FLEFF Goes Virtual

By Queline Meadows, February 23, 2021
Exploring the festival's 100% virtual format.

FLEFF: Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival

FLEFF: The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival.

Blog posting written by Queline Meadows, Culture and Communication with minors in French and Honors Interdisciplinary Studies, ’23, FLEFF Intern, Buffalo, New York.

For the past few weeks, every Tuesday night I’ve spent two hours and forty minutes learning about film festivals on Zoom.

I look forward to that class every week.

From 6:50 to 9:30, Dr. Patricia Zimmermann teaches the history of festivals to fourteen rectangles containing her students’ virtual faces.

I am one of those rectangles. My face, illuminated by a computer screen in my darkened room after sunset, creates a “film noir look,” as Dr. Zimmermann once called it.

We are a group of digital natives.

So what is it that we can bring to FLEFF and the larger world of film festivals?

During our last session, a class GroupMe was created and populated in under ten minutes after a single suggestion in the chat. Twenty minutes later, we had an Instagram account.

If anything, a virtual festival is more familiar to us than an embodied one.

In our class, we have frequently returned to the ideas of Cindy Hing-Yuk Wong in her book Film Festivals: Culture, People, and Power on the Global Screen.

Wong sees festivals as global hubs. Artists, scholars, tourists, distributors and more flock to festivals and converge in a single location.

People from all over the world exist, for a moment, in one shared physical space.

Physical space will become virtual at FLEFF 2021.

My friend Ole lives in Vancouver. If he wants, he can watch a film at FLEFF with his family back in Sweden.

They’ll also be watching with my classmates, professors, and artists of all kinds from around the globe.

A virtual festival allows Wong’s hub to expand outward at a scale that would not have been possible with a physical festival.

Virtual festivals can also leave more artifacts.

This past fall, I missed an event at the Camden International Film Festival. That didn’t matter.

The virtual modality meant that I could easily access a recording of it, and as I watch it back today it feels almost the same as if I were attending the Zoom discussion live.

The ephemeral becomes eternal at a virtual festival.

Unbounded by physical geography or temporality, virtual festivals offer an expansion of not only space but also time.

In the past, physical festivals meant, “you had to be there.”

Now, virtual festivals are inviting us in, telling us “you can be there.”