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The Tricks and Treats of Digital 'Festivaling'

October 24, 2020 | By

Usually every October as Halloween nears, I venture back to my hometown of Chicago for the city’s International Film Festival (CIFF). The festival offers a chance to see the latest in independent filmmaking for the casual fan, as well as masterclasses and panels for filmmakers as part of Industry Days.

Berlin International Film Festival was the last major festival held before shutdown; Chicago, while second tier, marks one of the first staged festivals emerging as our country and world gradually reopens. As I finish up “attending” the festival this week, consider this blog a primer for best practices on attending upcoming online film festivals.

  • The best films in competition remain in-person viewing. Nomadland and the Jim Belushi documentary (of particular Chicagoland interest) will be screened at a Chicago area drive-in theater. Great for local business and a reminder that “what’s old can always be new again” but quarantined in here in Santa Monica, California, I’m a bit out of luck.
  • Even a few of the virtual screenings I signed up for in my 10-movie package were available only in the Midwest. It's understandable that CIFF maintains a unique and regional flavor, but yet again I was left trading in my hopes to see the documentary Kubrick by Kubrick for the more somberly toned 40 Years a Prisoner.
  • Don’t always trust the synopsis of the festival handbook. I selected the Spanish film Schoolgirls (in Spanish: Las Niñas) as the final film in my package. The festival reviewer believed the film a coming-of-age tale, where the principal character grows out of her Catholic-school upbringing.
    After viewing the film, I came away with a much different interpretation. The spine of the film follows the growth of a young girl’s faith life: saying the Our Father by rote memorization to begin the film, then watching the prayerful example of her widowed mother and praying the Lord’s Prayer with full belief by story’s end.

…which segues into the…

  • Since the Schoolgirls filmmakers portray Catholicism in a positive light, the cynical part of me assumes the film won’t see distribution beyond the festival circuit. But that’s the appeal of these particular festivals. Whereas the films of Berlin, Cannes and Sundance eventually find wider distribution, at Chicago this might be your only chance to see niche films. There’s something for everyone …try The Comeback, a comedic tale of washed-up Scandinavian athletes reprising their decades-old rivalry -- in, of all sports, badminton.
  • There’s probably something for the whole family. While I didn’t select the animation-shorts package this time around, I’m sure there’s something for parents and kids. Just be sure to read the synopses and do so with a grain of salt.
  • The online format democratizes what was once mainly the domain of the young, wealthy and single, with oodles of free time. The festival’s opening “how-to” sketches that precedes each film knows full well each virtual movie will likely be consumed by the whole family and in fact, encourages them to do so.
    It fittingly and hilariously reminds viewers to “arrive 30 minutes early to your living room, educate your toddler in film theory before the movie starts, rollout the yoga mat as a red carpet and standup and clap at the end credits even if it wakes up your dog.”
    The trick of the clever montage is really its true treat: whereas every Halloween season usually spooks, in 2020, what we really need instead is a good laugh.

    Image: Shutterstock

    Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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