Throughout the coming weeks, NYWIFT will sit down with members of the film and television community for a look at how the global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the industry, particularly those who work in the indie and art house world. And how women are adapting, evolving, and growing creatively. If you would like to share your story please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are compiling a NYWIFT Emergency Resource Directory on our homepage – please continue to check back as we update it with the latest information.
By Heidi Philipsen
Film festivals are hurting during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well. I interviewed the female leaders behind the Film Festival Alliance – a collaborative global community for mission-driven film festivals – to learn more about how they are not just coping, but evolving through the challenges.
Lela Meadow-Conner, Executive Director, and Barbara Twist, Director of Membership, shared their thoughts.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your organization?
Film festivals are unique, place-based cultural traditions rooted in communities gathering. Historically, this means gathering in-person to watch movies, meet filmmakers, and come together around our shared love of cinema. For now, however, festivals are forced to postpone, cancel, or quickly reimagine themselves as an online gathering. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the film festival industry, with more than 180 regional and national festivals already affected by postponement or cancelation. For our Fall festivals, they face uncertainty of a virus resurgence, overcrowding of the calendar, and an economic toll.
How are people/businesses/films affected by the social distancing?
Many of our Film Festival Alliance member organizations have already suffered economic impacts, from a reduction in sponsorships, loss of ticket revenue from festival or year-round events, and a downtick in submission fees as filmmakers are unable to complete their films. Our festivals are diverse in geography, budget, and scale; yet regional film festivals are a majority constituency for the FFA. While all of our festivals are affected, our regional festivals will suffer greatly. Many of these festivals operate with 1-3 (or all-volunteer) staff and each year feels like a start-up as [they] finish one festival only to [immediately] begin fundraising for the next year’s festival.
What are some of the way the Film Festival Alliance has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but is coming up with “out of the box” solutions?
For many Americans, regional festivals are their gateway to independent film and filmmakers. Sure, those films might land on a streaming service, but with the cluttered landscape of SVOD, how will they ever make those discoveries? It cannot be stressed enough how important the festival circuit is to both filmmakers and audiences. For many filmmakers, playing at and attending festivals around the country, networking with other filmmakers, and connecting with new audiences is a critical part of their distribution plan.
We want to highlight our festivals who are diving in and reinventing themselves overnight. Did you hear about the Ann Arbor Film Festival who hosted their 58th Festival through live-streaming on Vimeo? Or about the Oscar-qualifying Aspen ShortsFest who ran their 2020 festival online? These festivals are working hard every day to bring people together and showcase the myriad ways these successful organizations solve the same problems. We’ve found with many different efforts that there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all solution to many of our day-to-day challenges.
What are ways in which the public can help?
COVID-19 will have an impact on the film festival of the future. When will audiences want to gather in a dark room? When will filmmakers be ready to travel? When will local economies be able to provide the financial means to sustain their cultural arts entities? Will festivals of the future be a hybrid of in-person and online? It’s too soon to tell, but in the meantime, if your local film festival means something to you – as an audience member, as a filmmaker, as someone with pride of place – make a small donation, attend a virtual screening they’re hosting or simply reach out and let them know that they’re important to your quality of life and you’ll support them upon their return.
Learn more about Film Festival Alliance at www.filmfestivalalliance.org.
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