The Chattanooga Film Festival recently finished its four day event. The fest hosted features, shorts, and panels. There was a pajama party and various Q&As and podcasts. It sounds like any other film festival. Except it wasn’t. The event was all virtual. Not just the movies and shorts. This had already been done. Everything, including the panels was virtual.
So, how well did it work?
The idea behind the Chattanooga Film Festival was to recreate the real festival atmosphere. Executive Director and Lead Programmer of the CFF Chris Dortch admitted, it would be impossible to replicate the film festival feeling exactly. But that was not what the CFF was going for either. The goal was to give festival goers an opportunity to get out and do something they enjoy. Maybe it would be behind a computer screen, but it was still a film fest, complete with guests and world premieres.
Streaming movies is a normal part of everyone’s life. This was true even before any quarantine. This also means that anyone who attended the CFF this year would have plenty of experience in watching movies online. There was a sense of familiarity and ease, which made logging in for the first time much more comfortable. It also meant that people were experienced enough to be extra judgmental.
I had very few problems watching movies. I watched full length features and shorts. I saw grounded live action dramas, special effects driven horrors, and animated films. It was a wide variety and I can confidently say I have no reservations endorsing it. Some films would take a few seconds in the beginning to buffer, but once it started, I did not encounter any issues.
That being said, the interface could have been improved on. The thumbnails were a good size and it was easy to see what the movie was. The main issue was, there were only a few movies per screen. I could see the tops of more thumbnails, but I was unable to scroll down. Thankfully, the search feature was easy to use. Of course, that was dependent on knowing ahead of time what you wanted to see. The option to browse by category was great, though some seemed unnecessary (hockey?)
I was not too worried about how well the films would play. Another symptom of the video on demand era is we take for granted how easy it is to watch a movie at the touch of our fingertips. I was very interested in how the panels would work. Using Microsoft Teams seemed like a great idea in theory, but that did not mean it would work in practice.
I attended some of the panels and the Vinegar Syndrome pajama party. All the events were streamed over Teams and they all had a chat option for questions and comments. From what I saw, everything worked perfectly. I never had a hiccup during any panel I attended. Questions were taken from the audience and answered just like they would be if it were held in person. The part I thought would lead to the most problems went the smoothest.
Just like most film fans, I miss the opportunity to attend film festivals in person. There is just an added bit of fun that is is similar to going to a big wrestling show or attending a concert. In the face of large impending changes, the Chattanooga Film Festival gave everyone a glimpse of how things may be in the future. Festival goers got to see movies and attend panels. If only there was a virtual lobby we could have all entered to share our experiences.