BY RICHARD HERSKOWITZ — I want to start our April Screener with a big thank you:
- to our members and festival goers for your patience, encouragement, and support;
- to our sponsors and financial supporters for believing in us and giving us the time to respond to the closing of our theaters;
- to our volunteers for all their pre-planning, training, and good ideas - and for waiting in the wings for when we need you;
- to the AIFF staff for meeting every challenge;
- to our film programmers and jury for carrying on with their selection of extraordinary films;
- and to the filmmakers who have offered their brilliant works to us!
It’s only because of this vibrant, creative, and caring community that AIFF is able to reinvent itself and bring you 3 weeks of amazing films as a virtual film festival.
We were just about to finalize our program when COVID-19 hit, so we started brainstorming how we could still be a festival without an on-the-ground operation. What would a virtual film festival look like? We’ve done a lot of researching – of other film festivals venturing into this realm, as well as existing digital platforms, and discovered different models. In the process we connected with Film Festival Flix, an innovative online service whose original purpose was to offer film festivals a way to expand their audiences by showing their films year-round. We looked at the Catalina Film Festival, as one example. They realized they could make their “channel” an extension of their festival by showing work online that they couldn’t present in their theaters, making them on site and online concurrently–an interesting model we may follow in the future.
But this year, virtual is the only option, and the Annapolis Film Festival was the first to move its festival entirely online. Some of their films screened at precise scheduled times, while others were available throughout the festival’s span.
With Film Festival Flix, we have come up with our own model. Unlike Annapolis, we decided we could stretch the original duration of our festival from five days to three weeks. We realized we could also avoid the logjam of titles that is the normal festival experience and release our feature films one at a time, each a Feature of the Day. Filmmakers who were wary of putting their films online for an extended period (concerned that this could harm their chances at acquiring distribution), like this model – and I think our audiences will too.
The short films, meanwhile, arranged in nine curated programs, will be available every day of the three weeks, and you’ll be able to dip into them at any time.
There is much more being conceived for our virtual festival, because we are determined to make the event evoke the festival experience as much as possible. Q&A’s will follow most features, some pre-recorded and some live, and there will be special weekend events honoring the winners of our Rogue, James Blue, Pride, and Indie Institution awards. We’ll kick things off with an opening night virtual party and a closing day awards presentation, too, hosted by the talented and hilarious Bruce Campbell.
We are also keeping our special themes this year—"Asian Americans” (particularly timely, as there has been a surge in the scapegoating of these citizens for our current crisis) and “Migrations.” Our perennial themes – “Activism,” “Arts,” and “Environment” –will return in force.
Watch for our announcement on April 30 and the preview I’ll be hosting, which we’ll post online starting that day at www.ashlandfilm.org.
Thank you so much for sticking with us through the upheaval of our festival plans – and of all our lives. We’re looking forward to following you into the safety of your homes, where we plan to take you on a series of enriching and enlightening “immobile voyages,” a term coined by one of my film professors, Thierry Kuntzel, many years back.