Film festivals adopt COVID-19 restrictions on return of live screenings

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With all due respect to the streamers who distracted us during the pandemic, the films were to be seen on the big screen, in the company of other people, and ideally debated and dissected with other moviegoers upon exiting the theater.

The cautious reopening of megaplexes restored that experience to some extent, although film festivals were a little more cautious to return, given that they bring together audiences from all over the world – the perfect Petri dish in which a virus could spread. Now, after a year of COVID-induced cancellations and online-only backup plans, the world’s major storefronts are back. Kind of.

Cannes was the first major festival to offer more than outdoor screenings (although the Berlinale and Tribeca have made valiant efforts to present outdoor alternatives to the public). You could feel that Cannes topper Thierry Frémaux didn’t want to be outdone by Venice (which had an event in person last summer) and threw caution to the wind, delivered oversized lineup – many more films than the festival wouldn’t show it. in a normal year – with minimal COVID restrictions: just add masks to the notoriously strict dress code (bow ties for men, formal shoes for women).

It was nice to be on the Croisette, but also frustrating, as the few protocols followed had been put in place to meet government mandates rather than common sense safety instructions (such as asking foreigners to take tests. of saliva to access the spacious Palace, while throwing uncontrolled audiences like sardines in the Lumière auditorium).

Taking place over Labor Day weekend in the Colorado Rockies, the Telluride Film Festival took a more logical strategy: Because the event takes place in a relatively isolated location, the organizers chose to treat it as a giant bubble, requiring anyone attending the screenings to present a negative PCR test before collecting a badge. This meant that audiences – more sparse than usual, many returning to the cinema for the first time in over a year – could focus on the screen, rather than whether they risked dying from the sight. stranger coughing somewhere in the dark.

In Venice, the festival insisted on social distancing, ensuring an empty seat pad between people by asking attendees to book their tickets in advance. This has reduced spontaneity, which makes it difficult to jump into a last minute movie for those who like to adapt on the fly, but also ensures a safer experience for everyone – and it seems to have worked, in terms of it. of attracting top talent for the firsts (Telluride had a harder time with this, as Riz Ahmed, one of the three silver medal winners, and others were unable to enter the country) .

Toronto was slow to embark on its own strategy, crippling its usual position as the launching pad for awards season by waiting until the eleventh hour to announce how (or even if) the festival would unfold. As a result, most of the high-profile contenders – films like “Dune” and “The Last Duel” – opted for a world premiere abroad instead. While the organizers of TIFF didn’t put off the press and industry figures, they made the stay at home easier by offering a hybrid in-person / online program. With the city just emerging from one of the world’s longest shutdowns, the event protected its patrons with a reserved seating system. By screening half the usual number of films at a fraction of the old capacity, TIFF has found a way to responsibly deliver the appreciative collective experience the North American festival is known for.


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