By BRYAN CHRISTOPHER
Fantasia paired web-based screening platforms with a branded app to widen the means for viewing content, but Davis explains that for new films he wanted to replicate the feeling of a premier event. So the festival scheduled live screenings with tickets limited to the capacity one might see at a large theater venue. Virtual premier audiences flocked to Yûji Shimomura’s Crazy Samurai Musashi, a bold experiment that featured an 80-minute, single-shot sword fight among dozens of actors, and The Mortuary Collection, a wickedly charming anthology highlighted by Clancy Brown gleefully channeling The Tall Man.
But even for those who missed out on film premiers, hope was not lost as Fantasia also hosted a variety of panels with unfettered access. Davis particularly appreciated the scalability of a virtual platform as it provided the flexibility to take on events at the last minute, including an artist talk between Finn Wolfhard and Jay Baruchel that came together after the programming had initially been set.
While both Fantasia and Salem found homes online, Kelly Michael Stewart, director of the Blood in the Snow Festival, was wary of the logistical and branding challenges on a virtual platform. But inspiration came through a meeting with Super Channel, and a partnership blossomed that gave him an outlet to bring his programming of Canadian horror to audiences all across the Great White North.
Through Super Channel, BiTS structured its programming to emulate old-school, late-night horror showcases with Stewart as the host. It entailed some legwork in advance, but the result was something wholly unique.
“We had a fantastic Halloween set built [for the host segments], and we had a great cinematographer,” recalls Stewart. “We spent all day recording all the different intros for all fourteen screenings, plus our awards show.” Speaking of awards, the big winner this year was Anthony Scott Burns’ nightmarish Come True, winning five of the festival’s awards including Best Feature and Best Actress.
But even for films that may not have taken home awards, Stewart looked to give people keepsakes by sending items like program booklets and festival badges in a year where tangible souvenirs weren’t as easy to acquire.
“So what’s great is that we’ve had these great unboxing videos. People opening their T-shirts, totes, program booklets, and all that,” he says. “Some of the feedback I’ve gotten from filmmakers is that getting the badge in the mail was really special to them. Normally filmmakers would get to go to all these different festivals and collect all of these little mementos and things of their films playing at festivals, and you don’t really have that for virtual. So by getting that stuff in the mail, it kept it a little more real for them, like ‘Oh wow, I’ve got something on my wall.’”
So far, audiences have been appreciative of opportunities to come together virtually, particularly those who may not have been able to attend an in-person event for reasons beyond the pandemic.
“Another benefit to doing this virtually is that we were able to involve some people who might not have otherwise been able to visit Salem, whether the trip is expensive, they can’t get the time off work, or they have some sort of disability,” explains Lynch. “Whatever the case may be, there are a lot of challenges to being able to enjoy Salem in October, so we did hear from quite a few people who said that they were very grateful to have the opportunity to have experienced Salem in some small way.”
Filmmakers have appreciated the opportunity to connect with a wider breadth of viewers through these virtual platforms, and Davis also found another unexpected win for filmmaker exposure in the virtual sphere – namely that the platform allowed more flexibility for the Q & A process with more cast and crew members being able to participate remotely.
“Since we weren’t in a physical space that had to be turned over for the next screening, the Q&As were able to go on in more length. That allowed for a discourse that you usually don’t get at live Q&As,” he explains. “I mean some of the Q&As were almost feature-length.”
Ultimately, uncertainty abounds for what is in store for 2021. But it’s comforting to know that no matter the circumstances, programmers like Davis, Lynch, and Stewart will find a way to bring us together by leveraging modern technology with the ingenuity and independent spirit that harken back to the likes of William Castle. And now, armed with a tumultuous year’s worth of experience and new virtual outlets cropping up to meet the sudden demand, there’s nowhere for virtual fests to go but upward and onward.