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HOFF 2020

Fight or fright? That is the question at Haapsalu


- The Estonian genre festival, which moved online due to the pandemic, addressed the COVID-shaped elephant in the room during an interactive panel

Fight or fright? That is the question at Haapsalu

The 15th Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Festival (HOFF, 8-10 May) and the European Genre Forum joined forces to deliver an interactive panel called Fight or Fright - How the Genre Industry Is Facing the Global Lockdown (or “The Digital Videodrome”, as it was also called). Moderated by Sten-Kristian Saluveer, it saw the audience asking questions as well as engaging in some enthusiastic networking in the YouTube comments, all just before the opening of the festival’s quinceañera. “Who would have believed that a small meeting between the mayor of Haapsalu and the Black Nights festival team could give birth to something so fantastic and so horrific?” he pondered. “The first HOFF was a bit shocking both to the organisers and to Haapsalu, but it has evolved into a great partnership that brings thousands of genre film lovers every year.”

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Not this year, though, as the pandemic forced the event to move online and its panellists to stay at home. “We have a situation that’s extraordinary, and some festivals could not adapt as quickly as others. But I do believe they will come back next year,” said Annick Mahnert, new executive director of the Frontières co-production market. “When I came on board, it was important to keep going. At some point, content will be needed, and it’s my job to help filmmakers build up their possible productions in the future. Meeting a producer or a sales agent in real life, having a drink, it gives so much more power to the relationship. But moving digitally will open up more possibilities because many people couldn’t travel to places like Montreal or Cannes.”

Jongsuk Thomas Nam, of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, added: “We are slowly coming out of this situation, but it’s not just about us; it’s the whole community. We had to scale down, and we are doing alright domestic film-wise, but we are having problems with foreign titles,” which often require a world premiere in an English-language territory. “That’s unfortunate, but we are doing our best,” said the man introduced as “the forerunner of the genre community in Southeast Asia”. Still, many are wondering whether they should send their films to online festivals at all. “We were approached to take part in the Amazon SXSW collaboration, and we said no. It would be great for them and horrible for everyone else,” said XYZ Films’ Todd Brown. “When you talk about a digital release, it’s not just about the trustworthiness of the festival or the platform – anyone can record what’s on the screen. We are in the middle of the transition, and we don’t know what the end point is.”

However, everyone seemed to agree on one thing: soon, people will need new titles. “We are noticing that the distributors are reaching out, asking for content. We are preparing for Cannes as if it were a ‘real’ market,” said the deputy head of Sales and Acquisitions at Arri Media, Moritz Hemminger. “We need to retool,” added Todd Brown. “There is going to be a major interruption in the products available, but with the home audience, the things that trigger the algorithms are different – a solid face from a TV series really works,” he added, citing the company’s recent Netflix hits Platform and Code 8, starring Stephen Amell, of Arrow fame. “People are coming out of lockdown at different paces, but if you set up a single-territory production, you are ahead of the game. A lot of producers say: ‘I can’t afford an American actor.’ Right now, you probably don’t need one. Get somebody from Game of Thrones!”

While a prestigious premiere could provide genre titles with more interest from public funders alone, as in the case of the Cannes-recognised Vivarium [+see also:
film review
interview: Lorcan Finnegan
film profile
, now the challenge seems to be about how to stand out online. “It’s still a puzzle,” admitted Brendan McCarthy, of Fantastic Films, which produced the feature. But ultimately, it’s all up to the audience. “We will dance to their tune. But right now, it seems awfully easy to get lost,” he said. “It’s a big question: ‘What are we going to do next?’ Ireland is a small country, and we co-produce everything. On a practical level, the issue of insurance is going to be enormous.”

Then again, as underlined by the participants, genre cinema has always had to find its own way. “This community doesn’t need any encouragement. When I started, there weren’t that many markets or festivals, especially not genre ones. I never would have imagined that we would be talking about them as an important part of marketing and selling movies!” observed producer Brian Yuzna, whose classic Re-Animator was shown at the festival and even caused Sten-Kristian Saluveer to reminisce about seeing the film during a layover at Moscow airport as a kid. “The amount of money that Trolls World Tour made on VoD is going to change a lot of things. Suddenly, it feels like it’s for real and you can bypass movie theatres,” said Yuzna. “I remember making movies without any large companies involved. ‘How can a head talk?’ was the kind of deep conversations we had with Stuart [Gordon]. He said: ‘Listen – in horror movies, heads can talk.’" Hopefully they can talk themselves out of this situation as well.

The 15th edition of the Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Festival took place online from 8-10 May.

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