Quarantined in their Calgary apartment early on in the pandemic, filmmakers Siobhan Cooney and Spencer Streichert got to thinking about how they could be creative.
“We were joking about how if we were going to be stuck at home, we should make a film,” said 25-year-old Ms. Cooney, recalling their reflections in early April.
In the end, they never picked up a camera. However, by organizing and launching a film festival attuned to the times, they encouraged scores of filmmakers around the world to pick up theirs. In the end, their efforts elicited more than 600 submissions from 54 countries
That was only the first round of the Quarantine International Film Festival, which ended in early April, and honoured 65 films chosen by a five-member panel of judges. A second round of competition is under way ahead of a May 20 deadline.
Rules of the competition included keeping the running time of films to a maximum of five minutes, with a PG-13 rating – no nudity, excessive swearing or violence. The latest round has a Shakespearean twist. Filmmakers must use this line from Hamlet: “Listen to many, speak to a few.”
The top 40 official selection playlist includes such titles as Gods in the Forest, from Germany; Detective Sky and the Case of the Missing Teddy Bear, from the United States; Feet as Big as Zucchinis, from the Netherlands; the knight and the beast, from Israel; and How to Live in a Pandemic or Somewhat Social Distance, credited as a U.S./Spain entry.
Among the first-round entrants was Vancouver resident Mike Babiarz, a participant in British Columbia’s bustling production sector, who was working as a main unit lamp operator on the series The Astronauts when the pandemic shutdown began.
A week into being off, a friend sent him a link to information about the festival. “I thought it would be a good exercise in filmmaking and a fun, challenging creative way to spend a week in isolation,” Mr. Babiarz wrote in an e-mail exchange.
The result is Quarantine Kid, about a young boy and his parents living through the pandemic. Mr. Babiarz worked with a family in East Vancouver, whose father did the cinematography and sound recording based on a script and director’s notes from Mr Babiarz.
“They sent back footage for me to edit. They are all non-actors and the star of the show is four years old so I never knew exactly what I was going to get. [It] made for a spontaneous and organic production,” he wrote.
Mr. Babiarz says he had previously made a few music videos and worked on short films and creative projects with friends.
His film was among the top 40 official selections. He wrote that making it was a rewarding experience. “In only a few weeks, I went through the whole filmmaking process, from writing to directing, editing, a film festival screening, and look at me now – talking to the press – so yeah I would say it was a very successful exercise in filmmaking.”
There has been no cash prize on the table for an exercise described in festival literature as a “for fun” festival “to help people feel creatively fulfilled during isolation caused by COVID-19.”
Ms. Cooney said, however, that there are some prizes on the table for the next round, including an hour of casting advice from a casting director for the Netflix wrestling drama series GLOW.
Although the contest was advertised on Facebook, it appears the support of U.S. filmmaker Austin McConnell, who has a million YouTube followers, helped it break out as an exercise of global interest.
“He reached out to us. He was looking for content to put on his channel so he made a whole video about our festival,” Ms. Cooney said of the Missouri-based Mr. McConnell.
She and Mr. Streichert, who have never previously managed a film festival, expected a local response, maybe 20 of their friends pitching in. They have been amazed by the interest, though they have a sense of why it caught on.
“People are stuck at home," said Ms. Cooney. "A lot of creators and filmmakers lost their jobs for the foreseeable future. It’s nice to have something to do, something positive to focus on.”
Although he has not picked up a camera to compete, Mr. Streichert, 24, says he has learned from the project.
“It has shown me, personally, you don’t need a big budget to create something interesting and fun to watch,” he said.
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