How film festivals around the world have adapted to the limitations of the Coronavirus pandemic

FP Staff
·11-min read

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, film festivals have had no choice but to reinvent themselves this year. While Cannes and Telluride have been cancelled, here is a look at other upcoming events that have made a digital shift this year or chosen to showcase films both physically and online.

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Toronto International Film Festival (10 -20 September)

TIFF is one of the largest festivals of North America, but this time it has drastically scaled down its plans and scrapped together 50 films or TV series from around the world, leaning on projects set to debut on streaming services or television this fall.

Spike Lee's filmed version of David Byrne's Broadway theatrical concert American Utopia, an HBO release, will open this year's festival.

Other films in the lineup include the 90-year-old Wiseman's City Hall, a portrait of Boston's City Hall; Regina King's drama about a young Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, titled One Night in Miami; Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer's Apple TV+ meteorite documentary Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds; Pieces of a Woman, Kornel Mundruczo's family drama with Shia LaBeouf; and Glendyn Ivin's Penguin Bloom, with Naomi Watts.

Venice (2 - 12 September)

Venice will be the first film festival to hold a physical event ever since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event will be smaller than usual and will split into three sections - Venezia 77 (the main competition), Out of Competition, and Horizons. It will drop the Sconfini section (for arthouse and genre films) to give more screening time to main-section films, writes IndieWire.

Venetian director Andrea Segre's documentary Molecole, Daniele Luchetti's drama Lacci, Chloé Zhao's Nomadland and Pieces of a Woman, the English language debut of Hungarian filmmaker Kornel Mundruczo, are scheduled to be screened at the festival.

Mumbai Film Festival

The Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2020 has been postponed to next year as cinemas remain shut. The festival will soon release its selection of Indian films later this month.

MAMI has already launched virtual initiatives like Knowledge Series Dial M for Films, where Indian industry figures discuss their journey in films and more, as well as MAMI Home Theatre, a curation of films brought to audience directly online.

The academy has also launched Word to Screen Market, Young Critics Lab and the Industry Programme.

Authors, publishers and the literary community engage directly with content creators to option stories for films, TV and the digital medium via Word to Screen. This year, the initiative will take place online and focus on digital workshops with publishers and content creators.

Meanwhile, Young Critics Lab will promote young writing talent, who will be mentored by Baradwaj Rangan and Mike McCahill. The Industry Programme announced last year, but its online version will bring together creators from all over India to talk about the challenges they face and share their learnings.

BMO IFFSA Toronto (6 -16 August)

One of the largest South Asian film festivals of North America, the virtual edition of BMO IFFSA will feature 100 films in 16 languages. Some films part of the lineup are Pearl of the Desert (Maru ro Moti), Gamak Ghar, Moothon, Bebaak, Eeb Allay Ooo!, and Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost.

On the opening day, a tribute to the late Irrfan Khan will take place with actors filmmakers like Gurinder Chadha, Shoojit Sircar, Hansal Mehta and actors like Vijay Varma will be speaking.

Nandita Das, Gitanjali Rao, Javed Akhtar and journalist Nandini Ramnath, composers Madan Gopal Singh and Naren Chandavarkar will be taking virtual masterclasses.

BFI London Film Festival (7 - 18 October)

This year's edition will mostly be an online fare with limited in-person events over 12 days. 50 films from fiction, documentary, animation genres, artists' moving image, and restored classics from the world's archives have been selected for virtual premieres. Every film will be presented with an introduction or a QnA with the makers. Films will include subtitles and audio descriptors for viewers with special needs.

As UK is also opening its theatres, 12 screenings are scheduled to take place across the region's cinemas. LFF is also dropping a jury and instead letting the audience choose winners for four categories : Best Fiction Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Short Film, and Best XR.

The full schedule of LFF will be announced on 8 September.

New York Film Festival (25 September - 11 October)

The 17-day long New York Film Festival will also be adapting to the current scenario to ensure the safety of the festival attendees. The event will offer a mix of physical and outdoor virtual screenings this year, but Deadline reports that the organisers, Film at Lincoln Center, will also look into the prospect of an in-person festival. Films will also be showcased at the city's two drive-in theatres.

NYFF has also announced an updated structure Main Slate, Currents, Spotlight, Revivals, and Talks. The program will have 100 features as well as panel discussions. The virtual screenings will only for US residents, but the talks will be open to a global audience.

Sundance (21 -31 January, 2021)

While Sundance was successfully held prior to the coronavirus lockdown, its 2021 edition will be seeing some changes. According to the festival director Tabitha Jackson, it will take place in Utah and "in at least 20 independent and community cinemas across the U.S. and beyond." Besides having a smaller scale than usual and following social distancing practices, Sundance also plans to be accessible online. Salt Lake Tribunal states that the organisers are looking to cut the festival short by seven days.

Rotterdam (27 January - 7 February, 2021)

Rotterdam also plans to implement changes in its programming structure for the 50th edition of the festival. According to Deadline the organisers will bring in the amendments in accordance with the shift in circumstances over the next six months.

Screen Daily, in its report, had said that the new director Vanja Kaludjercic hopes to make the festival digital friendly due to the pandemic. Films may be screened in Rotterdam and other cities in Netherlands.

Berlinale (11 - 21 February 2021)

Mariette Rissenbeek, the executive director of Berlinale, and the new artistic director Carlo Chatrian, had told Deadline that the event will be a physical one with all the necessary hygiene and social distancing measures in place.

