The film industry can “really work on redesigning what festivals can and should be” through the increase in online events during the coronavirus pandemic, according to panellists taking part in Screen’s inaugural Talks discussion.
Discussing positive outcomes from this challenging situation, CPH:DOX director Tine Fischer said, “Two things pop into my mind. One is that the sense of community within the film world has been strengthened tremendously. We are helping each other between festivals but also between producers, filmmakers and financiers. That’s very striking.
“We can also really work on redesigning what festivals can and should be and how we can take responsibility towards a larger civic society in the coming years,” she continued. “That’s one thing I think is super-important and there’s really room for it.”
Fellow panellist Tricia Tuttle, BFI director of festivals, said the crisis had forced through changes about which the industry had been unsure for some time.
“We’ve been talking for two decades about how the industry’s changing, how different ways that audiences are receiving and accessing films is changing the industry,” she said. “But we’re also very scared about how things are changing.
“It seems like in three weeks we’ve experimented so much; we never would have done this without a crisis forcing boldness and experimentation in different ways of thinking. I’m really interested to see how that affects the conversations and strategies after we’re able to go back to cinemas. I know audiences will go back to cinemas, I absolutely do.”
Originally scheduled for March 18-29, CPH:DOX was one of the first European festivals to cancel its physical presence for 2020. It switched to an online event on March 11, and yesterday revealed its online screenings reached 113,000 viewers in Denmark.
“When we released the online programme, the entire campaign was rolled out as if it was going to be a physical festival,” said Fischer. “We had to rethink everything in terms of communication and marketing and outreach. There are so many films in our programme that need a context; you can’t just splash it on a streaming platform and make sure that it will take good care of itself.”
Also on the panel was Jaie Laplante, executive director and director of programming at Miami Film Festival, which had to pull its 2020 edition on March 12, midway through its intended March 6-15 run.
When discussing the format that world premieres would take in online events, Laplante said, “The nomenclature of what we’re doing is something we’re still going to be working out in terms of what our industry standard is. The world premiere we’re going to put online at the end of April, we’re calling the ‘online world premiere’ – it could still hopefully have a world premiere in a theatrical cinematic setting later on.
“All premieres have been something I’ve tried to be more fluid and flexible with,” he continued. “That’s already been an issue we’ve been working on in terms of what’s best for filmmakers – we’ll continue along those lines.”
The BFI cancelled its BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival on March 16, two days before it was due to start, and moved a portion of the event online across the following days.
“There were seven world premieres in BFI Flare,” said Tuttle. “None of them wanted to go onto BFI Player.
“BFI Flare was for public audiences and didn’t have the same industry profile that you get from CPH:DOX,” she continued. “I get that – if I was a producer I’d make the same decision, it’s important not to jeopardise future distribution opportunities for your film. We will support those films when they are released or distributed; we’ve been in conversation with all of them about how we can continue to support those films.”
The lack of or reduction in physical events has necessitated a financial rethink for most festivals. “If we had not gone online I’m not sure that we would have survived,” said Fischer. “I’m so extremely happy we went online; we managed to secure a large part of what we would have been able to gain in ticket sales. For the rest, that’s a discussion that’s going to go on for the next couple of months.
“I feel quite reassured that we will manage, but it’s also going to be a very hard year,” she continued. “I sleep at night now; three weeks ago I was really afraid.”
Tuttle confirmed that both Flare and the BFI London Film Festival “will remain massively important activities for the BFI,” while Laplante noted that despite losing out on the last few days of ticket sales, “a great number of other funding sources” including private donors and corporate sponsors have stuck with Miami.
“I’m hoping some of the online activity we’re doing will make up some of that revenue,” he added. “I don’t think it’ll quite reach the same level. Next year will be tough; we may have to make this a bit of a smaller festival in terms of our guests.”
While unable to speculate on the status of two of the industry’s major events for the rest of the year, the panel did discuss the effect if one or both Cannes and Venice film festivals were to cancel their 2020 editions.
“There are pipelines for films that will be affected if one of those festivals doesn’t happen,” said Tuttle, acknowledging a potential “massive impact” in such a situation.
“If Cannes doesn’t happen, that has a huge ripple effect in terms of awards season – that can ripple well into the spring,” agreed Laplante. “It could be just a big anomaly year – a year where we all take a breath.”
Similar uncertainty exists for the BFI’s own centrepiece event. “I feel we’re planning about five different BFI London Film Festivals right now,” said Tuttle. “We’re assessing, constantly monitoring. None of us could’ve imagined we’d be in the situation we’re in, three, four weeks ago.
“It’s going to be the same situation as we come out of the crisis. We are definitely planning a more business-as-usual version of the festival, and we’ll just have to watch and wait to make sure we can deliver something like this. But of course, we’re thinking about so many contingency plans and how we can make sure we deliver some version of the festival.”
Screen’s online Talks programme will continue across the coming weeks as part of our offering during the coronavirus crisis. We have also launched Market+, a virtual marketplace housing key industry information and content.