How Virtual Film Festivals Became My Cinephile Quarantine Dream

2020 was a dumpster fire for the arts and movies, but the pivot to online to experience discussions and film festivals was a rare joy for me. I yearn for in-person gatherings, but I have missed watching top-notch smaller movies even more. I was very fortunate to attend Sundance this year and stay for the whole time as a volunteer. Even though I don’t care about cold weather, we had it very well back then.

It has been slim pickings for cinephiles to watch great, new movies during the year especially if you watched several of the best 2020 movies at 2019 film festivals and Sundance. A few have made it on VOD. Netflix has been trending their forgettable shows and several random recycled 10-year-old movies all year. I have taken this time to watch countless classic movies on TCM for the first time. Thank you, Turner Classic Movies for being a Godsend during this season! We do not deserve you.

From NYFF to AFI, film festivals have pivoted to virtual and offered nationwide access to moviegoers starved for some higher-quality programming. I have sampled movies from around the country like Chicago, Heartland, Milwaukee, and Mill Valley. Of course, the Denver Film Festival, did their best to replicate their experience at home. The parties did not happen, but the quality programming remained.

Out of all of the online offerings this year, New York’s Film Festival was the highlight where I could see movies not playing anywhere else. I watched the dense 3.5-hour Romanian costume drama MALMKROG, the revealing archival documentary MLK/FBI (and even twice to process it), the poignant character study THE DISCIPLE, and NOTTURNO on my own. With a small group of friends, I experienced physically distanced backyard screenings of THE HUMAN VOICE, THE NIGHT OF KINGS, SMALL AXE: RED WHITE & BLUE, and TRUFFLE HUNTERS. To keep in the tradition of watching older movies (before the 80s), I watched revivals of THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR and ZERO FOR CONDUCT. I needed this time considering Telluride canceled their film festival, an annual highlight for me. (They even emailed staff and volunteers where to watch their programming, which was very helpful! I even drank beer from the Telluride Brewery while watching some of their movies.)

There is no doubt the movie business had a year like no other for 2020. Indiewire’s podcast ranked the top ten game-changers for the film industry and ranked this at the bottom. That is too low. Online film festivals provide equity to cinephiles who do not have the privilege to have screeners sent to them nor fly to Berlin and Cannes to watch indie movies first. Other movie fans who usually don’t attend festivals were able to see movies without firm release dates. Specialty audiences who live in the middle of the country who typically have to wait for a few to several weeks for a hot art house title to open in their town had the opportunity to watch movies with other industry folks.

This has been a challenging year, especially for the arts. Quality movies are a place of comfort for me, and that has been affected. I am grateful that film festivals near and far have allowed nationwide access to their programming. These are movies I wouldn’t be able to see until the winter/spring of next year, if not even longer. This is a treat to cinephiles who took advantage. I looked forward to discovering something new and experience the art-house cinema differently!

Online movie events will happen at least in the first quarter of 2021 with Sundance and SXSW, so you can still attend in some versions. I hope we see a version of this (probably from the tiny studios) moving forward.

Written by
Kenny admired film criticism as a child when his mother wrote a positive review of Home Alone in his small town Arkansas newspaper and defended it against angry Letters to the Editor. Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies especially the cultural impact of a film, if something is overlooked by Hollywood, or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, specialty releases, an auteur director, a unique premise, branding, and THE much infamous "awards season." Kenny currently lives in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion working as an events marketing coordinator. He spends many Friday nights exit polling for CinemaScore (and his opinions are his own).

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