Cathy Hackl @ Forbes
The pandemic has changed a lot of things around the world. In times of stress, sadness, and world upturning events, nothing beats going to the movies. Unfortunately, pandemics and crowded movie theaters don’t mix. Movie theaters are having to close down, even after applying social distancing measures because production houses are putting their movie releases on hold.
Fortunately, movie loves and film festival creators aren’t giving up. They’re finding new ways to share films. And they’re bringing back some out of date methods so people can be together, separately, at the movies. Film festivals and movie theaters aren’t just about bringing people together. They’re a vital way to share art that is film. Film festival curators are redefining the film festival by creating new categories to incorporate storytelling mediums like film, video games, and virtual reality experiences.
Drive-ins As The Answer To Film Festivals
The pandemic isn’t stopping film enthusiasts and moviegoers from keeping the movie experience alive. Drive-in movie theaters are making a comeback. Drive-ins were a staple of the 1950s and ’60s. Unfortunately, most drive-in movie theaters closed down so new, impromptu ones have popped up. Modern car speakers are almost a surround sound experience and “a drive-in offers the possibility of being together while feeling separate.”
Eugene Hernandez, who runs the New York Film Festival, believes drive-in popups are an effective solution to film festivals in a pandemic. He believes that drive-ins saved the New York Film Festival. “The devastating pandemic has forced so many arts organizations to rethink how we connect new movies with audiences," Hernandez said, “and drive-ins are a beautiful, communal opportunity to do just that.”
Mini popups do better than declining drive-in theaters because they are a film festival. They don’t have to rely on almost non-existent wide studio releases. In countries like Germany, drive-in movie theaters are making a comeback as well. One man, Thorsten Schiers, was able to make up for the “financial losses caused by cancelled flea markets and weekly markets thanks to the increased demand for films."
Immersive entertainment companies like Secret Cinema are also using the drive-in to bring their hybrid film and immersive experiences to life. Secret Cinema specializes in immersive cinema experiences and had a Stranger Things immersive experience in LA.
Virtual Reality To The Rescue
While drive-in movie theaters are a great way to scratch the movie theater itch, they don’t help bring new films to audiences. Film festival leaders from Venice and TIFF are turning to virtual reality to recreate the film festival experience virtually. Film festivals are more than movies played. They are camaraderie, fancy dresses, and buzz generated by insider knowledge. The VR Venice Film Festival’s official selection and competition for immersive content, which usually takes place on the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio off the Venice Lido, took a different approach this year by recreating the festival experience in VR. Instead of trying to recreate what the Venice film festival looks like in real life, “we decided to show in VRChat not the real experience, but something that can make people willing to explore them: there are 2D trailers, 3D trailers, and also mini interactive worlds…”
“It’s like immersive theatre on acid,” said Liz Rosenthal, one of the curators for Venice VR Expanded, “You can do things that you can’t do in the physical world, you can fly, you can be any avatar you like, you can go on quests, it’s really extraordinary.” In the first two days of Venice VR Expanded, hosted on VRChat, there were 5,000 visits to the virtual worlds.
VR too can benefit from film festivals. “The festivals provide launch-pads and visibility, but they do not provide income,” says Reilhac. “If we want VR to become a market, it needs to generate income. So this is a way to capitalize on our curation.”
“VR offers a way to democratize movie festivals,” says Antony “Skarredghost” Vitillo, cofounder of New Technology Walkers, who participated in the development of the Venice VR Expanded worlds inside VRChat. “Thanks to VR, it is possible to participate in a festival wherever you are: you have just to wear your virtual reality headset, and in just some instants you’re there. I’ve always wanted to be at the Venice VR Festival, but due to my busy schedule, I have never had the opportunity. But this year, thanks to VRChat I have been able to be there while staying in the comfort of my home. I was there, on the Venice Red Carpet, shooting the first red carpet photos of my life together with high-profile people like Liz Rosenthal! Venice VR Expanded was attended by many people that probably would have never had the time and the money to go to Venice, and this is an amazing opportunity for festivals to maximize their reach and make culture to expand worldwide”
Not everyone is on board with the new technology. Cannes festival director, Thierry Fremaux told Variety, ‘"Films by Wes Anderson or Paul Verhoeven on a computer? Discovering Top Gun 2 or (Pixar's) Soul elsewhere than in [a] theater? These films have been postponed to be shown on a big screen; why would we want to show them before, on a digital device?"’
DOK.fest produced an online edition of its documentary film festival. Even though online ticket sales exceeded expectations, DOK.fest director, Daniel Sponsel, said: ‘“The place of a film festival remains the cinema. We are very much looking forward to the next festival editions, where we can laugh or be moved together again.”’
Michele Reilhac, Venice VR Expanded curator, thinks otherwise. He said after the success of Venice VR, that they are “promoting the idea that every live event designed in the future will be a hybrid event…” a mix of online and in-person experiences. Dieter Krauss, commercial director of the 27th International Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film, thinks that: “Hybrid film formats offer the opportunity to broaden and internationalize our outreach even more."
Video Games Changing The Meaning Of Film
Film festivals are an exploration of art through storytelling. The medium has traditionally been film and movies but video games have made an impression on the film festival community. The first video game recognized at a film festival was Rockstar Games’ LA Noire in 2011. Since then film festival directors are recognizing video games’ influence on film. Now they have their own section at the Tribeca Film Festival.
VP of Tribeca Games, Casey Baltes, said video games are “one of the most sophisticated storytelling vehicles today — not only with narrative but also with incredible artistic mastery, the creation of highly immersive worlds and providing meaningful connections to communities all over the world.”
The Film Festival Of The Future
The future of film festivals is changing, no doubt spurred on more rapidly by the pandemic. Film Festival directors and creators see the future of film festivals as more of a place to express art and storytelling and less about the medium itself. Film festival creators are even using technology itself as a way to express a film festival’s creative experience as seen with Venice VR Expanded.
“The booming festival market generates billions of euros in revenue but faces incompressible constraints of time, space and logistics, which prevent them from reaching a wider audience. In addition, a large part of the public cannot attend festivals due to logistical constraints or financial concerns. The growing impact of carbon footprint awareness and epidemics crisis are additional elements that call for alternate solutions for both the events and their audiences: hence VR is the obvious solution as it can tackle all these issues while allowing people to virtually attend festivals from anywhere in the world, as if they were there,” said Louis Cacciuttolo, VRrOOm CEO.
Nothing quite beats the in-person experience and anticipation of sitting in a theater for a new release. But film festival directors see that the future is hybrid. Even after the pandemic, when audiences can flock back to the big screen, online and virtual events will be part of the film festival experience.
In a joint press release from the world’s top film festivals, they wrote, “We believe cinema has a unique power to illuminate both the world around us, and our innermost perceptions. In a crisis, films can transport us. They can enchant, inform, provoke and heal.” So can virtual reality. So can video games. If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that storytelling, expression, and art have morphed again into new dimensions and mediums. Recognizing that is the future of film festivals.