Waiting for the wave 4 – hoping for normality



Diagram 1: Festival variations in the year 2020. Symbols: house=on site; mobile=only online; dot+2 waves=hybrid (on site and online or open air); vertical line=today ( on the left past festivals, right future)


Two months have passed since I last reported on the reactions of film festivals to the closure of cinemas. As expected, the relaxation that began for cinemas in many countries in mid-June did not yet have any consequences in July. In July, the density of events reached the lowest point of the year.

The announcements of cinema openings, however, had a major impact on plans for the late summer and fall. The rapid increase in festival events in August and September – visible as a leap in the diagram – is nevertheless astonishing.

Many festivals estimate or hope to be able to hold their events at the cinema again in autumn at the latest. However, this is subject to individual conditions, so that as a rule only 20 to 30 percent of the space available can be used. Therefore, most festivals with plans for the near future have decided to go multi-track. The word ‘hybrid’ is currently establishing itself as a fixed term for this.




Hybrid strategies


In the northern hemisphere, summer becomes evident in the festival landscape and, instead of turning to the Internet, opens up the path outdoors. The increase in the number of festivals in August is mainly due to additional open-air events. Especially festivals in the northern and eastern Mediterranean area are taking this path. There is a good infrastructure for open-air events there anyway, such as public squares or open-air stages, which have also been used for film screenings in the past – such as in Italy or countries in the Balcan region.

Recently, a different, completely new strategy can be observed. With the reopening of cinemas that can only offer a small number of seats, festivals are beginning to expand geographically. The Duisburger Filmwoche is planning additional program readouts in six cinemas in Germany, Austria and Switzerland[1]. An attempt is being made to meet the expected visitors or to spread them to several locations.

The best known example is the Sundance Film Festival. In late June, the festival director announced that the festival program would be spread across cinemas throughout the state of Utah. Further events are to take place in major cities across the American continent. “The nucleus”, the festival announced, will however be a brand new online platform[2].


Thus, the alternative of moving parts of the festival program to the Internet will remain exciting to watch. In the first weeks of the pandemic, ‘going online’ was the choice of the hour to avoid having to cancel completely. It is remarkable that the willingness to do so has been declining ever since. In the currently upcoming months of August and September, online activities still play a certain role, but a rather minor one in relation to festivals that want to take place in physical space.


Diagram 2: Number of festivals online and hybrid over time – symbols: mobile=only online; dot + 2waves=hybrid (on site and online and/or open air); vertical line=today

After the first experience, some festivals have announced that they will maintain some of their online activities even in pandemic-free times, and the industry is talking about a new normal. However, the figures now available, which are based on new announcements, do not support this. Apparently, online options are quickly abandoned as soon as a more positive outlook on the pandemic situation opens up.



Everything still in flow


Because of the time needed to plan ahead, the festivals have to work with predictions. This necessarily leads to misjudgements. Dozens of festivals have already had to revise their strategies along the way. Some festivals are now solving the dilemma by only going public with their strategy shortly before the deadline. Quite a few festivals have simply not updated their websites since the beginning of the pandemic, but they leave their calls …

How dynamic the situation is can be seen in the way that plans or announcements change over time (see our diagrams). In the first weeks and months of the pandemic, many organizers have postponed their dates until autumn. However, the number of festivals that continue to stick to a date in autumn has decreased. In the meantime, almost as many festivals have been cancelled as festivals postponed from spring have been added. The wave has become flatter or is pushing its peak further into the future.





Part 1 from April 2, 2020: Waiting for the wave – Film festivals between shutdown and hope

Part 2 from May 5, 2020: Waiting for the wave 2 – film festivals between shutdown and hope

Part 3 from June 9, 2020: Waiting for the wave 3 – Loosenings


[1] https://www.duisburger-filmwoche.de/festival/index.php?option=com_acymailing&ctrl=archive&task=view&mailid=129&key=fNHFWZDa&subid=390-nyGlVAe28IzdST&tmpl=component

[2] https://www.sundance.org/blogs/festival/2021-sundance-film-festival-approach-tabitha-jackson