2020 is a year like no other, in so many ways. Nearly every corner of life has been disrupted, and these changes will likely stay with us for some time. As social distancing becomes the new norm, film festivals have become a dangerous risk few can afford to take. Their role in the industry is paramount, and it is difficult to imagine what the world might look like without them.
At this point, many festivals have already canceled for the year. For many, however, reality truly set in when The Cannes announced that it would be moving to an online event for 2020. There are many other events in the film industry, but Cannes is something of an institution. There is a glamor and elegance to it, and its cancellation truly brings our harsh reality into light.
Many festivals have opted to go virtual for 2020, providing virtual workshops, interviews and film screenings in lieu of in-person events. .
Germany hosts a slew of smaller festivals, none quite so well-known as Cannes, but still important players in the broader film industry. Most have decided to move their events online for the 2020 season.
The 27th International Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film took place May 5-10 and garnered a positive reaction. “We started the festival week cautiously due to a lack of experience, and also since we didn’t have any role models to look to,” explains artistic director Ulrich Wegenast. “However, we noticed on the first day that our expectations were far exceeded. Both the views of the opening film in the live stream and the tickets sold show us that our offer was well-received.”
Online ≠ Free
For the most part, we are used to most things online being free to access. Much like online purchases, however, film festivals cannot be free of charge, even when hosted virtually. From organization fees to licenses for intellectual properties, bills must be paid. Organizers feel confident that virtual attendees are willing to pay for access. “Cinema must not be free on the Internet either,” says DOK.fest director Daniel Sponsel. Looking to the future, however, he says: “The place of a film festival remains the cinema. We are very much looking forward to the next festival editions, where we can laugh or be moved together again. But we could imagine showing selected films online between festivals, over the course of the year, in other words, offering a small curated program.”
The rumor mill suggests that there will be cooperation among the industry’s largest events, in order to provide their content online. It’s also possible that the big tech names will want a piece of the action. Cannes, Venice, the Berlinale, Sundance and Tribeca are among 20 international festivals offering international viewers free online experience from May 29th to June 7th. The event, titled “We Are One: A Global Film Festival”, will feature films, documentaries, musical performances and virtual round tables via the YouTube streaming platform.
The ongoing pandemic has thrown a wrench into many aspects of daily life. Until this crisis resolves, the industry will continue to evolve as it finds new and innovative ways to adapt to this new reality.