Lockdown through a lens: Finding success with your pandemic film festival


© Zhifei Zhou

Like everything else in the industry right now, film festivals are feeling the sting of COVID-19. Cannes has been cancelled indefinitely, while the Habitat International Film Festival (HIFF) has been postponed until late May, a date that’s also looking unlikely. It comes as a blow for filmmakers and festival hosts alike, that’s for sure. But, as we’re already seeing from bigwigs like the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, we aren’t going to let this stop us.

In fact, countless festivals have moved online for an entirely new viewing experience this year, and you could benefit from doing the same. Whether you market with the same name or think about rebranding a company altogether to meet with this new, online age; you might find that you can keep the love of film alive, after all. Heck, even Genesis is hosting an online film festival this year, and you can bet they don’t have half the knowledge you do!

That said, this is set to be a different experience. As such, your success might not hinge on quite the same points that usually see you through. Instead, you need to remember that, even if you’re sticking with your brand, your audience will be drastically different. With that in mind, you’ll need to win them over with some alternative techniques, as we’ll be discussing here.

Taking film technology by storm

First and more obviously, you’re going to need to take your tech up a gear or two. This is especially the case seeing as you’ll likely be appealing to a much more tech-savvy audience. Admittedly, your first step here is relatively simple - you’ll need to consider things like where you intend to host your films (a private domain, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) You’ll also want to spare a thought for digital Zoom chats or Insta Stories with directors to add that real festival vibe.

With basics out of the way, however, it’s also vital that you take a few key steps to embrace technology even further. After all, this switched platform gives you and your directors a chance to have a lot of fun. You could create interactive films, much like Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, or perhaps you want to make use of your platform to see your audience collaboratively agreeing on endings, etc. Either way, you’ll surely give yourself an edge by delving deep here.

Getting creative with advertising

You’ll also need to reconsider your standard advertising efforts. After all, print ads will be off the cards, and much of the film industry has come to a standstill. As such, you should think outside the box here to ensure you’re appealing to the right audiences. Email marketing is a fantastic option, and you could even send out something like a ‘golden ticket’ scheme to select who can attend online screenings.

Equally, with more people at home and looking for entertainment than ever, you might find it beneficial to take the plunge and advertise more generally across social media. Hashtags and keywords ensure you can continue to achieve necessary relevance here, yet you could still land yourself with larger audiences than ever. After all, you aren’t limited by things like venue restrictions this year! As such, taking a more comprehensive approach could easily see you appealing to the masses in ways that many film festivals sadly fail to do in most instances.

Think about hosting relevant content

If you already have films in the pipeline from pre-pandemic productions, it would be a shame to pan them altogether. That said, you also need to remember that you’re playing to an audience that’s been through a lot of late. And, these are experiences they’ll surely be looking to see represented in the media they consume.

With that in mind, it might be worth at least updating your listings a little. Make no mistake, entire film-length features are likely challenging to capture right now, but you can bet filmmakers are continuing to create. Shorts and documentaries that capture lockdown life will particularly go down well right now. So, ask around. See what’s out there, or whether someone would be happy to create a piece for you to screen.

As well as helping you to appeal to your audience, a simple effort towards relevance could see yours being the festival that first managed to capture this moment on screen. And, that could see you achieving acclaim at a time when the rest of the industry struggles to find a way through.



Consider long-term changes

It’s easy to think that this cyber-switch is a one-time affair, but bear in mind that experts aren’t wrong when they tout this as ‘the new normal’ in many ways. We can, of course, hope that film festivals will go ahead in 2021 as planned, and the chances are that they will. But, consumer expectations will have changed so much by then that stepping entirely backwards might not work.

Instead, then, it’s also worth using this year as a sounding board for new methods. Interactive screenings might, for instance, become a standard part of your shows. Equally, online streaming for overseas viewers could become a staple. And, of course, switching to relevant content now will give you much more of a glimpse into where film looks set to land in the coming years.

All of this, alongside your new and improved advertising focuses, could see you shining on the big screen rather than shying from the industry once everything is back up and running.

In conclusion

Film, like everything else, has taken a significant hit in recent months. Productions have been paused, the largest film festivals are on hold, and the industry is certainly feeling the sting. But, we’re also lucky in many ways. After all, on the flip side of these issues, consumers are watching more media than ever, and OTT platforms like Netflix are certainly feeling the benefits. In many ways, then, this is an age perfectly suited to film. You just need to make sure your festival is up to the task.

How have you been affected by the pandemic? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter: @filminetwork

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