Happened: April 15-April 28
This is one of several festivals on are list that have already happened, and if you’re planning an online festival of your own, we urge you to look to them for inspiration and ideas for how to hold your own event. The fest, which was forced to cancel two weeks before its planned opening night, quickly pivoted online. The program showcased more than 325 feature and short films during its 14-day run –tacking on two days to its normal 12-day schedule. It recorded an estimated 42,000 streams. Top awards went to Beanpole, Martha: A Picture Story, Lina from Lena, My Generation, Girl in the Hallway, and The Present. (Martha, Selina Miles’ film about a fearless photographer connected to New York City’s underground graffiti artists, won the fest’s best-named award, the May the Schwartz be With You Director’s Award.)
Happened: April 22-25
The environmentally minded film festival presented by EarthX handed out $20,000 in cash prizes at its first-ever virtual fest, and like all online festivals, created a minuscule carbon footprint. “It was odd but exciting to see all the award winners gather for this year’s EarthxFilm Awards ceremony on our computer screens,” said EarthxFilm’s artistic director, David Holbrooke. “We had winners join us from Mossville, Louisiana to Zimbabwe, all of whom are doing critical work on the environment. It wasn’t easy to pivot from our terrestrial festival to a virtual one but it worked and while we look forward to being able to gather again and meet these wonderful filmmakers and their remarkable characters in person, we are really heartened by what we pulled off with EarthxFilm 2020.” Michael Cain, co-founder and president of EarthxFilm, took part in a MovieMaker Interviews podcast about online film festival dos and don’ts, and offered a wise piece of advice for other organizers of online festivals: pre-record as many of your online presentations as possible, so you don’t have to worry about live glitches.
Upcoming: Aug. 20-Sept. 2
Fantasia is known for dreaming and innovation, so it’s no surprise that it’s looking for ways to recreate the excitement of the theater experience in its upcoming virtual incarnation. It plans to work with Festival Scope and Shift72 and use their recently launched online festival platform, which operates according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s security standards. Several of the screenings will be presented with real-time access. “It’s going to make things so much more exciting and will go a long way towards keeping the intensity and engagement of the in-person experience vibrant in an online realm,” says Fantasia co-director Mitch Davis. Fantasia’s approach will also allow it to program top-tier genre films that might not otherwise have taken part in an online debut. The virtual lineup, which will be announced in late May, will include several premieres, including titles from the cancelled SXSW and Tribeca editions. All film screenings will be geo-blocked to Canadian audiences, and only accessible from within the country.
Happened: May 1-3
Greenwich didn’t give up on glamour when it shifted online: The festival handed out gift bags with skin-care products and wine, among other items, and the fest offered tips on how to have a spa night at home. Its audience award went to Steven E. Mallorca and John Bernardo’s A Peloton of One, about a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who bicycles from Chicago to New York to raise awareness and meet with other survivors. Greenwich also honored Gretchen Carlson and Will Reeve for their work toward social change — Carlson as a whistleblower against sexual harassment, and Reeve for his work with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to cure spinal cord injuries and improve the quality of life for individuals and families impacted by paralysis.
Upcoming: July 21-26
Here’s innovation from America’s heartland: The Indy Short fest will take place online at the end of July, but the organizers, Heartand Film, are planning three evening events to be held at a drive-in theater, where audiences can enjoy films together while maintaining social distance. (What a ridiculously good idea.) Indy Shorts is also exploring the possibility of some kind of indoor screening, depending on local health guidelines. Details on the festival are coming soon, but expect something kitschy and fun.
Upcoming: May 28-June 6
This top documentary film festival started innovating early: Well ahead of the curve, it introduced an online pitch program to ensure that dealmaking could continue during quarantine. It also introduced Hot Docs at Home even before the official start of the festival. More great films will be available online when the festival begns, with the viewing window open until June 24. Hot Docs is one of the best-regarded documentary film festivals in the world, and in a typical years hands out a whopping $200,000 in prizes while drawing the attention of major distributors as Amazon, HBO Documentary Films, Netflix Originals, PBS International, and the BBC. And it remains Academy-qualifying.
Upcoming: June 4
There’s an asterisk next to this one because Oak Cliff wants to stress: This is not the Oak Cliff Film Festival. Rather, it’s a single night to celebrate film, presented by the hard-working team at Oak Cliff. It’s also 100 percent free, though donations are very welcome. For a non-film festival, the Not the Oak Creek Film Festival event has lined up a pretty stellar evening. After airing the shorts Greener Grass, Person to Person, Lost Weekend and The Sirens, it will present a post-screening Q&A with director David Lowery, whose film The Green Knight remains one of the most eagerly anticipated of 2020.
Our list of the best online film festivals continues on the next page…