For many, the outbreak of Covid-19 is a source of entirely justified anxiety, fear and sadness. But for some, it is also proving to be an unplanned source of creative inspiration. Allison McCulloch, a Los Angeles based filmmaker and podcast host, was disappointed to hear that SXSW, the famous Austin-based film conference and festival, had been indefinitely postponed. But there is no stopping a cinephile looking for new thrills: and so, a very simple yet defining question came to her mind. If she couldn’t go to the festival, why couldn’t the festival come to her?
The most ambitious ideas can be born out of the most unexpected situations – something that Allison McCulloch now knows very well. A regular film festival attendee, she decided to bring the scene online through her own festival, Beyond Corona. We talked to her about the origin of the festival, how people can participate, what makes short films so special and what she envisions for the future of the film industry.
Babylon: Hi Allison, and thank you for accepting to talk to us. First things first – can you tell us about the Beyond Corona Film Festival? How did it come to be, and how can we participate?
Allison McCulloch: The day after SXSW was cancelled due to the Coronavirus, it prompted me to start a film festival: Beyond Corona Film Festival. I had been wanting to for quite some time, but the moment hadn’t been right. I decided to accept entries for short films that were four minutes or less, in categories including horror, comedy, and political. In order to promote the new festival, I set the final submission deadline for July and the online festival date for October. Afraid that things might blow over by then, one thing was for sure: if the film festival were online, it couldn’t be canceled.
Things have evolved since then. In addition to SXSW being canceled, Cannes has been pushed back indefinitely and movie theaters have closed their doors. This is a a great time for online film festivals to pop up, as people are mostly staying indoors.
Beyond Corona Film Festival has received a couple of submissions from filmmakers whose shorts were supposed to be shown at SXSW, as well as from other up-and-coming filmmakers from Brazil, Austria, Canada, and the United States. Students can submit their short films for free until May 5, 2020. The deadline for all filmmakers to submit is July 4, 2020.
Babylon: Beyond Corona Film Festival only accepts films under four minutes of length – how important are these films to you, as a cinephile and a filmmaker?
Allison McCulloch: Any film that can get its point across in four minutes or less is incredibly valuable. Most early silent films were super short! A lot of them were completely innovative too.
Babylon: For those that may be unfamiliar with this side of filmmaking, are there any “super short” films you’d recommend us to watch?
Allison McCulloch: Fantasmagorie (Émile Cohl), Autour d’une cabine (Émile Reynaud), Yours (Jeffrey Noyes Scher), Prada: Candy (Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola), Dots (Norman McLaren), Western Spaghetti (PES) and Jessica and David (Bidemi Akanbi).
Babylon: Beyond Corona is a solo operation – has it been difficult to turn this idea into reality?
Allison McCulloch: Not really. Everything including the website and the Film Freeway listing was up in a day; submissions came in right away. Because I was handling everything myself, I limited film submissions to shorts four minutes and under in case it really took off. I knew that I would have to start with lower submission fees to encourage filmmakers and also wanted to make it worth my while. In the future, I’d love to open submissions to longer films once things get bigger.
Babylon: What has been your experience with promoting it enough so that it could reach filmmakers (and consequently get submissions)?
Allison McCulloch: Mainly through Twitter, but I’ve also set up a Facebook page and an Instagram account. I have the link on my Letterboxd profile too and send reminders through the different platforms when a deadline is coming up. I contacted a couple of SXSW filmmakers personally, and have had some people I know submit films as well.
Babylon: Do you have advice for aspiring festival programmers?
Allison McCulloch: Just do it! Once you have a clear idea of what kind of festival you want to put on, it is so easy in this day and age to make it happen. There are very low entry barriers to creating your own online film festival now. So take advantage!
Babylon: Many Hollywood executives are scared that the Coronavirus pandemic will mean that even less people will attend cinemas in the feature, signing the definitive win of streaming over theater going – how realistic do you think that is? Are you worried about that possibility?
Allison McCulloch: Moving to streaming will increase convenience for consumers. That’s for sure! Despite the dwindling audiences for movie theaters in the last several years, I’ve always made it a point to try to see movies at a theater and to support independent movie theaters such as the Laemmle chain in the greater Los Angeles area and the Lumiere Cinema at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills, CA. There is not much for the consumer to worry about as we adapt and are being given more options in the way of streaming. The only concern is that if movie theaters are forced to close down, there may be fewer venues to hold film festivals when things return back to normal. Also, with social distancing measures becoming the new normal until perhaps 2021, there may not be any in-person film festivals for quite some time.
Babylon: Enough about Hollywood executives: what do you think the future of cinema, and film festivals will look like after Corona? Will online festivals like Beyond Corona be more prevalent than before?
Allison McCulloch: I can’t remark on the first two questions. When I was adding Beyond Corona Film Festival to Film Freeway, there was an option to list it as a Film Festival or Online Festival. Since it couldn’t be guaranteed that the Coronavirus pandemic would be over by October (when the festival would start), I chose to make it a completely online festival. Unfortunately, online festivals are not searchable on Film Freeway, which I would have to assume that a lot of the traffic would come from. However, through word of mouth, we have received several submissions so far. Hopefully, people continue to spread the word. In addition to online festivals popping up, Festival Scope has been making select films from festivals available to stream on their website. Hopefully, if other festivals are delayed and/or canceled, certain selections will still be made available online for the public.
Babylon: How about the content of these post-Coronavirus hypothetical films, and maybe art in general? Will we see a resurgence of contamination and apocalyptic narratives? Or will people want to move on and go back to what they were familiar with before?
Allison McCulloch: I can see a spike in Coronavirus-related films. After all, COVID-19 has changed everything. If a film is set in 2020, Coronavirus will be part of the story. Some writers/directors may choose to ignore it and give us films that are pure entertainment. However, for horror fans, Coronavirus will inspire a new kind of terror that can only elevate the types of stories we see coming from that genre.
Babylon: And on a more personal note – were there any films that you were looking forward to that you haven’t been able to see yet because of the pandemic? What were they?
Allison McCulloch: I was looking forward to Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch which has been moved to October, 2020 (from July). We will see all the delayed films soon enough. However, since productions have been suspended, we will probably see fewer films being released in 2021; that could have an effect possibly even into 2022, depending on how long this lasts. This is a great time for independent filmmakers to be writing or to be creating films on their phone or editing together old footage. By the time the pandemic ends, filmmakers will ready to get back into production!
Babylon: And finally, if this first instalment is successful, would you like BCFF to return for future editions?
Allison McCulloch: Yes. I wondered if the name “Beyond Corona” would be limiting for future editions. I decided that the Coronavirus was the impetus for this online film festival and it could be viable in years to come if this first festival goes well. Who knows how long social distancing will be in place? Also, it’s pretty convenient for audiences to have a curated festival online. Hopefully, it will be around for years to come!
Are you a filmmaker wanting to show your talents to the world during this Coronavirus lockdown? If you want to get involved, you can submit your work to the Beyond Corona Film Festival here. You can also find the festival on its website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook page. We may not be sure of what the world will look like in October, but at the very least, we can rest assured that cinema isn’t going anywhere, even if it has to remain on our computer screens for a little longer.