A Virtual Season

Jan Komasa’s The Hater (2020)

Locarno Film Festival artistic director Lili Hinsten tells Screen that she and her team considered every possible alternative—even setting up a drive-in venue—before deciding to cancel its seventy-third edition. It’s all come down to “the fact that we simply don’t know what might happen in August.” Organizers are now at work on Locarno 2020: For the Future of Films, and when asked if she might offer a few details on this special program, Hinsten’s response is refreshingly honest: “No, not yet.”

The top priority of the moment has simply been to get word out to the public and to the filmmakers who have submitted work once the decision was made to cancel. “We didn’t want to keep people hanging on,” says Hinsten. The second order of business has been the creation of two special Leopard awards, each worth $60,000, to be presented to one international and one Swiss film production that has been impacted by the global lockdown. “All our thinking around what to do this year revolves around two key axes: responsibility and solidarity,” adds Hinsten. “Responsibility towards the public from the point of view of safeguarding their health but also towards the industry. So rather than focus on making a selection for the sake of the ego of the festival we tried to look at what would be helpful for the films and their creators.”

The New Zealand International Film Festival (July 24 through August 2) and Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival (August 20 through September 2) are among the latest events to announce that they’re going completely virtual this year. Viewers in the States have until Wednesday to catch selections from SXSW 2020, and Amy Nicholson and Jason Bailey have selected highlights from the program for the New York Times. Switzerland’s Visions du Réel is on through Saturday, and Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov writes about multidisciplinary artist Phillip Warnell’s Intimate Distances, Emma Charles and Ben Evans James’s On a Clear Day You Can See the Revolution From Here, and Tadeusz Wolski’s “spooky and immersive” An Ordinary Country.

From their respective shelters, the jurors of this year’s Tribeca competitions have made their decisions. Alice Wu’s The Half of It, a contemporary take on Cyrano de Bergerac, has won the U.S. narrative competition, while The Hater, directed by Jan Komasa, whose Corpus Christi was nominated for a best international feature Oscar earlier this year, has won Tribeca’s international narrative competition. Socks on Fire, Bo McGuire’s portrait of his family back home in Alabama, has been named best documentary feature. “In its first-person evocation of landscape and memory, the story calls to mind a touch of Ross McElwee (Sherman’s March, Bright Leaves),” writes Steve Dollar for Filmmaker, “while the emotional patchwork of intense family disputes over property, under the shadow of a deceased matriarch (or patriarch), is as archetypal to the Southern experience as grandma’s handmade quilts, peach moonshine, and the family secrets passed down as lore.” For more on this year’s truncated Tribeca, see Cineuropa, the Film Stage,Filmmaker,Hammer to Nail,IndieWire, the Playlist, and Stephen Saito.

The Latest

The notion that everything is going to be “back to normal” once this crisis is over is fading fast. Given the severe contraction of the economy as a whole, the collapse of the window between theatrical and digital releases of major studio titles is small potatoes to be sure, but it’s also not nothing. In the three weeks since Universal made Trolls World Tour available to rent online, the family-friendly animated feature has earned an estimated $100 million, according to Pamela McClintock in the Hollywood Reporter. That’s a number that’s “exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of [premium video on demand],” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told the Wall Street Journal’s Erich Schwartzel on Tuesday. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

Reaction from AMC Theatres, the largest movie theater chain in the world, was swift. Chairman and CEO Adam Aron announced that “effectively immediately, AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters in the United States, Europe, or the Middle East.” Yesterday, as Dave McNary reports for Variety, Cineworld, the second largest cinema chain on the planet, signed on to the ban. And if it holds, this would mean that both chains will pass up on opportunities to screen the next titles in the Fast & Furious, Minions, and Jurassic World franchises when—and of course, if—they’re released next summer. Industry watcher Steven Zeitchik reads this standoff as mere “saber-rattling in advance of a negotiation” and predicts that, after all the table-pounding, theaters will “agree to shorten the window in exchange for a higher revenue share.”

Even though Trolls World Tour will likely never see a theatrical run, it will be an eligible contender in the race for the Oscars, as Amid Amidi reports at Cartoon Brew. The Academy has drawn up a set of one-time-only exemptions from the rules that, among other restrictions, hold that a film must screen for at least one week in a Los Angeles movie theater to qualify. Now any film originally scheduled to open in theaters in 2020 is in the running, even if it debuts online. The New York TimesKyle Buchanan has a full report on all the changes the Academy’s board of governors agreed to on Tuesday.

And how are filmmakers holding up? Daniel Eagan has been checking in with cinematographers for Filmmaker. Rachel Morrison, who shot Dee Rees’s Mudbound and Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, was two days into principal photography on her first feature as a director when the lockdown closed her production. Łukasz Żal, who has worked with Paweł Pawlikowski on Ida and Cold War, had just finished shooting Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things when he had to rush back home to Poland. “Working with Charlie was perfect,” he says. “He is a great human being. The actors were fabulous. We finally got it done, and I think we made a very important and beautiful movie. But the emotional and physical cost was huge.”

Christopher Doyle was planning to attend the twentieth-anniversary screening of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love in Cannes, and he was hoping, too, that Ann Hui would also be there with Love After Love, the feature they’ve just completed. Doyle tells Eagan that filmmakers in Hong Kong were already fighting an uphill battle before the outbreak. “We used to make 300 films a year,” he says. “Last year there were forty films.” But he’s still working, talking with Wong and with Tadanobu Asano about future projects.

Derek Cianfrance was working with his postproduction crew of sixteen VFX artists, editors, and assistants on his adaptation of Wally Lamb’s novel I Know This Much Is True, starring Mark Ruffalo as identical twin brothers, when the time came to send everybody home. As his wife, filmmaker Shannon Plumb, tells the story at the Talkhouse, Cianfrance and his team have been able to complete the HBO miniseries by working remotely. In the meantime, he “orders more food, more wipes, more spray to spray down the spray,” writes Plumb. “We have dried beans, canned beans, snacking beans. It is good that he has OCD. He’s protecting us . . . His control and tenacity are what make him a great director.”

Let’s wrap with a few recent home viewing highlights, beginning with e-flux, which has just launched Artist Cinemas, “a new platform that is programmed by artists as artists.” The “Your Short Film of the Day” series at the New York Times rolls on with J. Hoberman introducing George Pal’s “puppet-toon” The Ship of the Ether (1935) and Devika Girish recommending Satyajit Ray’s “homage to silent cinema,” Two (1964). And topping Matt Cooper’s list for the Los Angeles Times is Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein for the National Theatre, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller “alternating in the roles of the mad doctor and his infernal creation.”

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