While it’s impossible to say when film theatres will reopen, on the bright side, it has been both exciting and humbling to be involved in the rapid evolution of streaming platforms to accommodate radical experimental films during the early days of the pandemic. For example, Dee Hood, an experimental video artist, pulled together fragments from over 20 video artists (myself included) from 15 different countries into a collaborative experimental short film. Chant for a Pandemic has already screened in a number of festivals.
Prestigious experimental film festivals, such as Alchemy Film & Arts (which normally takes place in Hawick, Scotland), streamed for the first time this year. My experimental short, Kitchen Sink Film, a hand-painted abstract 16mm film, played in the fest. I was initially sceptical and sad about moving online, but the organisers, Michael Pattison and Rachael Disbury, did an exemplary job working out the kinks, literally while the first online edition of Alchemy unspooled.
Though the experience of watching movies together was missed, there were far more spectators than usual and the filmmakers and spectators were able to interact. It is impressive to see how both curators and artists rapidly adapt to the needs of the situation, transforming a horrible time into a moment of change and mobilisation. While some film festivals rescheduled, my work screened in several festivals that quickly moved online, including the Bi+Arts Festival (Toronto), MicroActs (London), Grrl Haus (Berlin), Exploding Cinema (London) and The Revelation Perth International Film Festival: Couched (Australia).
Galleries such as Undercurrent in Brooklyn offered an online platform for videos made during the pandemic in their curated screening, as did online platforms such as Agora Off in France, and any number of other galleries and museums. Some fests are free and open to all, while others are available for only a limited time and charge an entry fee. In this way, online film festivals are arguably just as diverse as they would be during “BC – Before COVID” times. While some are semi-private, in general these events are democratising and inclusive, finding a wide audience of diverse, new viewers.
Online experimental festivals and digital art platforms offer spaces to celebrate underground filmmaking and video art that otherwise might get lost in the ether or only find a very small audience. As the #BLM protests and marches grew into a global movement for change, festivals and online groups offer places to affirm common goals and foster dialogue about how to help best support the anti-racist, anti-colonialist movement. An experimental collective Agitate 21C Experimental, (a Facebook and Vimeo group of over 400 experimental filmmakers, educators and programmers) for example, started a new Vimeo sub-channel specifically for political films, so that viewers can find them in one place and film artists support one another. Strangely enough, pandemic culture fosters online community among artists. Separated in our own artistic ‘bunkers’ we collaborate together to express our common experience of the global pandemic. It’s both exciting and inspiring.