The coronavirus has severely impacted the film festival circuit.
Festival directors have been burdened with the tough choice of either canceling festivals or trying to move them online. Some festivals adapted through the use of online portals, while others, like the We Are One Global Film Festival, teamed up with streaming platforms like YouTube to curate their films. The impact of these changes will be felt long after the quarantine ends, not just for how they screen movies, but perhaps what films they showcase. Cinetic Media has been hosting their Viral Film Industry Conversation series, discussing these changes in the wake of the virus. This past week, John Sloss, Principal of Cinetic Media, hosted a discussion regarding festival responses to the pandemic. The discussion included:
Tabitha Jackson: Director of The Sundance Film Festival
Eugene Hernandez: Director of The New York Film Festival
Carlo Chatrian: Artistic Director of The Berlin International Film Festival
The general discussion about virtual programing was optimistic, referencing the Thom Powers article on IndieWire to address the impact of festivals are changing their screening formats. Jackson praised the article, acknowledging the incentive of independent filmmakers to showcase their work. Hernandez further discussed how virtual models for festivals can increase access to independent film for people who couldn’t afford to go to festivals physically. There were questions about film submission numbers bing impacted, and how that may impact film selection. Chatrian addressed how most European film festivals rely heavily on public funding and are subjected to more restrictions on how that money is used. He further discussed the concerns of theaters shutting down, some of which won’t be able to reopen because of the virus. The general agreement, however, is that the virtual component will most likely stay, even after the quarantine.
Hernandez addressed how The New York Festival, as of now, is still planning to run as scheduled, and discussed the possibility of integrating open-air theater screenings, modeled after the Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival. He also discussed the festival existing in a virtual capacity. He stated, “it [virtual component] enables us to connect with new audiences who may not otherwise have a way into a festival. I think we need to find the right combination of live, virtual, and, in our case, outdoor to find the way that makes the most sense.” Jackson and Chatrian discussed their efforts to facilitate independent voices through their festival programming. They acknowledged the importance of having a diverse selection of films that appeal to the various tastes in the film community, whether they’re blockbusters, arthouse, independent, or documentary film fans.
Sloss later discussed films that would play simultaneously in competition at different festivals. He referenced Never Rarely Sometimes Always, which won awards at Both Sundance and BIFF. Chatrian stated, “When I was appointed…we said that films come first. As long as we’re sure that the combo of Sundance and Berlin would work, we’d be open to do it….at the same time, I cannot have half the competition be premiered from Sundance because that would disrupt the market in Berlin.” Jackson built on Chatrian’s statement, saying, “The insistence on premiers ensures that the is a diversity of films at these festivals, instead of a traveling circuit of the anointed films. There is some value to making sure there is discovery in one’s own festival.”
The panel ended by taking questions from the audience related film categorization for festivals and the prevalence of documentaries in competition. Jackson and Hernandez also recommended the True False Film Festival for their excellent programing, enjoyable audiences, and their music performances prior to screenings. Hernandez also recommended the Morelia Film Festival, while Chatrian recommended the Viennale Festival, for their obscure films and lack of competition.
You can find the livestream of the discussion here