The Melbourne International Film Festival, originally scheduled for August, but then canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, is to hold a digital edition. The online showcase has been nicknamed MIFF 68½ and will run during the original festival dates, Aug. 6-23, 2020.
MIFF 68½ will present a smaller selection line up than the previously conceived real-world festival, with an expected 40-50 feature films and feature-length documentaries, and 30-40 shorts selected in four categories of subject matter – Australia, animation, documentary and animation.
Film selection is expected to continue until the end of June and the lineup will be unveiled on July 14.
“This is not a substitute. It is an online film showcase, an audience offering that is very unique and specific to this very trying set of circumstances. It is about finding and fostering audiences where they are,” the festival’s artistic director Al Cossar told Variety.
“At the time of cancellation there was such disruption to our film supply chain, such a horizon of uncertainty, such as gathering bans and cultural anxiety, that we saw no uncompromised path to putting out a regular edition of our festival.”
MIFF’s shift from real-world festival to virtual event is made possible by leaning on technology partner Shift72, a New Zealand-based startup firm which is also operating online festivals for SXSW and CPH: DOX, and with the help of a substantial financial grant from private donor Susie Montague.
“MIFF 68½ is our response to these difficult times – the result of our desire to sustain MIFF’s outstanding film programming, stay connected with our audience, and foster new audience connections during this truly unparalleled time,” said Cossar in a prepared statement. Melbourne’s market event, 37 Degrees South, remains cancelled and will not be revived this year.
Screenings of most of the feature-length content is expected to require ticketing. Content will also be geo-blocked to be accessible only within Australia. All of the short film program and some features will be free to access, and there will be a handful of other program highlights that are free and communal.
“Depending on Classification Board signoff, we’d like to do things in two different ways. Ninety percent of our program would be presented at festival capacity across our dates. And we also want to have 5-6 elevated program spotlights – including opening and closing events – which are essentially gala substitutes. Those would be socialized screenings, specifically presented to an audience at a particular session and date. The idea is that people watch together and then after the screening, there is a virtual activation,” Cossar explained.
He said that the festival expects to be able to use the technology to deliver other audience activation operations. “These will include virtual introductions, virtual Q&As. We will continue our MIFF Talks program, and the festival has a Critics Campus, which we intent to deliver virtually as well,” said Cossar.
Film-maker Rachel Griffiths will act as an ambassador for MIFF 68½. “As a director, actor and film-lover, I’ve been coming to MIFF all my life. It’s like an annual tribal gathering for Melbourne’s creative communities. Please join me in supporting MIFF 2020 in its ambitious programme that will provide Australians with continued access to the world’s best new content and content makers. The festival will be a virtual community that will remind us all of what we love so much about cinema. It will guarantee that they will return to our cinemas stronger than ever,” she said in a statement.
Other festivals in Australasia have also recently unveiled plans to become virtual events this year, including the Sydney Film Festival and New Zealand Film Festival. They are seen both as a continuing response to the social distancing measures required to combat the spread of COVID-19, and as a precaution against the uncertain timing of cinema reopenings. A second or third wave of virus infections could scupper the relaunch of a physical festival, but cannot disrupt an online film showcase.