Film fairs reel underneath Covid-19, take virtual detour

Cannes, one of the world’s most glamourous film festivals, has been postponed indefinitely. In fact, the film festival fraternity across the world has been dealt a blow by the Covid-19 pandemic. And here in Delhi-NCR, film buffs are also upset over their favourite annual film festivals being either cancelled or postponed. Take for instance the Habitat International Film Festival (HIFF), which had been scheduled for March and was later postponed to May 21. Malyaj, a Delhi-based theatre artist and a film aficionado, says the lockdown is a downer but has a silver lining, too. “I was looking forward to attend HIFF this year too, but the lockdown has marred my plans. This situation, however, presents a chance to the more popular film festivals, to take a turn at online screening.’’

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Organisers of film festivals — from European bigwigs like International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and International Film Festival Rotterdam, to India’s own Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) — have re-routed to the online space, to offer viewing of films on their websites. DIFF has even launched a Viewing Room on its website where it has been showcasing specially curated films from its alumni, every week. The festival director, Ritu Sarin, informs that the screening is free for consumption during the lockdown and the line-up changes every two weeks. “While it’s unfortunate that numerous film festivals have taken a hit due to coronavirus, we started Viewing Room as we saw a demand in the community for online content during this period. We endeavour to showcase different genres of films from filmmakers who have attended DIFF,” says Sarin.


Delhi-based Kriti Film Club, an extension of the non-profit Kriti Team, has been screening documentary films at least once a month for almost two decades now. The team has taken to free screening of the films on YouTube keeping in mind the lockdown that is in effect in India. Its founder, Aanchal Kapur, like Sarin, says that the initiative is hard to sustain as it’s tough for film clubs and festivals to compete with the OTT platforms. But, Kapur adds, “The response we have received so far has been positive. Combined with our groundwork of helping poor women through the organisation, we are screening films free of any cost to promote viewership among people.’’ The club intends to continue the screening till May 1 — celebrated as International Labour Day — to honour the section that has been hit hardest by the lockdown.


These initiatives are increasingly gaining ground. Carrot Films, a Delhi-based media production house, has taken a step forward by organising an online short film contest, Lockdown Film Festival. With the intent of promoting film-making, the contest has called out to amateur filmmakers to submit their home-made creations, free of cost; the winning entries were screened online, and the results will be out in April-end. Director Ishani K Dutta, who is associated with this festival, says, “This is our effort to express solidarity with our people, and through our art we are trying to help them cope with the situation as they abide by the precautions from the government, to aid in the fight against Covid-19.’’ This festival has received over a thousand entries. Vidheya, assistant director at Carrot Films, shares excitedly about the possibilities that online screening could open up for film festival organisers, and says, “It’s easy, accessible and reachable!’’

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When asked if the digital detour could be made permanent, festival organisers say that online screening isn’t necessarily the future of film festivals; but it’s a great opportunity to ensure their survival in times like these. Sarin opines that it’s tough to predict whether this lockdown is the death knell of film festivals, and adds, “It’s too early [to say]. We haven’t considered making the Viewing Room a permanent feature since we do not have the resources to sustain such a model. People go to such festivals for an overall experience of belonging to a community, and I’m not sure if online festivals can compensate for that feeling!’’

Author tweets @bhagat_mallika

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