Festivals Go Virtual: How Top Fests Are Adapting to the Coronavirus Shutdown

On March 13th, we kicked off our SXSW Shorts Week, highlighting selections from the festival exactly 7 days after its cancelation. Any thoughts we had about that unprecedented move being an isolated incident soon evaporated though. Many high profile events in the calendar quickly followed suit: REGARD (3/11 to 3/15) canceled their fest mid-stream while our team member Céline Roustan was on the ground, and Tribeca and Cannes announced postponements. 

For these Spring festivals, the timing has been especially cruel, as they’ve had to scramble against the clock to figure out how to adapt to the fast-moving reality on the ground. Cancel, or transform? Festivals, for all their glitz and glamor, are often fairly lean, non-profit organizations. While Cannes will be fine we expect, a straight cancelation could be a death sentence for smaller operations. We’re starting to see the first attempts to preserve aspects of these festivals right now, so let’s take a look at the various approaches being tried. This is an incomplete and evolving list, if you have news about actions your favorite festival is taking, leave a comment below!

Ticketed Events

  • Aspen Shortsfest (3/31 – 4/5) – Arguably the most important shorts-specific film fest in the US (vying with Palm Springs), Aspen is going for virtual screenings—selling tickets for their individual programs which can be viewed from home on-demand at any time throughout the duration of the fest. Despite the international reach this allows, they will be capping the tickets at their normal theater capacity—about 500 tickets per screening. Partnering with Festival Scope for video delivery, tickets can be purchased now at Aspen Show Tix.
  • Ashland independent Film Festival (4/16 – 4/20) is moving back in the calendar and shifting to a virtual, ticketed program. Now set for 5/22 – 6/14, the festival will operate on top of the Film Festival Flix platform, and offer festival passes and individual tickets that can be viewed on the web or through the Film Festival Flix mobile, and TV apps. (updated 4/2/20)


  • Ann Arbor Film Festival (3/24 – 3/29) – Going for a different approach to virtual, one that seeks to preserve the shared, in-the-moment quality of the festival experience, is this respected experimental festival which is currently live-streaming their entire program for free on Vimeo. We checked in on Wednesday to catch S/W alum Sean Buckelew’s latest and I’m definitely popping in for this Sunday’s “Best of Fest” screenings.

Geo-Restricted Video On Demand

  • Some Fests are going digital without paywalls, working to make a selection of films available online. CPH:DOX (3/18 – 3/29), the esteemed Danish documentary festival is going that route. The festival has been extended thru 4/5 and has made an impressive 140+ films available. Restrictions apply however, as most of the viewing is only available to Danish residents. 
  • Similarly, UK residents have another couple of days to scope out entries from the country’s largest LGBTQ festival, BFI Flare (3/20 – 3/29), which has made a bunch of its selections available utilizing the geo-restricted BFI Player platform. You can sign up for a 14-day free trial to watch several of the fest’s 2020 selections. 

Virtual Industry Events

  • Hot Docs (4/31 – 5/10) – North America’s largest documentary festival has postponed their event, but are transitioning their Industry passes into an All-Access Digital Pass, which will recreate the forum, talks, pitch, and development services of the festival in remote form. 
  • Sheffield Doc/Fest (6/4 – 6/9) – A statement from the festival confirms that this important UK event’s pitching forums, MeetMarket and Alternate Realities Talent Market, will all proceed in June via virtual means, with hopes to reschedule the screenings in the Fall.   (updated 3/31/20)

Other Approaches

  • Some fests are simply trying to preserve their connection to audiences. Tribeca International Film Festival (4/15 to 4/26) has been postponed, but is using their site’s front page to feature a short film a day pulled from the festival’s archives. Most of these are films that are already online, a curational approach that jives with our own! 
  • The Glasgow Short Film Festival (3/18 – 3/22) has already set new dates in August, but during their scheduled run last week they entertained their fans with 2 short films a day from the official selection that streamed for free for 24-hours.
  • The My French Film Festival doesn’t have to adapt much—it already is an annual online festival run by UniFrance which promotes French culture by screening a selection of feature films and shorts for a limited window. However, having already completed their 2020 edition, they are are bringing it back on short notice, bigger than ever. Titled the “Stay Home Edition”, over 50+ short films, including several hi-profile festival winners, are available for free at their website through 4/26. The site requires you to create a login though. (updated 3/31/20)
  • The twelfth edition of Dutch festival Go Short has gone online, offering a wide selection of their programmed films under the moniker Go Short Online. Running from 4/15 to 5/13 and costing just €10 for access, their online offering exists on the Filmchief – film festival software initiated by Go Short and KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival.
  • UK-based festival Encounters has also decided to take its International Competition 2020 online.“The new virtual format of Encounters will continue to provide a platform for new and emerging talent and will deliver the same exceptional programme of international short films, animation, masterclasses, panel discussions as well as the networking opportunities that has historically been one of Encounters main attractions”, Festival Director Rich Warren explains. The exact details of the online version of the festival are yet to be released, but the festival are key to stress that winners of their awards will still qualify for the BAFTAs and The Academy Awards (depending on the award). Submissions remain open until 6/4.
  • Beginning on 5/5 the Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film (ITFS) will offer a special online programme for their audience, until 5/10. Consisting of a free live-stream (featuring panels, interviews & short films) and GameZone, the festival will also offer a ‘fee-based film area for streaming selected films and competition entries’. 

Programmer-Led Efforts

  •  Fans of southeast Asian shorts will be happy to visit Lockdown Cinema Club a curated selection of shorts from the region which is fundraising to support the region. Run off of Google Docs, check it out here.


  • Sundance Film Festival was able to hold its main 2020 event back in January, but the London and Hong Kong editions have been postponed. Additionally, the extensive offerings of the Sundance Institute, including their prestigious filmmaker labs, are set to be disrupted. The festival has committed to reimagining 58 of these programs digitally through their new Co//ab educational platform and, in addition, are making that platform’s webinars, member Q&As, and masterclasses, which had been behind a paywall, free to all members of the public.
  • On the screenwriting front, tomorrow, 3/28, our friends at Screencraft are hosting a day-long Virtual Screenwriting Summit featuring luminaries such as Alan Yang and Tony Gilroy. Registration required, proceeds will benefit the Writers Guild Foundation, the Writers Guild Initiative, and The American Red Cross.
  • Likewise, not a festival, but Field of Vision is one of the most important organizations in documentary production and have announced that they have opened up Virtual Consulting to filmmakers through May.