For almost 70 years audiences gathered in Sydney’s cinemas to be entertained and inspired by the annual Sydney Film Festival. Then a virus closed cinema doors not just in Sydney but around the world. It seemed as though the very heart of the festival, every festival, had been shut down but organisers everywhere are fighting back to give us at least a taste of the festival experience.
Sydney, under the helm of Festival Director Nashen Moodley, is no exception. For the first time in its long history the Festival will go virtual and national from 10 to 21 June 2020. The scope is reduced of course. In 2019 over 280 films from 63 countries were screened to an audience of more than 180,000. While limited this year, the Festival has put together important elements of its 2020 line-up.
There are world premieres from some of Australia’s most exciting documentary filmmakers, a significant program of Australian short films and a great initiative that showcases some of the best European female directors. The Awards will reflect these categories with the Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary, the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films, and Europe! Voices of Women in Film.
And, making an opportunity from the restrictions, the very good news is that for the first time, festival attendees around Australia will be able to buy tickets and packages to experience the Sydney Film Festival wherever they are.
Then there is We Are One. Sydney Film Festival has joined 20 major film festivals from around the world including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, Sundance and San Sebastian, together with YouTube, and led by Tribeca, to present a free 10-day digital festival. The event will raise funds for the World Health Organization Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
Moodley describes We Are One as an “unprecedented event – a global, digital and free film festival.”
FilmInk spoke to Moodley about the challenge, and triumph, of mounting the Sydney Film Festival at this time and against the odds.
Was there any point when it seemed impossible to hold any kind of Festival?
Yes, absolutely. At the moment we made the very difficult, but inevitable, decision to cancel this year’s Sydney Film Festival in cinemas, it was difficult to see any kind of Festival happening in 2020. What we were determined to do was, even in the absence of the Festival in the usual sense, maintain the connection with our loyal and enthusiastic audience, and support filmmakers and the film industry. It took a great deal of discussion, research and negotiation to embark on a Virtual Edition of the Festival.
What brought it over the line to be feasible?
Finding a great partner in SHIFT72 whose technology will underpin the Virtual Edition was an extremely important step. The SHIFT72 platform uses powerful content encoding, encryption and packaging and industry leading anti-piracy protection. And then getting the support of the filmmakers, distributors and sales agents whose films we wished to present was, of course, crucial.
Were entries as numerous as previous years?
Yes, the entries were roughly on par with previous years.
How on earth were you able to select such a small quota from the entries?
By sticking to our awards sections, the Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary and the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films, and our annual programs Europe! Voices of Women in Film program and Screenability, we were able to retain the size of each program section. So, we will present 33 films in all: 10 Australian documentaries, 10 Australian short films, 3 Australian short films in Screenability, and 10 films by European women directors.
What’s the most positive outcome you hope from the virtual format?
As the Virtual Festival is available throughout Australia, we hope that many people who have been unable to attend Sydney Film Festival in the past will be able to engage with the films and the filmmakers that we will present. And, of course, we want for both our audience and the filmmakers to benefit from the films being seen and celebrated.