Watch the Calgary International Film Festival — from home?
By Mackenzie Mason, Arts Editor
In the midst of a global pandemic, the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) is determined to keep the show going.
While they are continuing to offer in-person screenings, the festival has also decided to provide virtual streams, so that viewers can enjoy the festivities from the comfort and distance of their own homes. However, not everyone thinks that’s the best way to partake in the festival.
COVID-19 has cancelled and postponed many events in the arts sector, but CIFF was never going to be one of them.
“Full cancellation was the one scenario that we never seriously considered, even though we had nothing but questions at the beginning of the process about how we were going to do it,” said Steve Schroeder, executive director of CIFF.
“[We knew] we’d have to invest a lot of time to figure out how to do it, but we were confident we could.”
They quickly got in contact with other film festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival in Halifax to share ideas on how to approach the situation.
“I knew that a festival like TIFF (wasn’t) going to cancel either. There’s a real spirit about finding a way to put things on,” he said.
Following their conversations, Schroeder made the bold decision that a “hybrid model with online and in-cinema screenings” was the best option this year.
“When we designed this approach we didn’t know if in-cinema screenings would even be allowed,” he said.
The decision paid off, and plans were in full motion after the Stage 2 relaunch in Alberta on June 12.
Alternatively, CIFF has partnered with Eventive, a streaming service for independent films with customizable virtual screening packages for festivals, arthouses and distributors.
“The online thing was new for us because we’ve always focused on the live side of the festival — now we see there are rich possibilities in online programing [along] with in-cinema events that were redesigned to be safe as well.”
While this service will be helpful to limit the spread of COVID-19 and minimize the number of people attempting to watch in-person screenings, some argue the exciting energy of the festival is irreplaceable.
“I’ve been going since I was 13, and I swear it’s magical. It’s the best two weeks out of my entire year,” said Annabeth Trondsen, a young, up-and-coming filmmaker in Calgary.
“It feels like you’re in a room with people that can understand you better. It’s so fun to go to an event and talk to people about different movies and relate to how those movies made us feel.”
Trondsen has also been on the production side of CIFF, helping in the filming process of the short film, A Walk Down To Water, by Levi Holwell in 2018.
Being involved on both sides, Trondsen is disappointed that CIFF won’t be the same, as in-person screenings have sold out fast due to capacity and distancing restrictions, and the virtual screenings won’t capture the heart and soul of the festival.
Because virtual screenings could potentially be preferred over in-person screenings, Trondsen worries for the future of independent film if the former were to take over in the future.
“Even thinking about the Globe [Cinema, hypothetically] shutting down just breaks my heart. It’s just not the same — nothing can replace the feeling of watching a movie in a theatre,” she said.
Regardless of the format, Schroeder says he’s proud of how CIFF has adapted and is really looking forward to this year’s event.
“Pandemic or no pandemic, this is one of my favourite line-ups we’ve seen yet, and we’ve had some great ones.”
This year’s line-up is heavy in Alberta-made content, including 10 feature films from Alberta — the highest number they’ve seen so far.
Virtual showgoers will also enjoy a cameo from Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” as part of CIFF’s merging directors streamed panel, and a conversation with Lawrence Kasdan, writer of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
Despite the situation the world is in, there are tons of movies, short films and panels to enjoy at this year’s CIFF in the method of your choosing. Support Canada’s independent film scene and enjoy the show!