Second in a Two-Part Series
In the previous installment of “Loving Movies in the Time of COVID,” I spoke broadly about how living in this time of COVID has impacted my movie-loving life. Now. I would like to dive a little deeper into how the pandemic has affected film festival-going.
Here is my personal account of some of the creative ways my favorite festivals adjusted to the times.
The first festival I planned on attending that was immediately impacted by COVID was the 11th annual TCM Classic Film Festival.
Every year, I head out to Hollywood to meet up with some of really cool people. These are folks come from all walks of life, with one thing in common – our shared love for the glamour, style and entertainment presented from the early days of Hollywood.
We delight in the restorations, the Pre-Code discoveries, the nitrates. We listen to the firsthand accounts of what it was like to work with some of the giants of cinema. In recent years, some of my favorite moments include:
- Anytime Norman Lloyd spoke of his relationship with the likes of Charlie Chaplin or Alfred Hitchcock.
- Listening to the late Anne Coates (editor of Laurence of Arabia) talking about her storied career.
- Watching the late Anna Karina talk about what it was like to make Band of Outsiders.
- Simon Pegg’s surprise introduction of the midnight screening of the restoration of Night of the Living Dead
Then, of course, there were the simple, passing glimpses of Adam West, Rita Moreno or Edgar Wright in the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt.
But I digress. With a theme set, my fellow travelers and I were all making tentative plans to secure our spots. Then, the news came down that the in person festival was cancelled. In its place, was a TCM Festival at Home, where viewers would be able to catch some of the “best of’s” from previous years, while also having some form of engagement with fans via social media. I also had the opportunity to attend a media roundtable with the executives and on air talent asking more about the festival in general and any adjacent topics. In the midst of tumult, it was a bit of a treat.
I welcomed and participated in as much as possible, even though it was not ideal. Going into 2021, it looks like we are going to be preparing for a similar virtual experience – although I imagine, that there have been some best practices and lessons learned along the way which will result in an overall robust and interactive home viewing experience.
In the midst of the COVID crisis, I hardly had time to devise a strategy for coverage – virtual or otherwise. So I skipped it.
Every fall, I look forward to this festival. Films are not in competition – it is simply a showcase of films, both new and old. From revivals of Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct, to the delights of Ivan Dixon’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door and Chloé Zhao upcoming Nomadland (starring Frances McDormand), the slate was exciting.
The advantages of a virtual experience meant I could attend a screening with little risk of the feature selling out. That said, there are caps on how many can virtual seats are available for purchase. But the virtual experience felt liberating in general.
Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe”
The NYFF festival also saw the North American debut of Academy-Award winning director Steve McQueen’s latest project – Small Axe. The mini-series is now available for stream on Amazon Prime. But way back in September/October, I had the opportunity to screen 3 of the 5 films:
- Lovers Rock
- Red White and Blue
All the films were feature (or near feature) length and offered an enthralling glimpse into the lives of West Indian immigrants living in London during the 1970s/80s. It is a slice of the diaspora I am largely unfamiliar with, but keen to know more about. Of the set, I would have to say my favorite was Lovers Rock. Want to know more? By year’s end, I will try to provide more expanded thoughts on this series in a separate post.
This festival in particular provided insight into my thoughts on the virtual festival experience in general. While it felt great to have access to all of these films in the comfort of my home, I did find it was slightly challenging to hold to my commitment of sitting down and watch, especially during their preset release windows. Release windows, you ask? Well, for some of the more popular festival releases, your ticket purchase granted you viewing access to the film at a set time during a set time (usually 2-4 hours). If you missed that window, you were out of luck. And unfortunately for me, this happened with Mangrove. I ended up purchasing it two times. Eventually, I did manage to get through all but the last couple of minutes of the film.
One cool tactic employed by the New York Film Festival was the use of drive-ins. Tribeca already does something similar as well, even pre-pandemic. While I did not take advantage of drive-ins this go around, I look forward to the chance in the future.
Those darn regional restrictions! Even if I wanted to repeat my 2019 exploits, I was unable due to being US-based. Streaming and “attendee” restrictions were such that I could not even screen content virtually.
While not the traditional festival experience this year, I feel like 2020 offered folks like myself several opportunities to be entertained while restricted where we could go. There was the bonus of providing access (where available) to those who may not have otherwise been able to attend a festival, like Toronto, due to the travel and time commitments attendance requires.
In spite of this, I do miss the overall communal festival “vibe.” However, let’s accentuate the positive! Attending a virtual film festival is a great way to support these organizations as much as it is a celebration of the films themselves.