ASIDE from its obvious effects on healthcare systems, the COVID-19 pandemic (coronavirus disease 2019) also has put many industries in a state of flux and grappling with new realities and new demands, and film festivals are no exceptions.

In a recent panel discussion, which was part of the recently opened Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF), a film critic, a producer, and several directors of international film festivals talked about the future of the film industry and film festivals in an age of streaming and closed cinemas.

“Just before the pandemic, [the film industry] was basically doing good, worldwide. It was expanding — there were more films being produced than ever, seen in different ways under different platforms,” said Jean-Michel Frodon, film critic and film historian, during the discussion broadcasted on the TIFF YouTube Channel on Oct. 31. “[The industry] is a dynamic body, it was something energetic… [therefore] we can use other platforms like Netflix, we should use other platforms… I believe [streaming] is important for the future of cinema. There can be many kinds of platforms which can work with festivals.”

Unlike Mr. Frodon’s view of treating streaming services as allies instead of enemies of cinema and film festivals, Carlo Chatrian, the artistic director of the Berlin International Film Festival, has a less optimistic opinion.

“When you are going online, you are doing a different festival,” he said, pointing out that programming is different for physical film festivals and online film festivals. “Film festivals are a place to discover films but also to share thoughts and emotions with other people,” he said, adding that the charm of festivals is watching films inside a cinema and conversing with other people in person.

The argument about streaming services and film festivals is not new. The Cannes Film Festival and streaming giant Netflix have been feuding since 2017, ever since the festival mandated that competition films must have a theatrical release, something Netflix railed against, leading it to pull its films out of competition.

In July, Thierry Fremaux, the artistic director of Cannes, criticized film festivals like Venice that allow Netflix to compete for awards despite its movies having an online-only release. He said these festivals are “[opening] their doors a bit too widely, perhaps, to people who we’re not sure about. We’re not absolutely sure that they really want the cinema to survive,” he said in a Quartz article.

The role of streaming services and how they can coexist with film festivals may still be an open question, but for Lorna Tee, producer and art curator, the fact that film festivals had to go online due to the pandemic “brought us to look into the agendas of film festivals.”

Film festivals like Sundance and Rotterdam went online, a move which provided access to more people than what they usually would have. Sundance, in particular, held online screenings and drive-in screenings across 24 states in the United States when previously the festival was mostly contained to the city in Utah.

“That created an outreach to audiences that wouldn’t necessarily be able to attend a film festival,” she added,

At length, with the panel holding different views on the state of cinema, Mr. Frodon pointed out that while he personally has no answer to the question of how the industry will change from now on, it all goes back to the basic idea of film festivals: “to bring films to a local audience but to also help films leave [their cities],” and go seek a larger audience.

(Also in the panel were Christian Jeune, director of the film department/deputy general delegate at the Cannes Film Festival, and Christian Boyer, artistic director of the Tribeca Film Festival.)

OPENING A HYBRID TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Much like other film festivals, the Tokyo International Film Festival, one of the premier festivals in Asia, had to adjust and introduce hybrid programming that combines physical screenings and online events.

The film festival, which is running until Nov. 8, will be screening 126 films physically at its new venues in the Yurakucho-Hibiya-Ginza area of Tokyo instead of its longstanding Roppongi venues.

Aside from the change in venue, the festival also introduced its new programming director, Shozo Ichiyama who reorganized various sections and clarified selection policies for the festival.

Four Filipino films are included in the festival — Mikhail Red’s Arisaka and Brillante Ma. Mendoza’s Resbak are competing in the Main Competition Section, while another Mendoza film, Gensan Punch, will be featured in the Gala Selection. Daniel R. Palacio’s The Brokers is competing in the Asian Futures Section. (Read more: https://www.bworldonline.com/red-mendoza-compete-in-the-34th-tokyo-intl-film-fest/)

For more information about the festival, visit https://2021.tiff-jp.net. — ZBC