Roshan Chandy reports from the Nottingham International Film Festival - an online festival that could signal the future for film festivals worldwide.
In the midst of a pandemic and lockdown, there was a film festival. That being the 2020 Nottingham International Film Festival which took place between Friday November 13th and Sunday November 15th. It would usually take place at the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery in the heart of Hockley with ‘Wild Clothing’ selling popular movie wear and Revolution Bar serving Margaritas.
But no. There was no red carpet or bucket load of stars at this festival. For the first time in its 4 year history, NOTTIFF went online. Being a writer for LeftLion, I was granted a code that offered me free access to this year’s official selection. It was quite an experience - my first time watching movies ahead of their official releases and via a method akin to those screener discs or screener links film critics get sent in advance of reviewing new films.
Basically, you just booked your tickets as usual on the NOTTIFF website and punched in LeftLion’s code for free access. A confirmation email would follow with details about your upcoming screenings. And, later in the evening, an email with a link that takes you to watch the movie online would pop up in my Gmail. I just clicked on it at the advised start time, snuggled up in my PJs and nestled around my laptop for movie time. The link would disappear two hours after the start time - obviously to prevent piracy.
The films, let’s face it, weren’t the best Nottingham has ever offered. But, this year, the Festival wasn’t really about the movies - more about the future of film festivals themselves.
Compare my experience watching NOTTIFF movies online with attending the Broadway Cinema practically every day for 2 weeks to view London Film Festival screenings of their own official selection. I’ve never been to a film festival in person before so the Broadway screenings were something of an eye-opener for me. Even though I wasn’t in London with the stars and film-makers, I was watching their video introductions on the screen shortly before the films aired. It felt a little bit like proper journalism - watching a film in a professional context before anyone had even seen them.
That professional context continued at NOTTIFF which was my first experience of watching film festival movies online. I do wonder whether this will increasingly become the future for film festivals worldwide. Whether, in this age of Covid and pandemics, people will even have the appetite to book physical film festival tickets and attend the red carpet premieres in person.
It’s certainly safer to watch movies in the comfort of your own home, sitting on your sofa with your computer screen in front of you. The LFF, for example, along with their screenings of films in cinemas up n’ down the country also made several of their stuff available on BFI Player.
Either way, the 2020 Nottingham Film Festival was a reminder that film festivals have to move in with the times. The digital age has arrived and watching movies on websites or streaming services may be the new frontier and we might as well get used to it.
Here’s a selection of my NOTTIFF highlights…
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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