As the world shut down due to COVID-19, so too did many planned events in the realm of entertainment, with films either put to video-on-demand right away, released to theatres with extra precautions in place, or delayed entirely (I’ll see you one day, French Dispatch).
Other avenues, however, are being explored to still provide viewers with plenty of entertainment through this time of unease: star-studded script readings of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World fill the dead air, as well as episodes of television shows like Saturday Night Live conducted entirely from the homes of the talent to end the season before moving back in-studio for the fall.
This leads us to the folks behind the Edmonton International Film Festival (EIFF), who have decided to offer this year’s festivities in hybrid fashion. Through a partnership with Super Channel Fuse, viewers at home can tune in to see a portion of the festival’s schedule online, with nearly half of the 36 total features available to be screened in this manner. Fuse is accessible through your television provider, but if you’re like many others who have cut the cable you can also purchase it monthly via streaming services such as Apple TV+ and Amazon’s Prime Video.
Along with this, viewers can then hop over to Facebook Live to join in on Q&A segments with the creators conducted for both those in the auditorium and those on their couches. While the menu navigation on Prime Video isn’t the best, a short visit to edmontonfilmfest.com provides you with a tutorial on how to watch, though there aren’t directions for Apple TV+. For the best value, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial to Amazon Prime to ease the virtual entry cost. This way you’re only paying for the Fuse add-on for a total payment of $9.99 compared to the regular $14.
Being someone who prefers the experience of an auditorium, I’m glad that the option is still presented to me should I decide to head down to Landmark Cinemas’ City Centre location in downtown Edmonton, but being able to enjoy the curated collection that EIFF provides on my own time wherever I am is a great way to experience the lineup all the same. If anything, this allows me to fit in more than I would be able to in a usual year.
There are, of course, the pitfalls of home viewing that can include a lesser screen and more distractions around you, but the beauty of this format is that you can hop in during the day, catch a few short films, maybe throw in a question during the Q&A period, and then continue on with whatever you were just doing. Then, later that night, tune in for one of the feature presentations; a few that I have circled coming up include Italian drama Golden Men and Canadian-made They Who Surround Us.
But that is another advantage that the hybrid provides: I’m spending less time deciding on what to prioritize and can hop to and fro between whatever I want without the process of elimination that a film festival usually entails, all at a single, more than fair price point. While they all won’t be home runs, the success rate is better than average this way. A personal favourite that I’ve stumbled upon is Once Upon A Pandemic, a short film shot in Calgary about a daughter’s life in quarantine and the separation from her mother that comes as a result of isolation. EIFF’s selection is also a breath of fresh air after watching the same things over and over without as many new releases this year.
To put that last thought into perspective, the top three highest-grossing films of 2020 from the domestic box office at the time of writing are Bad Boys for Life, Sonic the Hedgehog and Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (or whatever the name of it is these days, since they change it so much), according to Box Office Mojo. All three were released on Feb. 14 or prior. The biggest release to brave the COVID waters and try for cinema-only is Christopher Nolan’s epic Tenet, which tried valiantly but fell short of convincing studios to not push anything back until December and beyond. Who knows, you might see some of these EIFF entries again come awards season should things not fill out whenever we, you know, actually get to awards season.
So I invite you to join me, from wherever you are, so we can watch a movie together at the same time for the first time in a while.
Image courtesy of rawpixel.