While doing some research I came across this entry on the Environmental Defense Fund blog:
At the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, the jury of film experts chose Forty Shades of Blue as the best dramatic film. The Audience Award went to Hustle & Flow. I don’t know which was a better film, but I do know Hustle & Flow went on to earn $20 million in wide release in the U.S., while Forty Shades of Blue topped out at $75,000. I’m sure it doesn’t always happen that way, but it goes to show that the experts don’t always know what will succeed in the marketplace of ideas.
We at Environmental Defense Fund just finished something a bit like a film festival — a competition that challenged participants to make a 30 second ad that explains how capping greenhouse gas pollution will help cure our national addition to oil. This week we announced two winners, one selected by our staff and another chosen by thousands of voters online. Like at Sundance, the voters and the judges chose different winners…in fact, the video chosen by us "experts" came in dead last in the online voting.
This in essence, is the guiding philosophy behind distributor (and my employer) B-Side Entertainment: the audience is never wrong. When putting together your own festival and distribution plan, polling a wide audience (who doesn't know you) through test screenings is essential. Even when you can't trust yourself or your friends to evaluate whether your film is
good or bad likely to appeal to festival audiences, your test audiences will tell you.
(Edited after Alex Orr rightly pointed out that sometimes "audience-pleasing" doesn't always equal "good.")