Julia Sinkevych • Executive producer, Odesa International Film Festival
“This time, we had to invent something new”
by Marta Bałaga
- We talked to the Odesa International Film Festival’s executive producer Julia Sinkevych about this year’s online edition
With the 11th edition of the Odesa International Film Festival in Ukraine moving online and wrapping on the 3rd of October after announcing Dinner in America as the recipient of the Grand Prix, and Victor_Robot as the Audience Choice Award winner, we asked Julia Sinkevych to share some of her thoughts.
Cineuropa: Once you realised you might need to postpone, you still made sure to maintain a connection between you and your audience – for example, with live broadcasts streamed on the festival’s Instagram page.
Julia Sinkevych: Since we were forced to move the dates, at one point, even some of the filmmakers were asking: “Did you already cancel?” We had to think of a different promotional campaign, focusing more on the digital, and we constantly had some activities. In April, we had a project with one VOD platform, screening ten of the best films from the previous editions. That was also a test for us, to see what would be the reaction. In the summer, when the festival would normally take place, we did some open-air screenings.
Some people – including myself – are a bit tired of these online initiatives. Maybe more than a bit [laughter]. But I hope that the quality of the program was attracting the audience. I knew that even if we were happening online, we had to keep what the Odesa Film Festival was all about. We kept the structure of the program, with the same number of guests and speakers, juries. There was a response and there was interest.
When I was listening to your promoLab panel about promoting films abroad, it reminded me how important festivals are for independent titles. Is it possible to still help them online?
That's what we are all figuring out right now. Local filmmakers had questions even before, but now the situation has changed and we are all looking for new tools and new strategies. For many, it's a difficult decision to have an online premiere. It might be painful in a way, but under these circumstances, I think you should adapt somehow. Adjust your plans and if you are brave enough, you are going to win. The industry program was for them – to support them. They could still get the expertise, they could get professionals interested in their project. It would be easier to just cancel and focus on planning the next edition, but that wouldn't be fair to the Ukrainian filmmakers and those who have submitted their films. Maybe it can inspire them, knowing that they are not alone and there are other ways to reach their audience.
Everyone complains that with online events, there is no “buzz”, no word-of-mouth the way it happened last year with My Thoughts Are Silent [+see also:
film profile]. Did it happen on social media?
Social media played a big part. I saw many posts recommending – or not – certain films. One film critic was rating the films he liked every day, and then encouraged people to participate, asking if seeing them online was enough or if they would still buy a ticket to the cinema, for example. We know that in terms of the festival program, it was local, as all the films were geo-blocked, but there was a lot of interaction online. We also had a bloggers' jury!
Do you think this online transformation might have opened up the festival to people who used to feel it was just too “highbrow” for them?
Everyone is saying that you can reach a different audience now – they might choose to see something on Netflix, or they might choose your festival. On the other hand, with film festivals, you are dealing with an already very determined audience, and these people are usually quite loyal. I think that festivals, especially big ones, will still exist for a long time – just like paper, books and opera. For smaller events, such as ours, the challenge will be about figuring out the best selling points. The hybrid format will be here to stay for a while. We developed our own platform and we invested a lot of effort in it, so we want to develop it further as a VOD platform with a focus on festival films. Maybe this will give us an opportunity to organise events also throughout the year?
Now that you can already look back a bit, what did you miss the most about the physical festival? I miss the side events that you end up remembering for a long time after the festival wraps, such as the concerts at the Potemkin Stairs at your festival.
I actually traveled to Odesa for one day for a similar event [an open-air screening of Golem, accompanied by a live orchestra]. You can't replace them with anything else. That was also one of the reasons why we moved to a later date.
When you are at home, there are so many things distracting you, and nothing will replace this natural exchange of energy. If you just talk to the camera, you don't see anybody's reaction, you don't know if your film is well received or not. People are social animals and they need it. When you organise a festival, after a few years, some things come to you automatically. This time, we had to invent something new.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.