The Hurdles Of Online Festivals

The ‘mother of all festivals’ We Are One free event kicked off this week on YouTube with programming curated by more than 21 A-list festivals including CannesTorontoVeniceBerlin, London, and Tribeca.

The widely publicised online festival will regurgitate and stream films previously premiered at said film festivals. Venice Film Festival curated 2018 selection Beautiful Things by Giorgio Ferrero, and 2013 Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy, TIFF‘s last year’s talk featuring David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen. Berlinale curated lrike Ottinger’s 1979 Ticket Of No Return (Germany) while BFI London Film Festival has curated Nicolas Jack Davies’s Rudeboy: The Story Of Trojan Records (2018, Jamaica/UK), as well as John Noel’s 1927 silent documentary The Epic Of Everest (UK) and Shiraz: A Romance Of India (1928, Germany/India/UK) by Franz Osten. From Locarno comes a conversation with John Waters and another between Song Kang-ho and Bong Joon Ho.

The full festival schedule will be available at www.weareoneglobalfestival.com. Overall, the line-up comprises 23 narrative and eight documentary features, 57 narrative, and 15 documentary shorts, 15 archived talks along with four “festival exclusives”, and five VR programming pieces.

Why are the distributors and buyers opting-out of the online film festivals and what drives the film industry during COVID-19

Are online film festivals’ premieres comparable to the traditional ones?

It is claimed, We Are One will screen 13 world premieres, 31 online premieres, and five international online premieres. But don’t get carried away, dear readers.

Having looked through the available lineup of films – that is not press-friendy at all – Ikon London Magazine found out that the term ‘premiere’ is applied loosely.

Some films due to ‘premiere’ at We Are One date back to 1970 (Adela Has Not Had Supper Yet) but a skillful sleight of mouth turned the old Czech classics to the ‘Global Festival Premiere’. Upon closer inspection, the majority of ‘Online Premieres’ and ‘Special Presentation Premieres’ has previously premiered too – in the true meaning of the word i.e. the very first screening – at various film festivals (Amreeka, Beyond the Mountain to name just a few).

We were not able to clearly discern the World Premieres from the abovementioned website.

So, why aren’t Online Festivals showing more of exciting new releases but instead show previously released films?

Distributors, buyers opting out of the online film festivals

The problem lies mainly with the distribution rights and contracts. Speaking during BAFTA online workshop, Josh Brown, the renowned film producer and founder of Submarine Entertainment production company affirmed that the majority of film distribution deals are closed during festivals but the distributors seem to “have an issue with online screenings”.  This is partly due to the fact that the film distribution rights’ topic is extremely complicated. One would imagine that the contract might stipulate initial theatrical release or different distributors would often be responsible for different markets.

Acknowledging these intricacies, Josh commented: “There seems to be a lot of work happening at the moment in terms of allowing for regional screenings but certain buyers [of Submarine’s newly released films] have cancelled online festival screenings.” It wouldn’t require a stretch of the imagination to suggest that scheduling new films for an online film festival might be like navigating a minefield.

Film markets, not online film festivals keep the industry moving

Regardless of the issues with online film premieres, some Film Markets continue the industry moving. The Berlinale and The Sundance Film Festival took place earlier this year as per usual. Cannes Film Festival Marche du Film is taking place online this year while Venice Production Bridge is set to “happen as scheduled” in September.

Josh Brown, without much enthusiasm, confirmed that Submarine Entertainment is also ‘participating’ at the Cannes’ online film market this year. “We have a few titles that we are seeking the international distribution for. I think it’s worth seeing how it goes.”

As to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the destiny of the 2020 edition is still uncertain. Set to take place after the Venice Film Festival in September, TIFF issued a statement that still stands as of the time of this article being written: “We recognize that in planning for the Festival now, there is still uncertainty about what “people coming together again” will look like in September. This is why we are looking at both onsite and digital innovations, which will provide options that will deliver for our audiences, support filmmakers and our partners, and bolster the industry.”

Inconvenient questions about online festivals

Thierry Frémaux, the Delegate General of Cannes Film Festival, posed valid questions in his recent interview. Anyone attempting to organise an online film festival should rightly ask – and answer those before being able to cater to all parties.

“I’d like someone to explain to me what a digital festival is exactly? What is its audience? How is it organised in terms of time and space? Would the directors and producers of the films be in agreement? How do you stop piracy? Who would be the privileged few to see it? What would the financial conditions be? Would the films shown come out in theatres?

“Parts of the media like to talk about a digital festival but there have been no serious investigations into what that means exactly, and what the end result would be. It would only really work for films destined only for release on the internet rather than those films with the hope of getting into theatres.”

Thierry Frémaux

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