The arts and entertainment sector have been one of the hardest hit during the COVID crisis.
In the immediate first stages of lockdown cinemas were closed, outdoor events were cancelled, and mass gatherings – the way we experience much of our arts and entertainment – were off-limits.
Sydney Film Festival CEO Leigh Small told Hope 103.2, “We rely on shared experiences. So performing arts, visual arts, filmmakers – all of their work stopped overnight… Simply making film is a group activity you have to be involved in, so it’s been very hard hit – and with no particular date in sight that it’s going to recommence.”
“Tribeca wanted to collect all of the motivation and great storytelling of these film festivals, and take it to people’s homes where they needed to be entertained and inspired.”
It’s meant the industry has had to adapt – which is an ongoing process, but initially a number of production companies have taken their content online to connect with audiences in the digital space.
This year, the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) will become one such group, heading online in two ways: for the Sydney Film Festival ‘Virtual Edition’ from June 10 to 21; and for an unprecedented international event bringing together 20 other film festivals from around the world: the We Are One Global Film Festival.
Initiated by the acclaimed Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, the We Are One festival is a 10-day digital screenings event taking place on YouTube from May 29. It brings together the film festivals of places like Berlin, London, Cannes, Macao, Jerusalem, Mumbai, Marrakech, New York, Sarajevo, Tokyo, Toronto, Venice and more.
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Leigh said, “[Tribeca] wanted to collect all of the motivation and great storytelling of these film festivals, and take it to people’s homes where they needed to be entertained and inspired, and they needed to be given some joy.”
Raising Funds for the WHO in New York City
The festival is also going to provide a much-needed boost for New York’s local community, with the organisers using it as an opportunity to raise funds for the World Health Organisation (WHO), who are still working tirelessly in New York City to help those affected by COVID-19.
“Tribeca are right in the middle of the pandemic where the WHO needs massive support… so SFF is extremely delighted to be invited to represent Australia and curate and Australian selection of programs for this festival.”
In a first for audiences, We Are One will give viewers a one-stop-shop to enjoy stories from all around the world, which they’d otherwise only see by travelling to each festival individually.
“International film festivals are always about travelling around the world,” said Leigh. “… So the great opportunity here is that from your own home you’re going to see the international film perspective of 20 different countries – [and each] have their own strengths and focuses.”
The COVID crisis has also given Leigh a renewed appreciation for storytelling, and the dynamic nature of her industry.
“[AT SFF] we’re fortunate to live in the world of storytelling with documentaries and feature films,” Leigh said, “and we live with daily evidence that storytelling is the most important thing.
“I think what [the pandemic] has taught us at SFF is that there are many different ways – other than the shared experience of sitting in a cinema, to connect with film and its makers; the point is the story not the vehicle.”
That said, Leigh is looking forward to one day, hopefully soon, being back in The State Theatre – where a number of SFF films normally screen.
“When you’re in a cinema of 2000 people you know that they’re all interested in the same topic [as you] and that’s a transformative experience that you can’t replace online,” she said. “There have been online video platforms for the last 10 years, but in that time our audience has doubled. So people [still] want to be together. It’s a completely different thing to experience something live.”