Film Festival Programmers Speak in Favor of Hybrid Events in Coronavirus Year

The hybrid festival model, combining in-theater screenings and online playout, that emerged during coronavirus lockdown periods may help festivals reach a wider audience, said panelists at a Singapore International Film Festival talk on Wednesday.

The transition from programming traditional festivals to putting together online ones initially posed tech problems, said Anderson Le, festival consultant and artistic director of the Hawaii International Film Festival, and Prashant Somosundram, GM of Singapore’s independent cinema The Projector.

“We spent our time on [mastering] streaming technology. It was a steep learning curve,” said Somosundram, recalling the time when cinemas were closed during the lockdown in Singapore.

The March 2020 lockdown disrupted the HIFF’s planning and scheduling. “We were in a panic a bit,” Le said. But the festival management quickly developed a streaming platform, and learned the details of technology, while simultaneously developing initiatives to help audiences adapt their devices to the festival’s streaming platform, he said.

“Some of our films had much greater access,” said Alemberg Ang, a producer from the Philippines who co-organized the Lockdown Cinema Club in Manila with writer and producer Carl Chavez. “I’ve been able to visit festivals virtually, without the requirement to travel.”

Hawaii recently completed a hybrid edition (Nov. 5-29) that also included drive-in screenings, while The Projector has become technology supplier to the ongoing Singapore festival.

“We broadened our footprint,” Le said, as audiences came from not only Hawaii but also across the continental U.S. “Streaming has allowed us to reach out to audiences who normally won’t go to see certain films. Now there’s this opportunity for filmmakers to show films in different ways and we should definitely pursue them.”

Discussion panels held online also had a much wider reach, Somosundram said, , adding that the cinema has also created more room to support emerging filmmakers.

Building a community through programming online and offline will be key to sustaining filmmakers, they said. “We are trying to make the best out of the pandemic and we hope to re-group soon,” Chavez said.

“I foresee that this community will grow from not only caring about the cinema but also (other parts of) our society,” Ang said, referring to the initiative that emerged with the Lockdown Cinema Club to recently campaign in favor of flood relief. “It is important to build such a community.”

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