Barring something dropping in my lap the 2020 Virtual Tribeca Film Festival is done for me. As I write this I have seen every film (except two) in the press screening library and some that weren't. The films were more uniformly good this year than an in previous years with some great ones and some bad ones mixed in. It was, as almost all of these stay at home festivals are, incredibly low key.
I will be talking about the whole stay at home festival experience in a moment, but first I need to post one last review:
WELCOME TO A BRIGHT WHITE LIMBO
Part dance film part portrait of dancer Oona Doherty this film is a look inside the head and art of a woman who feels compelled to just dance. While the people in the neighborhood where she lives don't always understand (the looks she gets while dancing on the street are priceless) we as an audience do and the result is a wonderful smile at seeing someone so in love with what they do.
And with that I need to add an apology. That review was supposed to run a while back with reviews for the films TANGLED ROOTS and GLOVES OFF. However issues with the screening links prevented my being able to screen the films. While I waited to to get one more group od capsule films together this review just sat.
While I am at it I feel the need to mention the six films which I did see and explain why, despite seeing them, I decided not to do a formal review.
THE DIFFERENCE was a short about how we give people the tools to survive and thrive. For me the problem with the film was that it was trying to do way too much in too short a time. It needed to be a feature since what was here was good but didn't feel complete.
KAPAEMAHU is the story of some boulders that represent four transgender travelers who came to Hawaii. It's a gorgeously animated film but it left me with nothing to say since there didn't seem to really be anything there but the bare bones story.
THE GREY ZONE is about a woman who confronts a man who she thinks touched her inappropriately on the street. The problem is we see what happened and as staged she kind of ran into him and he moved around her ( I replayed it 3 times) . To me it weakened what followed. The film would have been better not showing it at all.
SWEET THING was done in a forced style that doesn't work for me. I felt the director wanting to say this is real life but you feel every manipulation. I never bought it for a minute and couldn't justify doing a long review to say that.
HOME_ - is a Tribeca Now series about Latinas in Miami trying to find a place to call home. It's very good but it was shot on a smart phone. I know that is how the world is seen now. My problem is that while I have zero trouble watching a vertical image on a phone I do not like the image on a big screen especially when I can see the world bleeding off the image into blackness.
PICTURE A SCIENTIST- is a very good film about gender bias in the sciences. It beautifully laid out every thing we need to know about how bad women are treated in the various labs, universities and companies. I couldn't find words to justify a long review simply because other reviews will no doubt say it better than I feel I m capable.
And with that the latest on-line fest is done and the feeling is just odd.
Festivals are social events. I and most people I know go to them to see films socially but the festivals the last two months have been off. The social aspect has fallen away. Even when covering festivals remotely there always tended to be herd movement with the online community being steered by live events or the newest thing to pop into the library. With Tribeca this year everyone was given access to 95 or so films so the press corps was watching things all over the place. This made discussing any thing we were seeing (which is one of the big draws of festival coverage) nigh impossible.
As this posts the world has been effectively closed down for two months. Numerous festivals have been canceled (Rendez Vous With French Cinema stopped midway through then appeared on line a couple weeks later, The New York Children's International FIlm Fest canceled their last weekend), and others like New Directors New Films are postponed and looking for a new slot. (I have a ton of reviews just sitting for fests in limbo). Other fests soldiered on. In many cases festivals and theaters are partnering with various companies including Kino, Oscilliscope and Film Movement to do virtual screenings of select films to get money to remain afloat. (Please support your favorite theaters and festivals)
I have tried to cover a number of the festivals that have been happening. Some of my coverage was the result of repurposing what I would have run anyway. Some were new films sent to me. Some coverage was simply putting up a piece about the fest because that was all I could muster. Truthfully I have been busier with fewer new releases and fewer festivals because so many things are being moved around or yanked and I am constantly moving things around.
I did a few SXSW films this year, as I usually do. The festival canceled and then regrouped to do something with Amazon. What I covered (RUNON and ECHOES OF THE INVISIBLE) were sent to me by filmmakers looking for coverage.
