At Cannes, festival directors discuss how the pandemic is set to change future editions of their events
- CANNES 2021: The conference, held on the Israeli pavilion during this year’s Marché du Film, saw the participation of several international festival directors
On 11 July, the Israeli pavilion hosted a special conference titled “Corona’s effects: Changes, Challenges, Creativity.” The event, which took place during this year’s Marché du Film (6-15 July), came after a forgettable year blighted by the pandemic and attempted to identify the key trends emerging in the festival and markets’ circuit. The discussion, moderated by Cineuropa’s director Valerio Caruso, saw the participation of founder of the European Film Market and advisor for the Berlinale Beki Probst, former director of Haifa International Film Festival Pnina Blayer, Hamburg Film Festival’s director Albert Wiederspiel, Tallinn Black Nights’s director Tiina Lokk, Warsaw Film Festival’s director Stefan Laudyn and Thessaloniki International Film Festival’s general director Elise Jalladeau.
At first, Caruso mentioned the results of the AFIC’s recent survey on 140 Italian festivals, highlighting how in 2020 12% of these didn’t take place at all, 31% were held physically from September until November, 30% went fully online and 27% took place in a hybrid form. Next, he introduced the speakers and asked them to talk through how their events adapted to the pandemic.
Ironically, Lokk said that, owing to the unstable circumstances, she became “a sort of medical scientist” and that the team decided to go hybrid in August. Luckily enough, the Estonian government allowed screenings for local audiences and foreign guests, though the latter were officially allowed to participate just two weeks before the start of the festival. Geo-blocked online screenings were implemented for Estonian audiences, and no territorial restrictions were put in place for press and industry screenings. “Online is staying with us, including this year,” she added.
Laudyn never planned for an online edition and said that he was aware that the festival could have hosted only EU guests. “We even had a brave crew from Ukraine coming by car,” he pointed out, “but the biggest obstacle was regulations changing on a daily basis.”
Blayer explained how although she had been running the festival for 34 years, this crisis had been totally unprecedented. The budget was cut by at least 30%, but the team was lucky enough to secure online screening rights, as not all sales agents normally allow for that. “We were selling 80,000 tickets, but you need to consider that at least three people are watching a film online,” she explained, “We don’t have the same intimacy with the audience, but on the other hand there are advantages for them, they are sitting, not looking for parking and they really enjoy it! [...] This year, we’ll go hybrid again.”
Meanwhile, Probst took a totally different position: “The more you give the people the opportunity to do everything online, the more you’ll kill the market.”
Later, Jalladeau explained how they organised the two festivals managed by their team, and how they both ended up being hosted online owing to the restrictions.
Wiederspiel talked about the hybrid edition of his festival and expressed his wish “not to be part of the online world” in the future. Thanks to a generous €2.5 billion national aid package provided by the German government, he added, the festival will be able to make up for the losses owing to the 50% capacity threshold. He also said that another challenge to face for online and hybrid festivals is geo-blocking, and most sales agents are reluctant to “killing” certain territories through online screenings and feel safer sharing their films on international platforms instead of local, national ones. Probst also pointed out the need to find a common solution to bring people back to cinemas, one that would be possibly valid for the entire festival circuit.
Speaking about the topic of guests, Laudyn thanked Black Nights for sharing their healthcare protocols, and said that partner hotels were “very liberal” with cancellation policies. Moreover, the festival organised “over 140 Q&As, mostly on site,” and this model seems to work and is set to remain in place with the current travel limitations. “There’s also an environmental aspect to consider, it’s absurd to invite a guest from Argentina for a 30 minutes Q&A,” Wiederspiel argued, after noting how the accommodation and travel costs went significantly down owing to the outbreak.
When it came to discussing finances and budgets, the results varied greatly, either resulting in significant losses, a meagre surplus (as in the case of Black Nights) or even an increase in revenue (for example, 50% of the Italian festivals surveyed by AFIC gained profits in 2020).
The session was rounded off by final greetings and a discussion of the possibility of organising a similar gathering next year in Cannes, to see how the festival world has reacted to the many challenges posed by the healthcare crisis.
The conference was organised by the Rabinovich Foundation’s Israel Cinema Project.
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