“We want as big an audience Australia-wide as possible as this is our contribution to pushing back against COVID-19.”

The best anyone can do right now is keep each other busy at home. For some this means sharing a movie with friends; for others, it means making that happen.

“We were gutted that this iconic year in the life of BOFA should be cancelled and so we looked around to find a solution” continued Tasmanian Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival Director Owen Tilbury. “We reached out to our distributors and asked if they would join us online; all of them said it was a good idea and most have been able to offer films and we’ve searched the archives for some great BOFA Retrospectives.”

“The difference between watching movies and being at a Film Festival is conversation. The conversations in a queue while waiting for a film and the conversations after a film. An online Festival needs to keep the conversations going and we will. We have created 9 Conversation opportunities online via Zoom; there is a tenth Anniversary online celebration and seven film Conversations mostly referencing COVID-19 and our reactions to it. And of course a closing night party – it’s all about connections.”

To be staged online via streaming platform Dacast over three weekends commencing May 1, crucial to BOFA emerging freely accessible was sponsorship via corporate partners and the Tasmanian Government. With most Film Festivals managed by volunteers who depend entirely on short term revenue to stage a Film Festival or buttress a run against personal liability for a net loss, Federal and State Government intervention and lack thereof has proved critical in Directors determining whether Festivals can run at all. With volunteers nationwide fairly occupied with confirming personal and primary sources of income divorced from Festivals, for those lacking technical expertise and/or resources the absence of financial intervention has and will prove prohibitive.

Another free yet entirely self-funded platform, Static Vision will this Friday manage their fourth weekly interactive live-stream. Dedicating the collective to delivering the events free of charge, the organisers have asked for donations where possible and encouraged patrons to purchase custom e-motes for use in the group chats which on average have attracted over 100 simultaneous viewers.

“We’ve had a great response to our online live-stream events so far and are excited to continue our experiment for the foreseeable future; we have a few huge announcements to make over the coming weeks and are very excited to share them once all the details are finalised,” said Static Vision Co-Founder Felix Hubble. “Being able to interact with some of our viewers in real-time in a casual, virtual setting has been a big plus.”

“We’ll try to keep our events frequent (weekly, if possible) and will continue to approach a diverse range of filmmakers, performers and other industry figures who aren’t generally accessible to Australian audiences for interactive Q+As and other conversations, alongside our curated shorts programs and feature screenings, to tide us over until physical cinema spaces are open again.

Too critical to cinemas and Film Festivals recurring in 2020 (and indeed running in subsequent years) are the extent to which Government relief and most necessarily JobKeeper payments can support continued exhibition. It’s not simply a matter of relaxing the financial strain for organisations and individuals (volunteer or not) so the latter, whether the impact be related to their Festival or wholly personal, can manage. Moreover, it’s about maintaining the organisations’ structures of personnel, ensuring these institutions do not fold and can indeed propel future programs beyond those immediately shelved.

With access to the payment restricted to those who have worked for an employer for longer than 12 months “on a regular and systematic basis,” the current legislation does not account for many of these casual employees in the Festival space. Given Festival employment is often sporadic, seasonal and spread across multiple forums, numerous devotees will not meet the criteria following amendments to extend funding to freelance workers and establish a package for the arts sector’s recovery being defeated in Federal Parliament.

The status quo has too affected many in the film industry who routinely rely on freelance commitments who, alongside temporary visa holders, many of whom rely on the Festival circuit, do not stand to benefit from the JobKeeper subsidy. Cinemas, a number of which manage Festivals intrinsically tied to the venue, will neither be able to immediately distribute the JobKeeper amounts to needful employees as requested and to be subsequently reimbursed by the Federal Government given ticket revenue has halted and the payments won’t be forthcoming from Canberra for weeks.

“While we’ll be hit in box office, we’ve been as pro-active as we can be in responding to COVID and I feel we’re taking a leading and positive position nationally,” said Revelation Film Festival Director Richard Sowada. “We’re utlising every resource we have to be of service to the entire screen sector and community where we can and refuse to be paralysed.”

“Our immediate response includes developing an online festival which will hopefully take place over our traditional July dates, developing film production initiatives across organisations to provide work and output and initiating an ongoing series of online talks and workshops analysing all sectors of production, distribution and exhibition. These will be rolling out within 3 weeks.”

Revelation, which has rescheduled its Perth-based run to September, are also seeking out WA filmmakers in an effort to highlight their work and sustain artists through the crisis.

“We’ve built a WA section of our own streaming portal REVonDEMAND to support the exhibition of locally developed content,” continued Richard. “We’re adding 6 new international titles per month to that portal and we’ll be building talks and Q&As with filmmakers internationally around them.”

Revelation’s advents come at the time of, following the postponement or cancellation of several dozen Fests, the Melbourne International Film Festival’s August cancellation in days past; the first in MIFF’s sixty-nine years. Far from a surprise yet no less a disappointment to thousands of casual and dedicated film fans alike, the emphasis on and reliance by the Festival and its ilk on major titles and pre-releases via distributors adverse to piracy and consequentially online exhibition has meant that such forums, or at least much of the material they’re accustomed to distributing, have not immediately transitioned online.

A Night of Horror, having planned a return to the indie and genre Film Festival circuit in May following a hiatus, are exploring opportunities for streaming segments prior to a planned resumption of the Festival later in 2020.

“We’re not going entirely virtual as most filmmakers have issues with piracy and copyright,” said A Night of Horror’s Craig Walker, noting that prospective digital outlets are typically designed for promoting clips and trailers rather than showcasing completed works.

“I do indeed want to see the shorts program streamed for those who cannot make the screened session, as well as the TV/Web program.”

