Submarine Channel


5 Film Festivals That Went Online

Online festivals have been appearing since the late ‘90s, yet, the format so far has been more of a rarity than a predominating trend. But in a world forced to self-isolate, what is currently the exception might well become the new norm.

Opening ceremony of the 14th Busan International Film Festival

Opening ceremony of the 14th Busan International Film Festival (Credit: Injeongwon/Wikipedia)

Festivals constitute an important part of the life of a filmmaker’s career because they offer new creators a chance not only to put their work in front of audiences but to present their own persona to talent agencies, producers, studio heads, and other like-minded artists. A film festival is the convergence point of every vector in the industry, a place where films are sold and new projects get off the ground.

Just overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the entire industry to rethink itself. With production halted and theatrical exhibition in limbo, the traditional film festival seems to be one of the first aspects forced to evolve or die.

Taking a festival to the virtual realm is something that many have attempted with various degrees of success since the late ’90s. Top Shorts, Short of the Week, Omeleto and The Monthly Film Festival are initiatives that have already become institutions in the filmmaking world, especially among upcoming filmmakers on a tight budget. Taking a film online is the most effective route to test one’s work against a huge audience and against other creators without the huge costs implicated in going to a presential festival.

But there are many valuable aspects of the festival experience that are lost in translation when taken to the online realm. Competingin an online festival might get your film to a much bigger audience, but you will lack the face-to-face networking aspect of the “real” thing. Film festivals are usually the ideal setting to meet with that amazing composer that will take your future project to the next level, or with that talent agent that will help you get that dream gig with Adidas.

But the current health crisis is forcing the scene to change very rapidly. At the moment, the Venice Film Festival is one of the very few top festivals that has doubled down on their intention to go ahead as planned, still on track to kick off its 77th edition in the first week of September.

In response to a global festival scene in tatters, Youtube, in association with a lot of the most prestigious festivals on the planet, launched We Are One: A Global Film Festival, an online event set to run from May 29 to June 7 this year, offering a host of feature films, shorts, documentaries, music, comedy and panel discussions free with no ads.

Amidst this highly uncertain scenario, these five festivals have decided to go entirely online, in a move that might prove to be not just an experiment, but the new normal.

1) Playgrounds

For more than ten years, the Dutch-based celebration has been one of the most vibrant industry events in all of Europe. What makes them special among the festival scene is a multidisciplinary approach that covers almost every color of the spectrum of visual arts, from film to video games. The initiative is especially famous for hosting workshops, masterclasses, and conferences held in The Netherlands and Germany that connect budding artists and the general public with the most established names in the scene.

This geek celebration has several spin-off events throughout the year, like “Playgrounds Blend” in the spring, which focuses on cutting edge developments in the creative arena, and “Playgrounds The Art Department” in the autumn, which concentrates on showcasing the design process behind film, animation, and video game projects.

In early March they announced they would move their events online, with the “Art Department” being held last April 16th with a virtual attendance of over 30.000.

Their “Blend” celebration, where they present creators who collaborate with scientists and other fields not directly associated with design, film, animation, or illustration, will be held this May 15th completely free to watch. “Expect vanguard artist talks, an insight into their work progress via demo’s, panel discussions. All online, all live,” organizers state in their official invitation.

2) Aspen Shortfest

Taking place since 1979 in Aspen, Colorado, the internationally-recognized festival is one of the most coveted destinations for short filmmakers in the world. Aside from its unique locale and impeccable selection, taking home one of its five prize categories constitutes direct qualification for Oscar consideration. The festival has been known for launching the careers of Damien Chazelle, Jason Reitman, Sarah Polley, and Taika Waititi.

Instead of canceling the competition due to the pandemic, the festival decided to move it entirely online through the Paris-based platform Festival Scope, being the first major festival to be held on the platform in its entirety.

Films that screen to the general public on platforms like Youtube are not eligible for an Academy Award, so in order to keep the Oscar-qualifying status, the festival had to keep its screenings private with jury members reuniting virtually to cast their votes and decide the winners. The event functioned as close as possible to its traditional version, running during its intended festival dates, with ticket-holders receiving a unique link valid for one-time viewing only. Even the number of virtual tickets put on sale was the same amount they would’ve made available for the physical event.

3) Doc Edge Festival New Zealand

“Sod you coronavirus, we’re going online and nationwide for the first time ever!” proudly states their official site. Curiously, New Zealand was one of the quickest nations to take decisive action to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, and they also were one of the first to fully bet on a virtual festival.

Launched in 2005 and previously known as DOCNZ, Doc Edge is another international Academy Award qualifying fest focused on celebrating the best documentary filmmaking around the world.

Originally set to be held in Auckland and Wellington between May 28th and June 21st, organizers decided to turn it this year into an online-only event instead of cancelling it.

Now set to kick-off on the 12th of June, the event will move online not only its screenings but all of its industry programmes, including Doc Edge Clinics, Forum, Pitch, and Date-a-Doco. Local and international film financiers, sales agents, and industry players will attempt to imitate the “real” life experience as close as possible with panels and meetings in the virtual space.

Edge executive director Alex Lee says to Variety, “When life throws us lemons, we make gin and tonics.”

4) Edinburgh International Television Festival

The Edinburgh International Television Festival is the biggest media event in the United Kingdom, a massive soirée that attracts thousands of delegates from every major network and production company in the world. Established in 1976, the festival is renowned for its highly entertaining panels, masterclasses, and keynotes featuring lauded personalities of the industry. Everybody from Sir David Attenborough to Louis Theroux has made an appearance here.

Moving such a massive festival to the virtual arena sounds insane, but organizers are taking the brave plunge into the unknown. “Due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, we have decided that in the best interests of everyone we would seek to bring together, educate and support that we will not be staging the usual TV Festival we’ve all come to know in Edinburgh this August – but instead a reimagined digital alternative,” they announced on their official website.

The 2020 edition will host virtually every traditional key component of the event, like the highly anticipated MacTaggart Lecture (probably the most important single annual presentation in the world of TV), the Controller Sessions (exclusive interviews with programme controllers from main national broadcasters), and more. To support the creative community hit during the crisis, all material this year will be free for freelancers.

5) Vilnius International Film Festival

The Vilnius International Film Festival is the largest cinema gathering in Lithuania and one of the biggest in all of Eastern Europe, with more than 100.000 attendants last year alone.

The festival was one of the first if not the first in all of Europe to move its activities online, a move they quickly instituted just after the government called for the cancellation of all public events due to the pandemic in early March. It was a decision that came easy, as organizers had held in previous editions some of the festival’s activities online, so they already had the know-how to do the transition successfully. All films streamed during the festival are still scheduled to play in the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre when the crisis is over.

Held between March 19 and April 2, jury members judged nominees virtually and audiences were able to enjoy from home the festival’s selection, that included titles like Parasite,  Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Corpus Christi.

Even the opening ceremony was held online, with guests invited to take pics at home and share them on social media with the hashtag #festivalisnamais and #kinopavasaris2020.


By @iampineros

Benjamin is a writer, self-taught filmmaker, 3D artist and cook extraordinaire. He has worked in feature animated films, indie video games and is currently a contributor to Australian digital publishing company Conversant Media. In love with all good sounds from Bach to David Bowie, he writes first drafts on paper, hates smartphones and wants to learn to play the guitar someday. For years, Benjamin has worked in his spare time on his personal project “Servicios Públicos” a sci-fi dystopia about tyrant states, overpopulated Latin American cities and some damn awesome robots. Find him on Twitter @iampineros




Annecy 2018


Straight 8