The Zurich Film Festival may have opted for a physical edition, but the future of festivals and markets, including Berlin, remain in question. Speaking at a Zurich Summit panel on Saturday, Carlo Chatrian, artistic director of Berlin, reiterated hopes to stage a February festival that takes place in theaters.
“We don’t have any idea about our life in one month,” said Chatrian. “At Berlinale, we decided — and we announced — that we want to have an edition that happens in theaters. We have a big public in town, so we have a commitment, and a desire, to share our selection with them. There are a number of decisions that are still in discussion, but we try to be optimistic. With Venice happening, San Sebastian and now Zurich, it gives us new hope.”
Despite theories that, due to changes across the events landscape, many films looking for festival outlets are currently piling up, Chatrian said he’s “not too worried about the quantity, it’s about the quality.”
“Sometimes we forget that festivals are part of a chain, so it depends on how this chain will evolve. I am not worried if we will have less films or more,” said Chatrian.
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“We can stream films, and we can find a way to stay connected, but human presence and sharing something together is more important. To me, that’s the main reason why we do festivals. We want to have people sharing one moment in time and hopefully some emotions,” said Chatrian.
Lili Hinstin, the former artistic director of Locarno, added: “As Carlo said, a festival is part of a chain. [At Locarno], we tried to think about our mission and convert what we were used to doing into something new.” Hinstin stepped down from Locarno last week in a shock move, though her reasons for departing weren’t broached in the session.
Elsewhere, Paolo Moretti, head of Director’s Fortnight in Cannes, described “a very dark moment after we had to cancel” in April, “but by the end of [the month], we just went, ‘Let’s start working on the next year. That’s what we did.”
But although many events had to cancel or postpone their editions, the industry still felt their importance. “We definitely need them. There is this expression that you need a village to raise a child, and you need a festival to release a film,” said Salma Abdalla, CEO of Autlook Filmsales. “All these meetings, videoconferences and emails cannot replace them.”
Moretti said Director’s Fortnight was “not against the idea” of online and streaming. “The constraint came from the people we were talking to: the rights holders, directors, producers. Nobody was considering the online option. We had to acknowledge that.”
As for online markets, Abdalla admitted that her own company “videoconferenced like crazy,” but soon met its limits.
“It was out of curiosity and FOMO, and then we got tired. It feels flat. Entering it as a buyer, meeting producers, that worked well. When it comes to the sellers, in my experience, only the biggest markets were able to activate everyone at the same time,” said Abdalla, noting that despite claims about the democratization of online events, newcomers are being left out.
“My feeling is that people who attended the Cannes market online were the ones attending in the past,” added Chatrian. “Maybe in the future it could help with getting more people involved but, especially when it comes to markets, I don’t know if it’s about having more people.”
The panelists also reflected upon the question of diversity, which has assumed new urgency across the industry and especially for festivals. “It’s a job to do — it’s not going to come to you by itself,” noted Hinstin. “If you go to Cannes, everybody is white. France is not like this. It’s shockingly different from [what I see] when I bring my kid to school and that’s not normal.”
Chatrian added: “There is a connection between where you do a festival and the festival, and Berlin is a very multicultural town. What concerns me is that cinema was born as a popular art. It was super cheap. Now, it seems that film festivals have lost this capacity to talk to different classes.”