A lot can happen in a week.

Devoted and casual film fans alike never thought they’d face months without a trip to the cinema; a regular escape in trying times and more a respite than ever amidst personal uncertainty, financial strain and so many sacrificing to help their friends and now thousands they’ve never met. 

The Prime Minister’s announcement Sunday that cinemas and other principal places of public gathering must close effective midday Monday is an unprecedented factor for filmgoers, Festivals, artists and accompanying sectors already hit by stalled productions worldwide. Hoyts underlined it best, highlighting the company’s until now 111 years of uninterrupted service through the Great Depression and two World Wars, with the chain now “taking an intermission.”

This author among many already having jumped on Skype to share a screen with friends now afar, there’s nothing like sharing something, anything, whether it be a movie, a laugh, or hopefully both. Yet where there’s challenge, there’s resolve, with Festivals, cinemas, filmmakers and the dedicated all over Australia working hard to make this time a bit easier however hard done by, assuring artists get their best work out and everyone, everywhere that you’re not going this alone.   

Following numerous Film Festival cancellations and postponements Melbourne Cinematheque and ACMI this week launched their first Virtual Cinematheque. Showcasing double bills and commencing with Jafar Panahi’s ‘The White Balloon’ and ‘Offside,’ selections will be announced each Tuesday and available to stream the following Wednesday with viewers invited to join the conversation via the hashtag #acmivirtualcteq.

Sydney’s independent Pink Flamingo Cinema ran its first in a host of Watch Parties on Thursday via Facebook showcasing the ‘UFO Cover Up-LIVE” series featuring “everything you could want from a late night local Oregon station in 1988” and assuredly “100% isolation compliant.” The shorts have remained available on the Cinema’s Facebook page.

No stranger to the Pink Flamingo are film collective Static Vision who recently programmed their first very successful Festival iteration ‘Hyperlinks.’ Growing the fan base, Static Vision will next present ‘Lockdown’ on the evening of March 27; a six-hour live-stream of specially-curated feature films and shorts accompanied by e-chats, Q&As and interviews.

“The prospect of cancelling our upcoming events absolutely gutted us, however, we’re very excited to experiment with emergent technologies that offer different forms of community engagement,” said co-founder Felix Hubble. “With Lockdown (and our other upcoming events) we’re aiming to recreate the magic of the curated late-night TV brackets we grew up with.”

“Nothing can replace the cinema experience, so our upcoming events are aiming for something a little different – community-focused e-screenings that take advantage of the format’s unique qualities and will tide us all over until traditional theatrical spaces are open again.”

The event, which is free, will also feature a live text-chat for those jumping on.

“In many ways, the digital space of a live stream chatroom replicates the experience of watching films on the couch with friends; we’re aiming to foster this camaraderie while continuing to make Festival circuit films and cult movies accessible to everyone,” said Felix.

Melbourne Film hub Filmonik, having showcased 67 monthly open-mic film nights for local creators to share their shorts and works in progress, will likewise host a live-stream event on the night of March 31.

“We were supposed to have a screening at Loop, our home for many years,” said Filmonik co-ordinator Olivier Bonenfant. “I’ve spent the last weekend learning OBS Studio for live broadcasts. We’ve done a rehearsal with various scenes and various setups with 2 cameras and most of it worked; we just need to stream from a set that looks better than our living room.”

Seeking to also feature established and up-and-coming filmmakers’ shorts online following the live-stream, the non-commercial, non-competitive forum will broadcast Q&As with each segment’s Director.

“We’re having fun learning and filmmakers in the community are responding well to our improvised plans,” said Olivier. “It’s dramatic for most people in the creative industries but we’re lucky that our open-screen concept with films submitted on the night meant we never announced a program or sold tickets in advance.”

“If we pull this off and it’s super fun to watch then we could take this skill and help other events get their vision online.”

Filmonik’s sister cell Kino Sydney are too anticipating the demand of local regulars and newcomers, pushing ahead with a scheduled showcase for April 6.

“This is obviously a difficult time for everyone right now and engaging with any form of creativity may not be a high priority as people focus on their health, families and livelihoods,” said Kino co-coordinator Bryan Fisher. “Staying sane in crazy times is also important and being creative through filmmaking is great therapy – so for our next Kino screening we are looking at streaming.”

“The logistics are still being worked out, it’s all pretty new territory for us so the format and the degree to which it will be live or pre-recorded is being figured out. We are keen for content from the Kino community and are super confident that they will deliver (as always).”

Having showcased a series of female Directors’ works at the last Kino coinciding with International Women’s Day, the Sydney collective sees a regular crop of new talent along with established regulars contributing to 147 monthly editions to date.

“For the next screening (and most likely up until June) we are looking for people to make whatever they can under the current constraints of self-isolation and social distancing; use your phones, use Skype, try a stop animation, do a single-take film – whatever is achievable for you,” said Bryan. “They don’t have to be elaborate; short and punchy is awesome. The Kino ethos has always embraced creative constraints and we would expect our community to be well-equipped to make some fantastic short films in these difficult times so if you’re willing and able, grab your camera and help us make Kino on April 6 the best yet!“

Too adapting to the times, the National Film and Sound Archive have committed to adding new works to the website every fortnight. Already maintaining online exhibitions and collections of Australian cinema (from where you might recognise the above graphic), the institution are inviting fans to propel the discussion via #NFSAOpenOnline.

The Japanese Film Festival website on Tuesday launched JFF Online, a free film streaming service featuring 12 flicks which can be seen online for the next three months. Those showcased include additions from the Moosic Lab film project and the JFF 2019 program.

Each Friday, Monster Fest will be dropping 5 of the Festival’s releases on Vimeo On-Demand minus a 50% discount, with the first slate already landing this week past. The Jewish International Film Festival have too added a series of JIFF 2019 titles to the Fest’s Video on Demand platform, with the Irish Film Festival committing to highlighting each week Irish Film Festival fixtures that are available for streaming and inviting patrons to join the conversation via #IFFAUathome.

Queer Screen have too commenced a series outlining the Festival features and shorts that are available online for streaming, in addition to fixtures which will shortly be accessible.

Revelation Film Festival’s existing RevonDemand portal which features works that have screened at the Festival will be running a series of commentaries and Q&As with international filmmakers, with the Fest’s interactive VR and AR-focused sister-event XR:WA setting up to deliver a series of online seminars and workshops.

The Setting Sun Film Festival, having completed the judging and postponed the May run, have ensured that as much of the Festival as possible will be screened online, for free, noting the program will now be shared among the theatre’s Melbourne community and beyond and that “our films came from around the world and we look forward to presenting to a global audience.”

Highlighting how patrons can support the Festival and multiplexes by still buying a ticket, Setting Sun recurs annually at Melbourne’s Sun Theatre, one of many gorgeous independent cinemas which along with the major chains have been heavily impacted. Another such venue is Sydney’s decades-old Hayden Orpheum which has invited patrons to purchase vouchers during closure, with no expiry date, to be used once normal trading resumes. 

Heading to the movies has always been a relief and it doesn’t have to stop now when people, artists as much as any other, are finding they need an outlet and the sense of community it brings more than ever. The cinema-going crowd will file back in droves when we can and those communities will be as alive as ever and willingly strengthened by the online camaraderie that is now arising by necessity.

To Festivals and spaces that are uncertain right now or lack technical resources, there’s plenty of stubborn folk out there who want to see you reach as many people as possible and are more than happy to help you do it. If this platform can be of help in connecting you or highlighting what you’re doing, please reach out; there’s a lot of fans who can’t wait to hear what you have to say.   

Glen Falkenstein

on FalkenScreen