It’s been one month since the 13th annual Philadelphia Independent Film Festival (and Festival of Animation) was called off. Since then we have been meeting, researching, discovering, and looking into the crystal ball of what comes next. What can we do? At times it’s been disheartening, encouraging, and liberating. We are watching other festivals flail in their “pivot” while others thrive on not the value of what they are doing, but on the fact, they are simply doing it. We rejected the “do it online” approach and instead have begun to envision a more complex relationship with the filmmaker than we could have imagined. What does this mean?

This means many things, to different people, of course! To us, a festival that seeks out new filmmakers and introduces them to a new audience, it suggests an “always-on” approach that enables filmmakers wherever they are – on-demand. If the goal of a film festival is to help establish the filmmaker through the event and you don’t have an event, then how do you call it a festival? This point is not lost on us.

Film festivals must live in the conscience of the people that are interested in them but most of all must now enable any interested party to take part when they desire. A festival can never sleep. By accepting a film we first need to discover the film. This happens by blind submissions (we do not solicit and it is entered based on the filmmaker interest/research of us) and our activating across the globe in “local” communities. This can happen by direct action (helping fund the local cinema group across the world) or by attending (virtual or in-person) events and screening that we or our colleagues might never have considered in the past. We need to activate in ways that enable interests in film – Independence on demand.

What else? Where do VR and other technologies stand? We’re seeing a generation gap here. Most people will never attend Cannes (we attended in 2006 with a short we produced) but dream of doing it. Why can’t they go online? Thierry Frémaux is very calm when he states a festival is not a festival without human interaction, the red carpet, and other hands-on factors, etc. We are now, slowly, disagreeing with this. Why? Because “younger” people are just fine with it. The understanding of what a film festival is and most importantly, what the filmmaker gets from it, is very different even in the last month. But more important, younger filmmakers are being shaped by “the new normal.” They simply will be OK without the contact sport festivals can be. The point is not that they do not care, it’s that they will accept what is in front of them and when they can, we’ll attend when possible. It’s normal for them when they have no experience in the first place. But most important, they are engaging virtual spaces like no time in history and are shaping the experience of wearing goggles. Would you stand in the room with your favorite filmmaker in VR if you can’t get there in real life? The chances are, yes.

There’s more and we will follow up but let’s end this for the moment here. How will the experience be shaped? What will actually happen? We’ll expand on this in another post but let’s say this – the experience of the film needs to be more than just watching it. The whole story needs to come off the screen and into your head (VR) and expand what we now know is a passive movie experience. This means more storylines to “expand” the reach of the film, not just bloopers or Q&A, but actually experiencing the film from different angles and perspectives – on demand.


Download: Festival #13 Poster 2020 PDF

Reference: Thierry Frémaux talks Cannes 2020 Official Selection plans, saving cinema, and Spike Lee’s return (exclusive)