With avenues like MIFF too constrained by the practical and security limitations of placing something even close to the scale of customary operations online, Melbourne’s dedicated ‘open-mic’ film collective Filmonik pulled off a first by utilising broadcast, video, chat and streaming software between multiple sites, with the New South Wales sister cell too hosting a novel screening.

“This was our first time live-streaming Kino Sydney without an audience,” said Kino co-coordinator Bryan Fisher. “As expected, there were a lot of technical problems but the films themselves were fantastic as always and the online audience were very supportive, which was extremely uplifting for us. It was fantastic to see some films were made in isolation and we hope to see more during our next live-stream. As our next screening falls on May 4th, we fully expect Star Wars themed isolation films.”

We’re super happy with the result of our forced transition from a lively screening party at Loop bar to a live-stream show shot in a living room with housemates – our regular screenings are quite warm and loose so broadcasting from a couch wasn’t going to throw the vibe off too much,” said Filmonik co-ordinator Olivier Bonenfant. “The biggest bonus was having viewers from different countries and from sister group Kino Sydney.”

The highlights of the night included an opening ode to isolation (a personal favourite of this author) and a closing flick dedicated to Melbourne’s great outside, with the next screening scheduled for April 28.

Our main principles stayed intact; we kept the open-mic/open-screen non-competitive format with a lineup picked at random during the show and without real curation (with surprisingly great results month after month),” said Olivier. “Interviews with filmmakers were a priority and I was amazed that nearly everyone made it to their interview with only one instruction email sent 2 days before.”

“It wasn’t the tightest show ever overall but I think it made some of us feel close to each other in this period of isolation. It’s this presence that’s important and we were all able to share a great evening of short films and be as passionate about it as ever. I’ll be thrilled to be back in the world with the rest of the team soon(?) but for now the novelty of it makes it fun.

Seeking to bring patrons and the industry together, the Gold Coast Film Festival just concluded its six-day online Shorts in Paradise Film Festival (SIPFest) with a filmmaker cash prize set to be conferred in light of an audience poll. Following the cancellation of the traditional April run, the GCFF Screen Industry Gala Awards will too nonetheless be granted tonight and streamed (for free) online.

The SCINEMA International Science Film Festival, set for June, are likewise preparing to deliver this year’s run digitally and with an extended playlist. Having too placed a range of features and shorts dating back to SCINEMA 2016 in the Festival’s accessible archive, SCINEMA joins Lorne Film and numerous Festivals in showcasing, recommending or otherwise highlighting previous programs’ fixtures online.

The Castlemaine Documentary Film Festival, previously scheduled to take place in July, will actually be reaching audiences sooner via hosting a virtual screening of the appropriately titled The Show Must Go On (featured image), free of charge, on April 30. Conveniently covering the matter of wellness in the creative industry, CDFF, joining many other Fests in reckoning with the centrality of conversation and togetherness in the Festival experience and no less in this time of isolation, will be featuring a Q&A and discussion with the filmmakers following the movie.

Streaming of one’s own volition, something many have available to us via Stan, Netflix and else can be a joy, but not near so much as being told to switch off our mobiles or even hear someone speaking too loudly absent, for so many, being close to any other. There’s something greater in watching something, anything together and it’s not just having to focus the mind knowing that it will only be before us for a while, but knowing it’s enhanced by every grunt, cheer, or even silence accentuating our best and sometimes lesser stories.

We miss that, and these spaces not just bringing but fostering communities online that may only grow when this is all over are providing a service needed now more than in many viewers’ living memories. Another seeking same is Monster Fest and having screened its first weekly feature this Friday past, the crew will revisit some horror upon us this coming weekend. This author tuned in for The Windmill Massacre and bumping into a friend in the group chat I hadn’t seen in some time was no small joy – we’re catching another flick this Sunday.

“In the last few years Fangoria x Monster Fest has created a very tight-knit community around our theatrical releases and regular event screenings across Australia; the horror and genre community in Australia is extremely passionate and connected so with that in mind our aim with the Friday Fright Night online screenings is to bring a sense of community back to watching films to fill the void created by the cinema closures,” said Monster Fest’s Grant Hardie. “With these screenings we are looking to engage our audience to interact and share the online viewing experience in a live situation. They’ll feature talent intro’, Q&As and other specialised content all designed to give the audience a unique and interactive experience from the comfort of their homes and connect with each other .” 

Glen Falkenstein

Note: Since publication the Sydney South African Film Festival have announced the Fest will be premiering this year’s films and Q&As with Directors via an online platform. Initially scheduled for May, dates are set to follow. The Melbourne Queer Film Festival has also planned a Freak Show virtual watch party on May 1 with an intro from MQFF’s Director. In addition, MQFF have launched Couch Critic whereby viewers can send in video reviews of queer content to be posted to the Fest’s YouTube channel each Friday and voted on by audiences, with finalists to take part in a live-streamed Queer Critic Event and prize-giving in late May. Screen Queensland have too announced the V-Fest initiative offering five grants up to $10,000 each to assist with costs of running and delivering a virtual screen festival in the next six to 12 months – applications close on May 22. Classic, Lido, Cameo and Ritz Cinemas have too announced the Isolation Film Festival (entries due May 4) seeking entries 3 minutes and under and produced observing all self-isolation rules, with short-listed films to be screened on the cinemas’ social media channels. The Ocean Film Festival Australia, in conjunction with the Gutsy Girls Adventure Film Tour and Top Dog Film Festival, are hosting a two-and-a-half hour screening of the Festivals’ highlights on April 22 with an encore screening set to take place on April 26.

on FalkenScreen