morgan Freeman and Lisa Gerrard. It was a door-opener for the organisers in Ghent, because the need to put all the contacts between composers, musicians and agents who attend the festival each year into a fixed structure grew bigger. This is why the festival launched the World Soundtrack Academy in 2001. During the 2001 edition, the WSA presented the first World Soundtrack Awards. None other than the legendary John Williams received the first Film Composer of the Year Award (for Steven Spielberg's A.I.). Elmer Bernstein was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award and Craig Armstrong became the first Discovery of the Year.
Out of the studio, into the WSA spotlight
Composers suddenly realised their scores had an afterlife. Normally, a composer is contracted near the end of the film's production and he has to deliver a score with a small cut of the budget as soon as possible. Then he records it and the job is done. At best, the score gets an album release. But thanks to the WSA, composers and their work were no longer confined to their recording studios. Moreover, the World Soundtrack Awards made sure the guests of honour got an album. By now, Film Fest Gent has a rich collection of film music albums with work by celebrated composers such as Craig Armstrong, Mychael Danna, Angelo Badalamenti, Alan Silvestri, Marco Beltrami, Carter Burwell and Cliff Martinez. The album dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the WSA featured scores by all winners of the Film Composer of the Year Award.
Ins & Outs
Besides the album, the WSA organises film music seminars, masterclasses, composer and industry talks and meet and greets. These events are a golden opportunity for students to gain insight into the methodology of seasoned professionals. At matchmaking sessions, they get to know international contacts and they learn the ins and outs of composing for screen. Participating students have gone on to become professionals, and Discoveries of the Year have gone on to become big household names. For some composers, the World Soundtrack Awards are the first time they hear their music performed live in front of an audience. Each year, Brussels Philharmonic conducted by Dirk Brossé gives the best of themselves at the Ceremony and Concert and the thematic concert.
© Jeroen Willems
Into a third decade of celebrating film music
Throughout the years, the World Soundtrack Awards have welcomed the biggest names in the film music industry and they will continue to do so. Extremely talented composers such as James Newton Howard, Howard Shore, Hans Zimmer, Patrick Doyle, Rachel Portman, Hildur Guðnadóttir and many others have come to Ghent to meet with fans, colleagues and friends. Some WSAwards were a prelude to the Oscars. Composers such as Gustavo Santaolalla, Dario Marianelli and Alexandre Desplat were first recognised in Ghent and later at the Oscars. Even more remarkably, WSAward-winning composers for screen have gathered 46 Oscars in total! The WSAcademy has now stepped into its third decade and will keep bringing together film music fans and composers and professionals in the industry.