Virtual 2021 ReFrame Film Festival has its perks, including watching what you want when you want

ReFrame's creative director Amy Siegel discusses organizing a film festival during a global pandemic and the unexpected benefits of digital programming

While the pandemic means audiences can't experience the 2021 ReFrame Film Festival at its usual venues like Showplace Performance Centre in downtown Peterborough, the virtual festival running from January 22 t0 29 has its perks. It's a full week long and available to anyone who lives in Ontario. With a festival pass, you can watch as many films as you want whenever you want from the comfort of your own home, and it's more accessible as you can control the volume level as well as enable closed-captioning and subtitles. (Photo courtesy of ReFrame)
While the pandemic means audiences can't experience the 2021 ReFrame Film Festival at its usual venues like Showplace Performance Centre in downtown Peterborough, the virtual festival running from January 22 t0 29 has its perks. It's a full week long and available to anyone who lives in Ontario. With a festival pass, you can watch as many films as you want whenever you want from the comfort of your own home, and it's more accessible as you can control the volume level as well as enable closed-captioning and subtitles. (Photo courtesy of ReFrame)

In 2020, our year of the virus, the word “pivot” has been overused to such an extent that it has been stripped of all meaning.

Yet, pivot seems entirely appropriate to describe what the folks at ReFrame Film Festival have done this year to ensure the renowned documentary film festival would not be another COVID casualty.

Instead of cancelling the event, ReFrame organizers have worked tirelessly to move the festival programming — films, panels, and Q&As with filmmakers — online, so that audiences can safely enjoy the festival from the comfort of their own homes.

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“In January of this year, we were able to hold ReFrame and it was a wonderful festival,” recalls ReFrame creative director Amy Siegel. “Very soon after that, everything was shutdown. In fact, for a lot of people, ReFrame was the last big event that they were able to attend.”

“Very quickly, we started to think about ways we could continue to hold the festival because we knew that we needed to make it work. Film happens to be something that translates a little bit better to the digital environment.”

With less than a year before the next festival was slated to occur, ReFrame personnel wasted no time working to move the festival online.

ReFrame Film Festival creative director Amy Siegel with festival director Jay Adams in 2019. Siegel joined ReFrame in 2018 and led programming for the successful 2019 festival, which took place just weeks before the pandemic arrived. (Photo courtesy of ReFrame)
ReFrame Film Festival creative director Amy Siegel with festival director Jay Adams in 2019. Siegel joined ReFrame in 2018 and led programming for the successful 2019 festival, which took place just weeks before the pandemic arrived. (Photo courtesy of ReFrame)

“It’s a very different approach to festival making and it’s been a huge learning curve for the team,” Seigel explains.

“We’re a really small team that makes this festival happen. It’s just been non-stop learning. It was a stretch to be completely consumed in the digital realm, but we’ve really pulled it together in a short amount of time to be able to offer our audiences an event that they’ve grown to love over the last 17 years.”

There is nothing like the collective breath of an audience experiencing a film together — breathing in and out together, laughing together. That said, since breathing together is precisely what we ought to avoid during these strange COVID-times, online programming seems preferable at this point.

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Beyond the obvious benefit of finally being able to attend a film festival while donning your favourite onesie pyjamas (free from judgment and scorn), there are many other unexpected advantages to digital presentation.

“We know that the pandemic has made all of our schedules, attention spans, and lives complicated, so we wanted to give people the flexibility that their lives require right now,” says Seigel.

The festival, which normally runs for three days only, has been extended for a full week and, for the first time ever, will be available province-wide. Audiences can watch films on-demand anytime during the week-long festival.

ReFrame Film Festival organizers have already had experience with digital programming, having made films such as "The Beatles in India" available online through ReFrame At Home. (Photo courtesy of ReFrame)
ReFrame Film Festival organizers have already had experience with digital programming, having made films such as “The Beatles in India” available online through ReFrame At Home. (Photo courtesy of ReFrame)

Digital programming also means the festival will be more accessible for people living with disabilities. Not only can audiences skip dealing with icy sidewalks, they can also control volume levels and use closed-captioning or subtitles.

“The digital platform is an incredible opportunity to reach people who otherwise weren’t able to attend the festival,” Seigel says. “It’s really exciting to think about people attending the festival on their own terms, in their own homes, with no scheduling conflicts. In this format you can conceivably watch all the films.”

ReFrame is also economically accessible this year. Rather than purchasing passes per person, audiences only need one festival pass per household.

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“We’re also very aware that these are financially difficult times,” explains Seigel. “This way people are able to save some funds while still participating. We’re also trying to encourage people, if they have the means, to perhaps buy a festival pass for somebody who doesn’t have the means to, or to donate one to a community group.”

“We’re also very grateful for organizations like the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough,” she adds. “They’re supporting our community access pass again this year, which allows us to give out free passes to community groups and the general public.”

This year, many people are becoming more mindful of their spending habits — of where their money is going — and are making an effort to support their local economies.

Acclaimed Toronto filmmaker Yung Chang speaking at Market Hall in downtown Peterborough during the 2020 ReFrame Film Festival. While there will be no in-person events at the 2021 ReFrame Film Festival, the festival will still feature virtual filmmaker talks, panel discussions, workshops, and more. (Photo: Tristan Peirce)
Acclaimed Toronto filmmaker Yung Chang speaking at Market Hall in downtown Peterborough during the 2020 ReFrame Film Festival. While there will be no in-person events at the 2021 ReFrame Film Festival, the festival will still feature virtual filmmaker talks, panel discussions, workshops, and more. (Photo: Tristan Peirce)

“Of course we could watch movies on Netflix, Amazon, or Itunes,” Seigel says. “But we know that the pandemic has only widened the wealth gap and that these corporations are profiting off a global health crisis and not giving back.”

“The pandemic has brought to the surface things that were always there. ReFrame has always been committed to presenting social justice films that speak to the moment, that speak to global issues, and that speak to our community. I think there’s a need for that now more than ever.”

The virtual ReFrame Film Festival runs from January 22 to 29, 2021. (Poster: Jordan Bowden)
The virtual ReFrame Film Festival runs from January 22 to 29, 2021. (Poster: Jordan Bowden)

Seigel sees a silver lining in the pandemic when it comes to presenting a virtual film festival,

“If we’re stuck in our homes, what an opportunity we have to educate ourselves, to become more informed, to learn about pathways forward that have happened in the past and that are happening right now — and how we can take care of each other.”

The 2021 ReFrame Film Festival will run online from Friday, January 22nd to Friday, January 29th.

Discounted early-bird passes, which make ideal holiday gifts for anyone who lives in Ontario, are available for purchase for $50 at my.reframefilmfestival.ca/passes/buy. Regular passes and five-packs of individual film tickets will be available at the website in early December.

 

kawarthaNOW is proud to be a sponsor of the 2021 ReFrame Film Festival.

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