Katha Cato and her team over at the ever great Queens World Film Festival did the impossible and in almost no time switched her festival from playing all over Queens County in New York to simply being on line. Somehow she managed to do the impossible and get almost all the films online for free. I have no idea how she did it but this was probably the most amazing switch over I've seen. She should get an award of some kind.
The Ann Arbor and Garden State Film Festival also did a fast regrouping to get online with altered line ups and screened some great films.
The Reelabilities Film Festivals started a trend toward actually having an festival feel despite being virtual when they scheduled live Q&As and panels to follow their films.
Cabane à sang in Montreal went on line and the result kicked ass and introduced me to one of the best programed festivals I've ever run across. I am hoping to go see it live next year.
Oxford went virtual and are currently running films and discussions on a weekly basis.
And then there was Tribeca and... and I know I am missing others...
Of course this is not the end - I write this I have films from the upcoming Hot Docs, Brooklyn and Human Rights Watch Film Festivals waiting to be written up. I also have films from a couple of on line series as well. I am also waiting for the go word on the festival of festivals were 20 world wide fests like Berlin, New York and Tribeca screen films for the world
Other fests are announcing their plans with regularity- Fantasia has announced going on line. Additionally the New York Film Festival sent out an email saying the fest will happen in some form, hopefully a mix of online and live in person events. Meanwhile other fests like New York Asian and the big fall festivals in Toronto and elsewhere in the world have yet to announce definite plans but are promising some kind of fest.
The world is readjusting to the Covid 19 world with things now going virtual - but the question now is how is it working?
So far okay, but I think it's too early to tell. I say this not because things haven't worked but purely because things are changing. How every festival has been presented has been very different than any other. Queens World threw all their films up on line and you could access them at any point. Reelabilities and others ran the films and events at a certain time and you had reserve a ticket to tune in then in order to see them. Some fests had you pay to be part of .
There were and are no set rules that all the festivals followed other that getting the films out there. Even the whys and hows for the press varied from fest to fest beginning with the basic how we got access varying from Tribeca setting up a library while others sending us links or just granting access to the events. The hows and wheres of when we could post varied from weeks before the on-line to just when it happened or even after the event.
Actually the one thing that all the festivals had in common was that every festival pretty much lost films because they went online. Some filmmakers and studios didn't want their films to play streaming before they got a theatrical release or knew how it would effect the chances for awards so some films were removed. Some films such as HBO's BAD EDUCATION were premiering right before they hit the channel so there was no time or reason to run the film in a festival setting. The changes caused some grumbling in the press corps, many of whom had their hearts set on certain films appearing. No one took the cancelations to heart but there were a bunch of "oh man I wanted to see that".
I think the biggest problem for the fests going forward will be getting the word out about the switch over to virtual and letting people know how to see and be part of the films and events. I don't know how some fest managed. I know some Reelabilities screenings sold out, I know the viewership for Cabane à sang was high. I don't know about the rest.
I do know that I got thanked for pointing people toward Queens World and Ann Arbor by people who were not aware they had gone on line.. At the same time I got several emails asking me how people could watch the Tribeca selections since they got mails about the virtual festival but had no idea how to actually screen anything. (I still don't have an answer to that). I am also getting questions about if I know what is happening with a postponed fest such as New York Asian.
On the other hand I do know that the virtual screenings in support of the various theaters and festivals are working on some level since I keep getting emails from Lincoln Center, The Milwaukee Film Fest and others saying that films that were due to end their run are being held over. Clearly the emails and social media blasts are working.
To that end if you want to know about your favorite festival get on the mailing list, follow them on social media and keep checking their websites. And be persistent since even if you think you are following them closely you may miss something - lord knows I have.
Over the next few months I and the Unseen Films family will be in the trenches, our living rooms and bedrooms working to bring you coverage of the upcoming festivals. To that end if anyone wants me to try and get coverage of your virtual fest drop me a line and I will see what I can do.
And for those of you missing your favorite festival or theater let me repeat that you need to get on their mailing lists, their social media feeds and you need to keep checking their websites. Good stuff is coming.
While I hate that the social hanging out and dining of festivals is gone for now, I love that the film community is going on. I love that the films are still screening and discussions are still happening. I love that film festivals are still happening.