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Innumerable cultural events and venues around the world have closed due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. This is happening right as the film festival season traditionally ramps up. Already, SXSW has been shut down, and Cannes has been postponed. Cinephilia traditionally thrives in a communal atmosphere, and this crisis looks to completely upend the year’s movie release timetable. To keep the spirit alive, even in a small way, several festivals have dealt with the cancellation of their live events by bringing some or all of their programs alive.
The Vilnius International Film Festival, Lithuania’s largest, will be making selections available on the internet. (It runs March 19 through April 2.) Likewise, the Copenhagen-based documentary festival CPH:DOX has partnered with the streaming site Festival Scope to roll out a “digital version.” (The festival runs March 18 through 29.) Some of the forums, panels, and workshops the festivals were set to host have been moved online as well. The one hitch is that both festivals are making their online offerings only available for residents of their respective nations.
For those in the US, the DC Environmental Film Festival is rolling out a much more expansive digital version of its program. Every film that is available somewhere online has had a link to where you can stream it. This entails a lot of YouTube and Vimeo links, complete with passwords helpfully provided for any protected pages. Some older films that had been set to screen are already available on paid streaming services (such as last year’s Mark Ruffalo legal thriller Dark Waters), and the festival can’t do much more than direct viewers to them, but that’s still a nice gesture. Boston’s ReelAbilities Film Festival (running March 22 through April 2), devoted to films about people with disabilities, will also be presenting movies and discussions online for free.
In a more unique vein, the Ann Arbor Film Festival (March 24 through 29), North America’s oldest festival for avant-garde and experimental cinema, will be livestreaming its entire program. In doing so, it will attempt to recapture something like the collective atmosphere of moviegoing, albeit widely diffused. More importantly, the fact that viewers have to either tune in or miss out (it’s a one-time only stream) makes it feel less like a series of films just temporarily available on a specific platform.
Finally, there’s at least one new online-only film festival inspired by people’s need to practice social distancing. Talking Shorts, an internet magazine devoted to short films, has organized the first (and hopefully last) My Darling Quarantine Online Film Festival. Each week, the site will host seven shorts curated by the international film community, each one about the theme of “dystopia.” Viewers will be able to vote on their favorites, and are also encouraged to donate to the GoFundMe the site has set up to support both Medecins Sans Frontiers and cultural workers who have been impacted by the various shutdowns. At a time like this, solidarity in the arts and film community is more vital than ever.