Image from Central Airport THF, part of Cinetopia:DOC – Love Your Local
by Betty Stojnić
From large-scale productions being postponed to worrying drops in the global box office, filmmaking and exhibition have been affected greatly by the coronavirus pandemic. While precariousness and apprehension pervade across all sectors and industries, culture and the arts – owing to their dependence on local communities and events – needed to adapt swiftly and radically. Whether on set or in the film theatre, cinema requires collaboration and an enthusiastic audience in order to survive. Not all collaboration or interaction, however, needs to occur at close quarters, as the efforts of many to utilise online resources and platforms to engage with their viewership have shown.
Cinetopia: DOC – Love Your Local was one such way of exploring new possibilities through online screenings and Q&A streams. With four documentaries available for viewing, as well as discussions with the filmmakers behind them, the programme was dedicated to community-building and the importance of local solidarity. The films – Llévate mis amores (2014, dir. Arturo González Villaseñor), Last of the Mohicans (2019, dir. Max Poeg), Central Airport THF (2018, dir. Karim Aïnouz), and the retrospective Daguerreotypes (1976, dir. Agnès Varda) – were shown online to audiences across the UK, and in some cases internationally. We spoke to programme organisers Amanda Rogers, Federica Pugliese, and Amaya Bañuelos Marco about the ins and outs of the experience and the way it helped them reimagine how cinema can be brought to the public.
Amanda, the producer of the event, introduces the overarching aims of the programme: “When we first launched the Cinetopia: DOC strand, it was originally designed to be a monthly series bringing together local documentary film enthusiasts and filmmakers to watch, discuss, and connect around the genre and craft. We had the fortune of being able to showcase the films in the Edinburgh Film Guild’s theatre at the Filmhouse, inviting artists and experts to lead discussions around these wonderful films that are often not shown in the city’s cinemas.”
The Love Your Local edition of Cinetopia: DOC, however, was going to work quite differently. Envisioned as an online event from the very beginning and realised with the help of the Film Feels Connected fund, the programme represented a chance to explore new and innovative avenues for film exhibition. Amaya, the series’ co-curator alongside Federica, explains the topic of the event: “We thought this would be a great opportunity to work together on a theme that resonated with us in a time when most people have felt more acutely the importance of their communities or, on the contrary, the lack of community support.”
They chose the Eventive platform for streams and screenings, as well as a pay-as-you-can scheme through which the viewers could watch the films at home for a limited time. Accompanied by live discussions in which the audience participated via chat, the screenings and streams were announced for a specific time, but could also be viewed after the fact.
While this gave the organisers a lot of leeway in terms of scheduling, as the only “venue” they needed to book and promote consisted of a mere internet link, other concerns emerged. “I would say negotiating film licenses and reassuring distributors and sales agencies that our platform was safe was one big challenge,” Amaya continues. “It was also interesting to see how there is still some confusion around the ideas of live and online, as if these could not co-exist.”
“As a distributor,” Federica adds, “you want to make sure, if your film is shown online, that this is done through a trustworthy platform and by a reliable source. In this regard, it can also be hard to gain the trust of distributors when you’re not a big venue or an established film festival. Therefore, we put a lot of effort into liaising with everyone. Eventually we managed to get all the films we wanted to screen, which was a great achievement for us as we really cared about securing our original line-up.”
Image from Daguerreotypes, part of Cinetopia:DOC – Love Your Local
Another challenge was finding and establishing a relationship with the programme’s audience. Though not having to reserve a specific location afforded the organisers with more logistical freedom, collaborating long-term with a venue can be crucial in helping you get to know your proverbial (and literal) territory, as well as its associated viewership. Hosting your event online, on the other hand, means that, in Federica’s words, “the possibilities are endless, but the budget isn’t; we had to readjust our thinking around what kind of audiences we wanted to reach and how to reach them.”
While adjusting to these new conditions took patience and creativity, organising Cinetopia: DOC online also meant that new health and safety restrictions on gatherings didn’t have to completely derail existing plans to bring the newer films and their stories to the public. “The filmmakers responded very well to the event,” Amaya says, “as it was an opportunity to screen films which hadn’t been shown outside of the festival circuit or the pandemic had interrupted their plans to screen more widely.”
The project also benefited from the lack of geographic constraints, as filmmakers could participate in the Q&As from countries such as the Netherlands or Mexico. In some cases, this was true for the viewers as well, as Federica explains: “Having audiences joining us from outside the UK for at least some of the screenings was a great experience. The positive feedback we have received about the films and post-screening discussions was really rewarding, and probably the reason why we worked so hard to put this together in the first place.”
Discussion with Federica Pugliese (top left), Amanda Rogers (top right), Amaya Bañuelos Marco (bottom left) and Rebecca DeRoo (bottom right) following the Cinetopia:DOC – Love Your Local screening of Daguereotypes.
“Having participants join in from other countries” Amaya adds, “really added value to the programme and made it stand out from other on-demand options, particularly at this current time when viewers are saturated with online content. I think it is a real asset to offer audiences different ways to experience a film. This, in the long term, is good for the sector’s accessibility and sustainability.”
Cinetopia: DOC, as it was originally conceived, is just as much about creating a cinema club atmosphere as it is about film screenings themselves. With Love Your Local, this docu-club had the opportunity not only to endure in the face of a huge upheaval of the industry, but also to employ new methods of event planning and to make use of online spaces and their various advantages. Though the real-life experience of a film festival is difficult, if impossible, to replicate or replace, this programme hoped to show that a sense of community can be upheld even under otherwise isolating circumstances.
Love Your Local was part of Film FeelsConnected, a UK-wide cinema season, supported by the National Lottery and BFI Film Audience Network. Explore all films and events at filmfeels.co.uk
Love Your Local is also supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network, and funded by Screen Scotland and National Lottery funding from the BFI.