COVID-19 has brought many parts of the entertainment industry to a screeching halt. Unsurprisingly, film festivals have been hit with a series of cancellations and postponements. As the world enters the new normal, the Chattanooga Film Festival is doing everything it can to make sure their festival continues. The young genre festival has been recognized as one of the best genre festivals in the world.
When there is that kind of pressure, it makes it difficult to just stop.
But turning a traditional film festival into an entirely virtual event is not without its difficulties. So how is the Chattanooga Film Festival making it happen?
“It’s basically a unique mix between a VOD platform that the folks at MediaKind have created and what Microsoft are doing with Microsoft Teams,” said Chris Dortch, Executive Director and Lead Programmer of the CFF. “Once we started to look at the way that these technologies could be integrated together, we started to see that there were some pretty elegant solutions to handling things like panels or Q and A’s, or the events and things that we try to do that makes the Chattanooga Film Festival special.
We’ve often hosted Scripts Gone Wild, reimaginings of screenplays every year, all kinds of fun signature events. We didn’t want to lose those in the translation. And so we wanted to figure out a way to translate as much of the P.T. Barnum, Willy Wonka madness that we try to put into every year of CFF, into this virtual version. And if we weren’t able to do that, then again, it wasn’t something that we were going to feel good about, or necessarily want to put our name on.
We also brought in an incredible alumni filmmaker, a guy named Tim Reis. Tim made the world’s greatest werefrog movie, perhaps you’ve seen it, it’s called Bad Blood. He recently had an incredible short film called The Legend of Budfoot that just went live on ALTER as a stop motion film about a marijuana bigfoot. And it’s incredible.
When we started to think about, ‘All right, how does this translate virtually? What can we do?’ Tim quickly sprung into action with his Media Team folks and have created not only this live set for us, where most of it’s going to act as our control room, this set though, and everything that they’re doing, has been built by Shane Morton.” (Morton is responsible for the Cheddar Goblin from Mandy.)
“In between what Shane and the Media Team guys have done this thing. It is just bananas. It really, it’s like the weirdest Jerry Lewis telethon of all time, meets this strange VOD experience, meets this livestream thing that I think is going to rival some of the strangest stuff that’s out there on YouTube. And I’m just really, really proud of the combination of all these things. It feels like there’s just so much stuff for people to look at and do over this weekend. I hope people are going to love it.”
This does not mean setting up the fest has not been without its difficulties. Obviously, piracy is an issue.
“I think there’s a lot of trepidation among filmmakers who fear both the way that distributors will view their content if it’s been able to be seen online, and people that still have a very rational fear of piracy,” Dortch said. “Piracy might not take down a giant studio movie like Trolls World Tour, but if you’re an indie filmmaker who’s made a Turbo Kid and suddenly your movie gets pirated literally millions of times, if every one of those people have given you a dollar, it would have made a difference.”
It goes without saying, the world will be a completely different place next year. As the Chattanooga Film Festival prepares for what is happening in today’s society, the natural question is what is next?
“We’ve all hoped to get back on the ground as soon as we can. The vibe, the fact that the conversations about the film spill out into the hallways, and there’s this community that’s built up around this thing. That’s the thing that I miss. And for me, this event is often the one chance I get in a year to see some of my favorite people in the world. And it’s the thing that I’m itching to get back to on the ground.
But the other side that is, this virtual edition has made the world a lot smaller. And when you’re a nonprofit that has a very finite travel budget to bring out special guests, when you’re suddenly able to get in touch with folks like Ice-T or Joe Dante, and even if they aren’t necessarily able with their schedule or with our budget to come down here, this has now made them able to be a part of this event.
And another person who came on board to help us make this jump is Josh Goldbloom, formerly of Cinepocalypse. And Josh is a guy that I just knew had the right sense of joy and anarchy about how a film festival should be approached. And he was able to help us reach out to folks like Ice-T and Gwar and help us put this into context and bring them along for the ride.
And we think, we’ve managed to put together, interestingly enough, one of our best lineups, one of our most interesting lineups. So even though it’s making the jump from on the ground to the internet, it feels like us, it feels like something that I’m just as proud of as any event that we’ve done in the six years prior. So I’m pretty pumped about it.
But the future, I hope will be a mix of … Since we have this technology now, doing more virtual events, making the world a smaller place, helping some of these smaller titles get out there more. But also, making sure that our on the ground and visible components are still a part of it. That’s a part of our CFF ethos. We never want that to go away.”
The Chattanooga Film Festival talks place Friday, May 22 – Monday, May 25. Check out the Chattanooga Film Festival’s site for scheduling information and how you can be a part of the virtual fun.