Locarno Film Festival (5 - 15 August)

The Swiss film festival has foregone in-person attendance and replaced it with a new format, Locarno 2020 €" For the Future of Films, to support the independent filmmakers.

As part of its Films After Tomorrow initiative, the festival will see 20 titles that were affected by the coronavirus lockdown - 10 international and 10 from Switzerland, writes Variety. The films include Axelle Ropert's Petite Solange, Lucrecia Martel's Zama, Lav Diaz's When the Waves are Gone,

The Journey of the Fesitval's History will see features from previous editions of the festival screened online. The program will be free in Switzerland, while it will be available outside of the country on the streamer MUBI.


There is a long list of important films that will be presented at these festivals.

Here is a look at some of them.


A still from Nomadland | Image from Twitter
A still from Nomadland | Image from Twitter

A still from Nomadland | Image from Twitter

Chloe Zhao's Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand, will premiere across the major fall film festivals in an alliance forged by the Venice, Toronto, and New York festivals.

Nomadland, Zhao's follow-up to her acclaimed 2018 film The Rider, is the first movie announced in the new partnership that has brought together the fall's biggest movie launch pads, which typically compete against each other for world premiere rights.

Spring Blossoms

Image from Twitter
Image from Twitter

Image from Twitter

The French language film marks Suzanne Lindon's directorial debut. The official logline states that Spring Blossoms follows a Parisian teenager, who "contemplates the pitfalls of growing up too fast when she falls in love with an older man." Arnaud Valois, Frédéric Pierrot, and Florence Viala are also part of the cast.

American Utopia

Spike Lee's filmed version of musician David Byrne's Broadway theatrical concert American Utopia will kick off this year's TIFF. The show features Byrne and 11 musical artists from around the world performing songs from the 2018 album of the same title, as well as Talking Heads hits. HBO will premiere American Utopia this fall.


Image from Twitter
Image from Twitter

Image from Twitter

Ammonite, the Kate Winslet-Saoirse Ronan romantic drama is set in 1840s England. The narrative charts the intense romance which developed between an infamous fossil hunter, Mary Anning (Winslet) and a young woman Charlotte Murchison (played by Ronan). The first look of the film was revealed at Cannes 2019.

Steve McQueen's anthology at NYFF

Three original films by Oscar-winner Steve McQueen will debut at NYFF. The 12 Years a Slave director will get the opening night slot for the 1980s-set music romance Lovers Rock in addition to two other premieres for films in his anthology series.

McQueen's Small Axe anthology is comprised of five films telling stories about London's West Indian community from the 1960s to the mid-1980s.

The other two films premiering are Mangrove, with Black Panther actor Letitia Wright, which tells the true story of a group of Black activists called the Mangrove 9 who clashed with police in the 1970s, and Red, White and Blue, another true story about a man, Leroy Logan, who joins the police to try to inspire change from within. John Boyega stars.

The five films will premiere later this year on Amazon Prime Video in the US and on BBC One.

The Human Voice

Pedro Almodóvar will make his English language debut with The Human Voice, a 30-minute adaptation ofof the original stage play by Jean Cocteau. The short is described as "a very free adaptation of the original stage play by Jean Cocteau, with which Pedro Almodóvar has been dreaming of for decades. It tells the story of a desperate woman (Tilda Swinton), who waits for the phone call of the lover who has just abandoned her."

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds

Werner Herzog, whose last project was Family Romance, LLC, along with geoscientist and director Clive Oppenheimer explore how shooting stars and meteorites can tell about the origins of life on the planet. The documentary, the third collaboration between the duo, has been acquired by Apple TV+

One Night In Miami

Image from Twitter
Image from Twitter

Image from Twitter

Oscar winner Regina King makes her directorial debut with the film adaptation of Cassius Clay-Malcolm X play One Night in Miami. The film is a take on Kemp Powers' debut play, which finds young boxer Cassius Clay, activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and football star Jim Brown hanging out together at a Miami motel.

The Disciple

National award-winning director Chaitanya Tamhane's new Marathi film The Disciple will be showcased at both Venice and TIFF. Tamhane's 127-minute long feature stars Aditya Modak, Arun Dravid, Sumitra Bhave, and Kiran Yadnyopavit.

Alfonso Cuaron recently come aboard as an executive producer of the film. The Disciple "examines a lifetime journey devoted to the art of Indian classical music," states the official log line.


Image from Twitter
Image from Twitter

Image from Twitter

Halle Berry is all set to step into director's shoes with the mixed martial arts film titled Bruised. The Oscar-winning actress will also produce the film and will star in it. In the film, Berry portrays a disgraced MMA fighter who has to face one of the rising stars of the MMA world and deal with the return of her 6-year-old son to the mother he deserves.

Pieces of a Woman

Pieces of a Women is about a grieving woman (Vanessa Kirby) who is thrust into an emotional inner journey by trying to come to terms with the loss of her baby after a home birth goes wrong, while dealing with her husband (Shia LaBeouf) and estranged mother.

Also See: TIFF 2020 unveils lineup; film festival to feature Regina King's directorial debut on Muhammad Ali

Venice, Toronto film festivals to simultenously premiere Frances McDormand's Nomadland under new alliance

Livestreaming may show intimacy is overrated in music concerts, but the execution remains a work in progress

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