Since COVID-19 hit and forced many festivals to postpone or cancel, we are impressed by all the inventive responses in the struggle to adapt and survive in these difficult circumstances. We’re keen to help raise awareness of all those who are now exploring ways to replicate the festival experience online or at least share some of their films with an audience. It’s very challenging to do so on any scale and at short notice but some innovations are emerging, which actually give new audiences the opportunity to check out films that would not have been accessible to them before, perhaps premiering in a festival at the other side of the world.

BFI Flare

Closer to home, BFI Flare pulled off a full digital edition of their influential LGBTQ+ festival in late March with impressive speed. Kicking off with ‘Five Films for Freedom’, a global short film celebration streaming throughout the festival dates, they went on to screen features, Live Q&As and even a virtual closing party. Another advantage of the online festival is that much of the content is still available after the festival dates and BFI Player are hosting a range of films from the programme alongside their own extensive LGBTQ+ library and key titles from previous editions. Highlights include Chinese-American drama A Dog Barking at the Moon, winner of the Teddy award at Berlin Film Festival and Disclosure, a landmark documentary analysing transgender representations onscreen and led by Orange is the New Black's Laverne Cox. BFI Player requires subscription but is currently free for a 14 day trial and £4.99 a month thereafter.

South by Southwest (SXSW)

Leading American indie film festival South by Southwest (SXSW) was the first major international film event to announce their cancellation and they have led the way exploring online alternatives. The festival organisers decided to go ahead with their competitions, inviting their juries to judge films online and announcing the winners as usual. There are no online facilities as yet for the features but they have teamed up with Mailchimp Presents and Oscilloscope to stream 75 of their short films online, available to anyone to watch for free. Selections include the grand jury award winning films No Crying at the Dinner Table (the Documentary Shorts winner), Regret (Midnight Shorts) and No Just Hold On (Texas Shorts) alongside narrative shorts like Single, which received Special Jury Consideration.

Thessaloniki International Film Festival

Greece’s long-running Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF) was founded in 1960 and has a focus on discovering new directors from all over the world. TIFF has asked 8 Greek directors, all award-nominees of the Hellenic Film Academy, to make short films of up to three minutes shot entirely within their home environments as a commentary on the new reality we live in. These are now available on TIFF’s YouTube Channel, which also hosts a newly uploaded Masterclass with cult cinema legend John Waters, with more Masterclasses to follow from Ruben Östlund (The Square), Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and more. TIFF will also soon launch two new competitions for children and young people, whilst the scale of its online festival archive is impressive. The online archive features rare editions, magazines and books, including letters from festival guests such as Martin Scorsese, and the rare HELLAFI collection, whose giant movie posters adorned the facades of cinemas in Greece and is considered unique in the world.

Upcoming Film Festivals

Looking further ahead, a few other festivals have announced plans for online presentations, which will develop in the coming months. Sheffield Doc/Fest have announced some virtual pitching forums, delaying the film screenings and Q&As to a series of weekends in the Autumn. We’ll all be paying close attention to these developments in the coming months.

Find out about the latest international film festival news by following us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter

Images from previous festival editions, clockwise from top left: South by Southwest, BFI Flare, International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, Tribeca Film Festival.