Over a month into Covid19 and the ‘new normal’ has been grudgingly accepted. Australians have adjusted to life at home, but boredom is a common cry. Television series and film productions are taking a recess and have temporarily stopped filming. Event after event, from Coachella to Sydney Film Festival were cancelled. And people around the world are desperately jumping onto streaming services. If any organisation is going to come out of all of this stronger, it’s surely Netflix (or maybe Zoom!). One positive aspect has been the number of live arts programs embracing the online world. Theatre houses, ballet studios and operas are sharing their productions online, some for the first time.
The Tasmanian Breath of Fresh Air (BOFA) Film Festival, cancelled too, but as festival founder and Director Owen Tilbury explains, when he contacted the film distributors to advise them the festival would not be taking place, he sounded out the idea of going online.
“When we were faced with the fact that we couldn’t do a physical festival, we thought that’s a bit of a relief. We don’t have to do all the logistics; all the things we do from organising volunteers to putting out signs, but then there was a certain sense of flatness. It was our daughter Bronwyn who suggested taking it online,” explains Owen Tilbury. “A conversation with our sponsor Optus assured us it was possible, and we’d already spent nine months planning and curating some brilliant films from 17 different countries.”
Wife and Co-Festival Director Helen Tilbury interjects: “Plus, this was an opportunity. Instead of being a festival with the tyranny of distance from being on an island and the difficultly in attracting interstate visitors, this isolation was enabling us to reach out to the whole of Australia.”
To-date, amongst a usually crowded calendar of Australian film festivals, BOFA will be the first Australian film festival to go online. The festival will be available for download stream from 1 to 17 May.
“Normally the festival would just run over the weekends but currently there are no markers in people’s lives to distinguish the weekends. Acknowledging weekends are meaningless and that living in isolation, people are looking for entertainment, the decision was made to screen the festival over the entire period and not just on weekends,” says Owen.
The 10th Anniversary of the festival will also screen for free, providing unlimited viewing to an unlimited amount of people.
“In the current circumstances, with a recession or worse, staring the nation in the face, we thought free was the right thing to do and is our contribution to pushing back against this pandemic scourge,” says Owen.
Whilst the festival is free for viewers, funds are still required for datacasting, upload/download, storage fees, plus payment for content.
“Absolute credit goes to our three government sponsors – City of Launceston, Events Tasmania, City of Hobart. They all maintained the same level of funding support as if we were doing the physical festival. Tourism Tasmania is very excited about the festival because it’s taking Tasmanian stories to the whole of Australia.”
A few corporate sponsors had to drop out. One of them said their income had dropped by 98% as result of the Covid19 virus. “Another told us: ‘we’re in dire straits and have to look after every penny in order to survive and keep our employees’. On a positive note, we also had one of our personal film lovers, who would like to remain anonymous, become a sponsor.”
19 films from 14 different countries will be available for viewing over the 3-week period, encompassing themes such as: Our Stories, Climate Action, World Stories, Eat and Drink and The Choices We Make.
Getting the film distributors on board took some negotiating but as Owen explains: “The vast majority of film distributors said they thought it was a good idea, but it would depend what the deal was and the security. The bigger distributors said they had contractual obligations with the film owners. 70-percent of the films we’re showing are first release titles. The other 30-percent are retrospectives. We have had great uptake from the medium-size distributors and individual filmmakers. The major film distributor had fears about security of their content or were unwilling to accept the fixed-fee we were offering (sharing box office is the normal deal). And in some cases, they preferred to keep the film for more ‘normal’ premiere screenings.”
Other than films, on weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) BOFA will run curated Zoom Conversations with a panel of filmmakers and subject experts. “The conversation will be wider than just talking about the film but rather, unpacking what the content is.”
The festival will kick-off with a national 10th Anniversary Opening Night party. Past participants, supporters, volunteers and film lovers from around the nation will attend via Zoom. Dress ups expected!
Shifting to an online festival hasn’t been that difficult for the Tilburys.
“We’ve been able to be nimble in changing to an online festival, as the irony is, we have always worked from home,” says Owen. “We’re quite used to working within the home setting and connecting with people remotely. Our graphic designer is based in Sydney, our animator is from Hobart. Our copywriter is an English journalist who is now based in Launceston, but we don’t have face-to-face meetings with him.”
“This form of the festival does not replace the vitality of getting together in a darkened room in a cinema. And the festival we’re putting up isn’t the same festival we’d be physically putting on, it’s a lot more niche,” Helen explains. “But our mission has always been about film inspiring positive change and it continues to be about that, just this time online. The online festival is an experiment but maybe this is the way of the future?”
BOFA viewing starts from Friday 1st May and is discontinued at midnight Sunday 17th May.
To view the festival sign on as a subscriber at https://breath-of-fresh-air.com.au/log-on-details/ and BOFA will send you a code to access ALL the films free of charge. Note: Available for viewers in all states and territories of Australia ONLY. Geo-blocked for other countries.