On 26 April leading festival personnel, including Vision du Réel’s Emilie Bujès and IDFA’s Orwa Nyrabia, gathered to talk online about how festivals may/should/could respond to the new reality under COVID-19.
Major points of interest that emerged from the 26 April online panel discussion entitled ‘Film festivals Under Corona-times’ were the intention on the part of Indie Lisboa to hold a physical event 25 August to 5 September, and IDFA chief Orwa Nyrabia’s confirmation that views of library films on the festival’s website reached “almost 1.5 million”. He also stressed that “tens of thousands” of these were complete views.
But the event was called to share ideas, underlined Emilie Bujès, noting how cancellation or postponement of her event in 2020 “was not an option”.
“We felt that this would be a sad solution…because we were very close to the festival, and you feel like you already have this strong relation with all the directors and producers whose films have been invited, and you want to keep that commitment.”
Announced IndieLisboa artistic director Miguel Valverde: “For the moment we are working as if it is possible to start the festival on the 25th of August to the 5th of September.”
IDFA’s Orwa Nyrabia stressed how the November timing of his festival will offer him and his team “a learning process from what our colleagues [at other festivals] are going through and see where this will lead, but of course we know that we can’t take big bets on November, so it’s not a clear situation.”
He is therefore planning for two scenarios, he said, for what is likely to be “the smallest IDFA in years”. “So far we see that it is a good possibility that there might be cinemas open partially [but] with huge limitations by the time of IDFA, and if this was the case then we are going to be filling every screen possible with our films.”
“Generally I love cinema, and I believe that coming together to watch films is certainly the core of what a festival can do,” he added. “However I don’t worship cinema, and I am not in a crusade against watching films online, so I think it’s also something that we can look into openly with together the filmmakers… discussing with each film when the time comes.”
VdR’s Bujès picked up the wider point, especially as to whether an online festival iteration harms a film’s distribution prospects further down the line. “It is something that isn’t new in the sense that Festival Scope has been doing that kind of thing with several festivals including Locarno for a while now, and it didn’t feel like it was having a bad [effect] on films and on their future distribution because it is all very limited, which is our case as well because we have maximum views of 500 which is very low even for someone who would be considering distributing a film in Switzerland.”
She further summed up the dilemma of both festivals and filmmakers in these times: “Like everybody else, we just don’t know what is going to happen in general… Will the festivals be online? Will they be cancelled? Will they be smaller? They will have more submissions, or not? Will there be enough spaces for those films? If there are no festivals for two years, then what should those films do?”
Nyrabia pointed out that unlike an event like Directors Fortnight, which he described as “one of the most challenging curatorial jobs out there in the whole world,” IDFA is a year-round event that involves IDFA Bertha Fund activity, an online collection, screenings throughout the year, and a Summer training school (which will be reformatted for 2020) as well as the headline event itself in November. “So the questions will come in instalments and we have to come up with answers to each step by step.”
He further defined the lot of documentary filmmakers (referring to their dilemma in ‘class’ terms) but also the support that the doc sector has hitherto shown to them. “I must put it in a very classist way and say that documentary filmmakers are poor people comparatively, and the economy of documentary film is much poorer, and that, yes, there is a certain level of scepticism, a lack of confidence in the marketplace, that makes [documentary] filmmakers say ‘ok, there is no place for us in the dream of going theatrical, we will take the next best thing which is the support of a good festival, and the label of that’.”