As we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, the film-festival-going crowd of the modern era may notice that the process of premiere attendance and film submission is now out of the ordinary. We know people have to stand six feet apart, and being in a literal ‘audience’ is generally frowned upon.
Even with the effects of COVID-19 in place, one must take the same steps in order to submit a film to a festival. If you were making and submitting shorts or features a couple of years ago, you would have used a website called Withoutabox to send your film, but this website is now defunct. If you submit a film to a festival now, you use FilmFreeway to connect with thousands of film festivals around the world.
If your film is selected, you have the option to make an appearance at the festival. They usually do not pay for your accommodations, so the money that you spend on housing or having fun brings revenue to the festival and the city in which it takes place. Once you’re at the festival, you have the opportunity to network, attend parties, watch a plethora of selected films, and also attend the premiere of your own film. By having the filmmakers and potential audience members attend, socialise, and buy tickets, these film festivals generate revenue.
For the festival-going crowd of the modern day, the networking and attending of parties (which go hand in hand) are the concepts which have now been rendered more-or-less nonexistent. Unfortunately, these concepts are arguably the most important and lucrative aspect of film festivals.
With all of these restrictions put in place due to COVID-19, we may ask, how has the festival circuit changed in terms of film distribution for newer filmmakers? To add, which outlets are now used to provide “screenings” for audiences to attend from home?
To start, we may touch on the immediate effects of COVID-19 on the events that should have run in-person in March 2020. The Marché du Film is the biggest event in the European Film Market, taking place the week before the Cannes Film Festival. To explain its importance in the simplest manner, scouting agents for production or distribution firms attend this event to find new projects to finance or send to festivals/theaters/streaming services.
As a “free agent”, or a filmmaker who is not signed to an agent nor has a contract with a production company, you either take your chances with handing your script to these agents with no prior invitation (which you probably should not do) or apply for representation at the market (e.g. the Lift-Off Global Network, a popular distribution network for indie filmmakers). If you choose the latter option (which you probably should do) and your project gets chosen, you go there in person and your representation puts you in a room with the people who expressed direct interest in your project. You hand them your script, present more of the project to them, and proceed with business. The Marché du Film is the business aspect of the Cannes Film Festival (separate events, but related), and sets the tone in terms of how the next year of festival filmmaking will proceed.
This year, the Marché du Film was held entirely online. For those with representation, their project ideas were posted to an online platform that allowed production/distribution firms to simply click on the people with which they wished to meet. For newer filmmakers, moreso ones that had submitted a treatment instead of a fully-planned project, this superficial method of optioning projects ran of the risk of them being ignored completely. Thus, this may have proven to be a horrendous development in film distribution and a huge hit to their careers.
At this point, you may be asking what the relation is between the operation of the Marché du Film, and the festival circuit. The operation of the Marché in 2020 not only set the tone for how the Cannes Film Festival would operate, but also for how most other festivals would. That is, heavily available online, and more superficial in terms of interaction. Large festivals like TIFF or Venice had some in-person screenings with the seating spread out, but also offered their screenings online through their own streaming platform or video on demand (VOD).
The smaller festivals are entirely online. They generate revenue through online ticket sales, which direct the audience member to a VOD platform like Vimeo. Depending on the festival (and its usual size), your ticket purchase may give you access to all of the films or just one of them. Votes for the best film are cast online. This allows vote-bombing to be more prevalent, as one person with multiple accounts can leave the same review for the same film multiple times.
The physical and social aspect of attending the festival is virtually non-existent, which spells trouble for the financial future of newer filmmakers and the festivals themselves. In all, the offering of festivals in a totally online fashion has replaced the physical aspect of attending festivals in a bad way, becoming a stream-able option instead of an in-person event.
At this point, you may be asking what the relation is between the operation of the Marché du Film, and the festival circuit. The operation of the Marché in 2020 not only set the tone for how the Cannes Film Festival would operate, but also for how most other festivals would. That is, heavily available online, and more superficial in terms of interaction.