Fantasia Film Fest Moves Online Amid Pandemic (Exclusive)

Guillermo del Toro at the Fantasia Film Festival - Publicity - H 2020
Courtesy of King Wei Chu
The Montreal festival will roll out in August with virtual world and international premieres streamed under tight digital security and a limited number of tickets sold per screening.

The Fantasia International Film Festival is going online this year due to the COVID-19 crisis with a virtual screening event from Aug. 20 to Sept. 2 to mirror where possible a traditional theatrical experience.

Fest organizers, navigating a new terrain amid the pandemic, will adopt the Festival Scope and Shift72's virtual screening platform recently used for the CPH:DOX and Visions du Reel online festivals, which offers studio-grade DRM and operates to Motion Picture Association of America's security standards.

"While we're saddened not to be able to put on the larger-than-life physical event that we'd been planning for this year, we're extremely excited to be working with Festival Scope and Shift72 on an unconventional virtual edition," Fantasia co-director Mitch Davis said in a statement.

"They've enthusiastically embraced every challenge we've thrown their way, particularly when it comes to making so many of our screenings be real-time, live events instead of the usual streaming approach. It's going to make things so much more exciting and will go a long way toward keeping the intensity and engagement of the in-person experience vibrant in an online realm," Davis added about building buzz for festival screenings from genre fans on their couches rather than in traditional movie theaters.

Fantasia's 2020 edition was initially set to run from July 16 to Aug. 5 as a physical festival with public screenings and filmmaker Q&As. But safety precautions taken during the coronavirus crisis by Montreal public health authorities led Fantasia organizers to cancel the physical event.

As the genre festival rolls out online, world and international feature film premieres intended for the big cinema screen will instead be scheduled as real-time virtual screenings, with firm start times and a limited number of tickets to be sold for each viewing. Individual tickets are yet to be priced, but will be lower than what Fantasia has charged at its traditional physical festival.

The number of tickets sold for each film will vary by title or the wishes of filmmakers and will likely fall between 600 and 1,200 tickets per screening, similar to the seat capacities of Fantasia's in-person Montreal event. Each screening will also be geo-restricted to Canada and tickets will be sold only to those with Canadian IP addresses.

Because of its high-security platform, Fantasia 2020 programmers have been able to confirm a number of top genre premieres that might otherwise have passed on screening at a virtual festival, say organizers. "We're thrilled to add Fantasia to our growing list of virtual festivals and we're excited about their inventive new ideas for the platform. This year's online edition will be engaging and exciting for attendees as the festival has planned premieres to replicate the physical event, adding a sense of exclusivity and familiarity," Festival Scope CEO and co-founder Alessandro Raja added in a statement.

Many screenings will include live Q&As with filmmakers that Fantasia's at-home audiences can participate in. Fantasia's virtual edition will move ahead with film competitions — with jury members viewing titles remotely and then deliberating online to choose winners. The festival also plans short film showcases, panels and workshops to be staged online.

The first wave of Fantasia titles will announced in late May. A continued rise of cases and casualties linked to the new coronavirus in Quebec and the rest of Canada led organizers to cancel the in-person summer event in Montreal.

And pushing Fantasia to the fall would have been problematic as those dates are dominated by the Venice, Toronto and Telluride film festivals. Fantasia is also the latest industry event to move its dates or go online amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Other North American festivals to postpone or cancel their 2020 editions include SXSW, Tribeca, Hot Docs and the Banff World Media Festival.

As many festivals abandon their in-person events amid the pandemic, YouTube and Tribeca Enterprises announced plans for a joint online-only fest, the We Are One Global Film Festival, to screen movies and other programming from festivals worldwide.