Online Film Festivals Are Here To Stay

Online Film Festivals [Source Freepik and Wikipedia]
Online Film Festivals [Source Freepik and Wikipedia]

The past year has been tough for film festivals. With Coronavirus posing a severe threat, festivals had two options: postponement or heading online. And so, many decided to make the jump to online screenings.

Today we will explore the positives and negatives of moving online. As well as the impact it could have on film festivals in the future. But first, let’s look at how some festivals took their experience online.

How Film Festivals Went Online

The main consideration when moving online was how the festivals were going to host their selection of films. Major brands found two methods to accomplish this:

Some partnered with major streaming services to help bring their programmes to the internet. For example, South by Southwest 2020 teamed up with Amazon Prime to deliver 39 of their programmed titles.

Meanwhile, others like Sundance have developed their own platforms to provide both film programmes and additional festival branded content such as Q&As, industry talks, and interactive experiences. But what are the positives and negatives of going digital?

The Cons

Of course, there are negatives to this arrangement. Firstly, the experience doesn’t feel the same as seeing movies on a large screen with a big audience. Which will upset cinema purists.

Some also fear it’s a good opportunity for pirating movies meaning the festival, filmmakers, and distributors may not receive as much money in the future. Several festivals have however tried to reduce that risk by watermarking films and geo-blocking their online content.

Lastly, there are worries about how online showings can negatively affect smaller films. Because several major festivals are only showing a limited number of movies, smaller films might not have the opportunity to receive the profile boost that would come with being a part of a big festival. And some argue that giving premiere rights to festivals using streaming services will deter future distributors.

The Pros

But the positives arguably outweigh the cons. Firstly, it offers convenience for viewers by allowing festival selections to be viewed from home. Without needing to spend money on travel and accommodation. Which helps improve the festival’s brand while allowing a larger amount of people to financially contribute to the festival.

This move also helps industry professionals to continue working. Some digital festivals are allowing filmed project pitches to be sent in. As well as this, online industry talks and marketplaces allow film workers to continue to find work, finance, and homes for their projects. Meaning new projects will still be produced thanks to online networking.

Also, despite the worries previously mentioned the move to the internet could greatly help independent films and festivals. It removes the venue barrier as festivals can simply use a website. And it allows their selections to reach a wider audience. Therefore, allowing independent projects greater visibility than before.

Lastly, it further legitimizes the online sphere within an industry continually apprehensive about the internet. Showing with successes like The London Film Festival that digital screenings (in whole or in part) can attract big audiences.

Can Festivals Go Back to Normal?

While many view moving online as temporary, it’s hard to see future festivals going back to being entirely physical after the COVID-19 threat has passed. Because this experiment allows a vaster range of people access to the festival’s materials it would seem silly to shut out this potential audience when things return to normal. It’s probably more likely that as festivals go forward they will try to incorporate online elements alongside the physical experience. As it will allow festivals to take more money and act as a really good tool for attracting those without the finance needed to physically attend.


In summation, despite some downsides, the move online greatly benefits film festivals, fans, and workers across the world. Whether partnering with streaming giants or using their own portals it’s hard to see the festival experience going entirely back to in-person screenings once COVID has been tackled.

Finally, listed below are several upcoming online festivals for you to keep an eye on. Warning, some festival features are geo-blocked:

If there are any upcoming online film festivals you are looking forward to, let us know.

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On The Cultural Void

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Posted by
Josh Greally

Writer and filmmaker. I have a masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.