By Stephanie Tokasz, February 23, 2021
A discussion of virtual cinema and virtual film festivals.

The Bright Side of Virtual Cinema

FLEFF Laurel

Blog posting written by Stephanie Tokasz, Film, Photography, and Visual Arts ’24, minors in Honors Interdisciplinary Studies and Psychology, FLEFF Intern, Orchard Park, New York.

Imagine sitting outside on a nice spring day surrounded by several other people all watching a film premiering on the big screen. Then, a rumbling noise startles the crowd a bit. “Is that thunder? No, it’s probably just the sound system,” you tell yourself. All of a sudden, a bright lightning bolt lights up the sky directly above the screen, and a quiet drizzle begins to patter on your shoulders. “Definitely not the sound system,” you say quietly.

Well, at least that’s one thing that won’t be of worry at the 24th Annual Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival.

Film festivals are known for their sense of community. Ever since they were first brought about in the 1930s, they have been responsible for bringing people together.

This is somewhat of a scary thought during these unprecedented times. If festivals are known for bringing people together, how are they supposed to do that during an ongoing pandemic?

In this aspect, FLEFF is actually on the right side of history. As a result of it being a curated festival, people don’t attend to market or distribute a film. Instead, people come to enjoy cinema, music, art, photography, new media, and so much more.

Other festivals that are more marketing-based may have a harder time with this because of their main priority to sell and distribute films. It is very much still possible for these types of festivals to take place online, but some may find it harder to market their films solely online. Let’s just say that they don’t have the luxury of purely enjoying cinema and the other arts like those who attend FLEFF do.

After all, there are no labels on where one can enjoy cinema.

However, some might miss the idea of being in a specific space and place enjoying cinema. FLEFF usually takes place in Ithaca, New York in the semi-warm spring air. The unfortunate part about the specific space and place of FLEFF is that it’s just simply not occurring in Ithaca this time around.

It’s hard to make up for not being able to celebrate cinema at a specific time, space, and place together, but this year presents some alternative methods that might actually be more appealing.

Making a trip out to Ithaca, New York may be a long haul for some people. For others, it might come at an inconvenient time during the workweek. Some might not know how to even take part in a film festival. Well, these issues practically disintegrate into thin air this year.

Don’t want to leave your couch? That’s fine, just put on a film on the television in front of you.

Can’t take any time off from work throughout FLEFF’s three-week run? That’s alright, just watch a film once you finish your work for the day.

Want to meet more people from around the world? Tune into a talkback to get a unique perspective on a film or another art or media work.

The opportunities presented this year could also bring about the greatest challenges. Since it is unrealistic for people to gather in the single place of Ithaca, New York this spring, we have to take it upon ourselves to form a community over the internet.

The Göteberg Film Festival in Gothenburg, Sweden recently went virtual at the beginning of the month of February. Not only did the festival take place 100% virtually, but the Nordic Film Market that takes place alongside the festival also went virtual. The festival was easily accessible to those who live in Sweden.

Like FLEFF, the Göteberg Film Festival is not just about film, but it also has seminars, music performances, art exhibits, and many other activities. Their statement to the people was, “This year will be somewhat different but our vision is still to offer the full experience of a film festival – in a digital format.”

The festival openly admitted that things would be different, which FLEFF admits as well. Since FLEFF’s focus is mainly on celebrating film and not selling it, it gives us more of an opportunity to celebrate, instead of sell, cinema together in our own digital community. Celebrate with each viewing, talkback, and insight.

It’s crucial to remember that the current situation won’t last forever, so even though some might want to be still gathered together watching a film on a big screen, we should still take advantage of the opportunity at the current time.

Watch that film from your couch or in bed. Put it on at midnight or three o’clock in the morning. Log in to a talkback and listen to the clever insights that keep building upon one another.

Most of all, appreciate that the thunderstorm on your weather forecast for the day most likely won’t disrupt your cinema experience.