In the understatement of the year, it is not an easy time to be putting on a film festival. At the moment, organizers around the world have three options, none of them ideal: Cancel, postpone with the hopes that the world will look safer in a few months’ time, or go digital.
On the heels of Austin’s SXSW film festival partnering with Amazon Prime Video to showcase a selection of its programming, and Hot Docs adopting a similar strategy by premiering a portion of its slate on CBC, the indie-minded Canadian Film Fest is taking the third option.
On Monday, the Toronto non-profit, which was formed in 2004 as an alternative to larger fests like TIFF, announced that it was partnering with the pay TV Super Channel network to launch a virtual edition of this year’s CFF. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night from May 21 through June 6, Super Channel Fuse will air nine films that were scheduled to premiere at the 2020 festival.
The event was originally set to run at the end of March at Toronto’s Scotiabank multiplex, before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered cinemas across the world. Twenty-five of the CFF’s short films will also be aired on Super Channel’s schedule. It is not only an opportunity for the CFF to innovate, but to survive.
“We were looking at bankruptcy and closing down forever. Cancelling the event only a week and a half from our start date meant we had already spent much of the money. Some we’re not getting back from other businesses who are in terrible predicaments, too,” Bern Euler, executive director of the CFF, told The Globe and Mail. “But along came Don McDonald with Super Channel who wanted everything to stay alive. All our lost revenue was covered – not an insignificant amount – by Super Channel’s cash contribution, plus we would be able to utilize Super Channel as a platform to show the movies we wanted to.”
The lineup will open with Sergio Navarretta’s drama The Cuban, starring Louis Gossett Jr. and Shohreh Aghdashloo, with other highlights including Justin McConnell’s education documentary Clapboard Jungle, Tony Dean Smith’s low-budget sci-fi puzzler Volition, Jesse Ikeman’s William Forsythe-led action thriller A Perfect Plan, and Steve Markle’s documentary Shoot to Marry.
"We have supported the CFF in the past, but coming in as its title sponsor was a natural fit to bring unique indie films to Canadian audiences," says Don McDonald, president and CEO of Super Channel. "The decision to partner with the CFF was made without hesitation right from the outset after the initial video meeting with Bern and his team. We shared similar values and initiatives relating to Canadian film, and we both saw the opportunity to re-invent the festival on a virtual platform."
Each film will have a “linear-only limited run,” meaning that it won’t be repeated on Super Channel or become available to stream or view on-demand afterward.
“I’ve never heard of every film in a film festival being offered a broadcast deal. We’re happy when two or three movies get picked up by a distributor at our event so that they can then go out and facilitate a sale, so this is unheard of,” says Euler.
“One thing that works with our model is that we’re showing on a subscription-based platform, so films are behind a subscription wall, not just online, for example, where they’d be available for viewing by all. That would be a death knell for distribution potential and why I never even considered that model.”
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