The Marché du Film explores how festivals need to play the same game as they move online
by Marta Bałaga
- CANNES 2020: During the “COVID-19 Festival Premieres: Streaming and Masking?” panel, Daniela Elstner and Elise Jalladeau argued that culture is like daily bread – we all need it
Plagued by continuous technical difficulties, the Cannes Marché du Film panel “COVID-19 Festival Premieres: Streaming and Masking?” still started rather optimistically. “The good thing about the crisis is that every day, you have to deal with something new. Now, our moderator is having trouble joining in,” joked Daniela Elstner, director general of Unifrance, as Maria-Silvia Gatta, of the European Commission, was nowhere to be seen. “We are going to be the first webinar to introduce the moderator!” added Elise Jalladeau, of the Thessaloniki Film Festival. Here’s to the trailblazers.
Describing the ways in which their respective events reacted to the crisis, they also shared their thoughts on how to make things better: “By keeping in touch and through solidarity,” underlined Elstner. Unifrance, which organises an online festival in January, reactivated it for one month, interviewing the artists (“Who had some time, which was a good thing. Maybe even too much time!”), asking the journalists to film themselves recommending French films available in their countries, and holding a weekly round-table. Thessaloniki, whose Documentary Festival was supposed to start in March, moved the industry part online right away, postponing the programming until May. “We were hoping that we would be back in theatres,” admitted Jalladeau. “Finally, we realised we had to go online, and between those two dates, we kept in touch with the directors and the audience” – as well as programming short films on their YouTube channel, directed by promising Greek directors (see the news). Elstner called this “one of the most beautiful initiatives I have seen during the lockdown. It’s pure cinema.”
Supported by friends of the festival like Denis Côté, Radu Jude and Ildikó Enyedi, the online edition proved to be a success. “It was a kind of catharsis for us, for the directors and, I hope, for the audience.” But Jalladeau decided to take things one step further. “Talking about solidarity, we started a series of talks with our colleagues from other festivals. Switching the festival online is not exactly the same as having a physical edition. Online, everything is possible, so you have to draw up a scheme.” One of the issues that came up was geo-blocking. “We are not the only player on the field, and it’s not in the interest of the sales agents or rights owners. If we don’t geo-block, then there is no national premiere. And if there is no premiere, we have to go back to the DNA of the festival. Maybe this notion will completely go out of fashion?”
The festival has teamed up with the likes of Sarajevo and Tallinn on the “Plea for a Festival Pact to Support and Protect the Audiovisual Ecosystem in a Digital Environment”, trying to figure out the rules for online events. They stress the importance of, yes, geo-blocking and loosening the rules for international premieres – for films that have premiered online. “We increased our audience drastically, but it was an experiment. Also, the tickets were free, which will not be the case in the future. It wouldn’t be sustainable,” said Jalladeau. “I was told that some of the Cannes market screenings were better attended than their live equivalents, so there are films that create a buzz. Don’t ask me how, but it works,” added Elstner. “For me, that’s good news. Films, when they are strong, are clearly still touching people, making them want to do something with them, or for them.” Still, the curious case of a “virtual premiere” remains unresolved.
“I think we can all agree that it’s a magical moment for every filmmaker. There is silence and applause; you feel the emotion in the theatre,” said Elstner, who also wondered how upcoming hybrid festivals like Toronto will tackle the issue. “We need to know who our public is and what the notion of a premiere is, but festivals also depend on local money. I have been asked many times, ‘Why don’t festivals just work together?’ The word ‘solidarity’ seems easy to say, but it’s much more complicated to put into practice.”
“If you speak with the short-film industry, they say: ‘We don’t need a premiere; we want our film to be seen.’ It’s a completely different philosophy,” added Jalladeau. “Then you have features, which aim to end up in cinemas, and that’s the challenge. The premiere has to be physical, except if you sell the film to Netflix. But we are not a platform.” Which is why the need for regulations is crucial. “We need to play the same game.”
Luckily, as new issues crop up – a bad internet connection being just one of them – teams learn how to address them. “‘Should we go there? Or should we keep a low profile?’ There were seven of us in the room, and we had seven different answers,” said Elstner, referring to the conundrum surrounding the tenth Rendez-Vous with New French Cinema in Rome, now set to take place in the outdoor theatre owned by Nanni Moretti. “I am grateful to my team that even when we don’t agree, we try to figure out what our duty is. We have to help films, be there for the directors and be useful. But this ‘useful’ has to be defined. Culture has to be a part of European politics because it brings us together. We have public support, and we have to continue saying that we need it. Together, we can reshape the Europe that we all need in the future.”
“We can’t just copy-paste; we have to reinvent ourselves completely,” agreed Jalladeau. “Without culture during quarantine, we would have died. We were eating, but we were also ‘eating’ music, books, films and series,” she said. “It’s part of our daily life: it’s like bread!”
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