The projectors were supposed to flip on this Wednesday for the 44th Cleveland International Film Festival with the British film “Military Wives.”
Obviously, the onset of COVID-19, the social distancing associated with it and the subsequent stalling of daily life, prevented that from happening. That, however, doesn’t mean the show, albeit in a different medium, won’t go on.
To the contrary, the powers that be at CIFF are attempting to serve the segment of the film community that values a cinematic smorgasbord with some of the films they would have seen this year. It’s no small feat, given the timing of this pandemic has forced cancellation of SXSW’s festival, postponement of the Cannes International Film Festival and sent the TCM’s annual festival of Hollywood classics to streaming.
“We didn’t know what we were going to do. We knew we had to begin work on canceling a festival. It took a year to build a festival and now we have to take it down,” CIFF Artistic Director Bill Guentzler said.
Now, however, they get to reinvent it for this year.
The CIFF is looking to follow with its CIFF Streams program, which they announced Wednesday. It will provide the cinephiles, who’ve turned out more than 100,000 strong since 2014, access to those independent, international, documentary and short film projects that have become a CIFF staple. Some of those movies will include projects that would have appeared in this year’s festival and other works from past years as part of an alumni series.
Although no dates are etched in stone, the CIFF is expected to announce the lineup, pricing and other details soon.
Right now, the work of building the streaming platform goes on. In that regard, CIFF has a head start, Guentzler said. They tasked CineSend with producing digital versions of the films for the in-person festival and they will work with that company on their streaming platform. The process would have taken significantly longer had they elected to work with another company.
It will be interesting to see the lineup Guentzler and his team offer, given the fact that some filmmakers may not be amenable to having their works play in a smaller format.
Some such as Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”), Joel and Ethan Coen (“The Ballad of Buster Skruggs”) and Paul Greengrass (“22 July”) are among those who’ve collaborated with Netflix, but they can be incredibly picky. The small screen isn’t the real estate most filmmakers are likely to want to inhabit if given a choice. Guentzler recognizes that possibility.
“I think this is completely unprecedented territory,” he said. “Everybody understands that and the one thing that we’re focusing on the most and the one thing the filmmakers and rights holders appreciate is that even though we can’t be together we’re still bringing these films to our community.”
The priority for CIFF, Gentler said, is to do it correctly for their audience.
“Other arts organizations are starting to look to streaming,” he said, by offering their events or performances online.
“We just want to make it right for us,” he said. “It’s complicated in the fact that there are so many details that we have to figure out, but once we do figure them out, we just have a really good core process of how to work it out.”
As the organization’s staff continues their daily meetings, varying options with respect to programming to ensure the best possible experience for their audience are still under consideration, also.
“[We’re] working on all details,” he said. “At this point everything is possible, but [we] want to make sure it’s doable before we promise too much.”