The Film Festival Doctor (Yes, she’s a real doctor!) Dr. Rebekah Louisa Smith, explores in further detail the world of on-line film festivals. This has recently become a bit of a controversial subject as a big dilemma which filmmakers are currently facing during the CV19 pandemic is should they or shouldn’t they screen their film on-line when a film festival has had to go digital. In this article she gives her professional opinion with regards to what you should be thinking about and what decisions you should be making…
Since the outbreak of CV19 during March 2020 lots of film festivals around the world have had to either rescheduled their festival to run later during the year or move on-line.
I’ve been asking festival directors what their take is on on-line festivals and all of them have said that they’re good for now, as since everyone has had to self-isolate and stay at home, they offer an alternative to watching mainstream Film & TV. However, they’re extremely limited in what else they can do since the whole point of a film festival is seeing a film theatrically and in-person organic networking which can lead to long relationship building. Neither of those can be replicated on-line, not even via a Zoom networking party (as that works better when catching up with your friends and family). For me, an online film festival doesn’t capture the amazing energy and abundance that a film festival brings with it. I’m enjoying them for what they are now in the short term but a lot is lost with regards to meeting new filmmakers and sharing the experience together.
Worse still, they present several problems for filmmakers – a lot worry that if they screen their film online 1. will they be disqualified from other live festivals? 2. piracy is also an issue – is it safe to screen my film on-line? and 3. will on-line film festival screenings cause a problem for filmmakers when they want to attach a sales agent to sell their film?
To answer those questions, I would advise that if your film is a brand-new feature film and you have just completed the post-production, to not have your world premiere on-line. Instead, I would hold back until it can be seen at a live film festival. If the on-line film festival that your film has been invited to participate in is available for people to watch worldwide (and is not for instance geo-blocked and limited to only the U.K. or France for example) this is problematic for feature films as it could increase the risk of piracy (especially in countries where this is very high and common) and also cause problems for acquiring a sales agent to represent the film for world sales.
Screening any film online – even if it’s part of a film festival’s official selection – could cause problems with distribution deals and their contracts as some distribution companies will not want the film to have been screened anywhere online (in any type of capacity) due to their legal and contractual laws and requirements.
However, this will not be the same problem for short films. With regards to short films it’s best to revert back to your goals and decide how helpful the screening will be. If your goal is exposure and winning awards this can be achieved via the on-line film festival platform. All on-line film festival screenings are private and will require anyone who wants to view the films to register before they receive via e-mail their link and password to log in.
A lot of film festivals that have had to move on-line are allowing filmmakers to use their official selection laurel even if they don’t partake in screening the film on-line – which is a very fair compromise and very helpful with regards to both marketing and PR purposes and your festival strategy.
I’m not aware of any festivals that are disqualifying feature films and short films from being a part of a live festival due to having been previously screened at an on-line film festival. However, you do need to approach online screenings as just like any other type of festival screening – if the festival are streaming worldwide that might cause a problem with other festivals who have strict premiere policies in place as that will mean that you might not be able to screen it since will have already been made available to viewers within their territory. This will not be as much of a problem to short films but potentially for feature films which is why my advice would be to check with other festivals that you’ve submitted your film to if this would cause a problem should you were to proceeded with the screening.
I am not screening any of my clients feature films at on-line festivals as they’re all seeking a sales agent and want some kind of distribution deal after they’ve finished their festival run. There is one exception; a feature film called INNER FIRE and that is because the clients are doing a DIY release and are not looking for a sales agent; they are purely all about film festivals – both live and online. I am allowing my clients short films to be part of the on-line film festival community as they’ve all had their world premieres, I trust the festivals that they have been invited to screen at and finally, the more exposure and awards the better. As a wonderful bonus, which we are truly grateful for, we’ve won 11 more awards for our clients during the pandemic.
Coming next week – I will be taking a break from CV19 and instead to mark the celebration of a new film which we are currently representing called PROXY, we will be interviewing Sophia Banks the Director of the film about working in the film industry as one of the ones to watch.