How do you have a film festival in a year with a global pandemic? You stream the movies online.
This is the plan organisers of the TT Film Festival (TTFF) have for the 2020 edition, refusing to give in to cancellations that curtailed many events, locally, and abroad, as the spread of covid19 sent countries into lockdown.
And they are determined to continue to inspire young directors and producers with a new prize category for student filmmakers to support emerging talent.
The festival is in its 15th year and is managed by FILMCO, whose interim executive director Mariel Brown said they decided to go ahead with the event when they observed how demoralising it was for people to have a slew of cancelled events months and months ahead of schedule.
“There was a period there when everybody was cancelling everything and we decided we are not going to cancel the festival. We did an online screening series called Watch A movie On Us which is where we offered free movies and actually had a sponsor National Gas Company of TT (NGC). That gave us the ability to offer the movies free of charge while paying screening fees to the film makers.”
During that series, FILMCO showed 22 movies.
That series showed the festival organisers that people can pivot online.
“That was a main concern. Would people engage with an online festival and really, they did,” Brown said in a WhatsApp interview with Newsday.
What is the difference between the series and the film festival? “Those screenings were free and during the festival the online films won’t be free. It will be ticketed just as if you would be going to MovieTowne,” she said.
The planning for the online version of the festival began in mid-to-late April. At that stage, the festival had already put out its call for submissions since February. By the time entries closed in May, the organisers received over 300 submissions and programmed 130 films.
FILMCO partnered with Australian company Shift72, which specialises in online film festivals to host this year’s festival.
“We have all of these great films and they are all going to be available online during that week, September 9-15.”
However, TTFF is still working toward hosting a physical opening night at the Queen’s Park Oval, Tragarete Road, Port of Spain.
“You are outdoors but covered and of course there will be physical distancing happening there as well. The sort of person-to-person service so there will be no queuing at the bar. Drinks will be served to people,” she said.
More details about the festival will be announced at a virtual press conference on August 26.
The festival’s organisers had hoped to plan more physical events but with increasing covid19 cases in TT, and a disquiet about the whole thing, a decision was taken to have fewer in-person events. Brown said apart from the online screenings, most of the training workshops, panels and presentations will also happen online. The online events will be held via Facebook live and Zoom.
However, there will be two days when TT and Caribbean films will be shown at MovieTowne, Port of Spain only with physical distancing. All of the films screened at the cineplex will also be screened online.
TTFF is also looking at having a drive-in or outdoor screening but those details have not been confirmed, as discussions are yet to take place about a venue in Port of Spain. Brown said there may be an outdoor screening in south Trinidad at San Fernando Hill. The festival will also have one in-person technical workshop because the techniques have to be demonstrated to attendees.
The pandemic has raised questions about the global future of cinemas, but Brown said the issue is more a question of what human beings want, appreciate and value.
“There will always be a fundamental difference between watching a film online on your computer and watching it at the cinema.
“I know this is a really scary time but I think a point is going to have to come, and I think it is going to have to come soon, where we have to decide as human beings what kind of life we want to live. Whether we are prepared to let cinemas close down and vanish forever.”
on Page 4B
Cinemas are facing extinction and are in existential crisis, she added.
“I think covid is going to be with us for a long time and I feel as though once you are following physical distancing guidelines and being respectful, careful and smart, then I feel as though you have to make a decision about what is of value to you as an individual.”
This issue extended beyond the silver screen for her. It is also about supporting small and medium-sized businesses.
“That’s about going and spending your cash not just on Amazon but supporting local businesses and smaller businesses because the world is really facing an existential crisis.”
How the world comes out of this depends on an individual’s personal resilience and determination to resume some level of normal living and to understand that businesses cannot survive on their own, Brown said.
“You want to go to an art gallery or museum. Again you can’t think that those things are going to be able to hold out this long. Dance performances. Music performances. There is a whole part of our cultural landscape that relies on an in-person physical experience and we have to make a decision about what we want.”
Brown asked what the world would look like without cinemas, theatres, concerts. “What’s that world?”
She said all organisations, small, medium, large and established were faced with the “real and present danger” of not being able to sustain themselves.
“Quite rightly, until we understood what we were dealing with and we are still trying to figure out what we are dealing with, we had to withdraw. But we cannot stay withdrawn if we want to have any semblance of our past life moving forward.”