The future of festivals could still be bright, according to the Zurich Summit
- During the Zurich Summit, the future of festivals and markets was discussed, with everyone agreeing that this is a period of “limbo” until a new era is ushered in
The closing panel of the Zurich Summit focused on the future of film festivals and film markets in this new era. The first question posed by the panel’s moderator, Wendy Mitchell, was how this pause in events will change festivals’ mindsets.
Paolo Moretti, Delegate General of Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, stated that it is still necessary to follow the same processes as before. It was a frustrating and dark moment when Cannes was cancelled, but they are already working on next year’s edition. Carlo Chatrian, co-director of the Berlinale, mentioned that the public in Zurich was an answer: “We can stream, but the human factor is important. We want people to be sharing emotions.”
For her part, Lili Hinstin, former artistic director at the Locarno Film Festival, mentioned that Venice was a significant boost, as the atmosphere and the act of bringing film teams to the festival to present their work to the world creates an unparalleled experience. Salma Abdalla, CEO of Autlook Filmsales, underlined, “We definitely need the festivals to release a film. You can’t replace physical meetings with online ones, and especially in small territories like Austria, we need to travel abroad to meet people.”
Regarding hybrid events, Chatrian argued that they are not yet as “democratic” as they may seem. They have been attended by the same people who usually go to the markets, so the result has been more crowded online events with lower possibilities of doing decent business, especially without as many newcomers as expected, or at least not yet. Moretti was also staunchly negative about online editions, without being against the idea, per se, but the hardcore cinephilic nature of the Directors’ Fortnight, along with rightsholders’ negative attitudes towards the option, made it impossible for him to consider a digital version. He also added that they only had two confirmed films, since everyone was waiting to see what would happen, so it was impossible to release a list of the selection.
Abdalla explained that an online festival is practically an SVoD deal, so it might work for smaller territories, but in countries like France, where the extent of the distribution is far bigger and some films even have festival runs nationwide, then it might not be effective for a film’s career. She also thought that online markets already make professionals tired and might work only for bigger events, underlining that a hybrid version should be organised in a smart way to attract more people, and then maybe new players would sign up.
Regarding the 2021 Berlinale, Chatrian mentioned that, given that it’s even impossible to plan something for next month, it’s difficult to say anything about February. He and his team would very much like to hold a theatrical festival, as they have a commitment to share their selection with their audience, but so many of the various elements are changing constantly. He is also concerned about what a festival can do for a film and its future, as this is all part of the same chain, including distribution. Hinstin mentioned Locarno’s “For the Future of Films” special edition, which focused on this chain in order to determine exactly what a festival can do and how it can evolve into something new, especially considering the huge number of projects submitted.
On the diversity of film selections, Chatrian mentioned that the Berlinale has always been known for its sociopolitical character, and it will continue on the same path. The festival has diversity advisors and a clear connection with a multicultural city, Berlin, so each film becomes political. “It’s important to be a window that works on both sides”, so that society can see itself. He also stressed that it’s clearer to form a selection based on ethnic origin or gender, but when it comes to society, cinema has lost its power to talk to different social classes, and this needs to change. “The platform is democratic; the content is not,” so people should feel welcome at the festival. Hinstin agreed with this and mentioned that festivals have a huge responsibility to reflect the society they exist in and break some rules.
As for how the festivals may re-emerge, Abdalla believes that a flexible community will help them get back to normal, while Moretti brought up the environmental factor and opined that reducing unnecessary travel would be the future, quipping that this year was the most environmentally friendly Cannes ever. Hinstin said that we need to bear in mind that the small screen can also play host to cinema, but we need the festivals’ specialised curation in order to discover new voices first. Finally, Chatrian, focusing on the Berlinale’s Encounters section, which allows the audience to make new acquaintances by exploring different voices, mentioned that these events are also places where you can go in order to meet someone. It is essential for the festival to allow people to meet, and this has changed in the world we are currently living in. Cinema moulds the way in which people see their world, and this is something that must continue into the future.
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