For artists and arts organizations, summer is one of the busiest times of the year with music and theatre festivals, craft shows and exhibitions, and other big events filling up calendars. This summer, however, things are looking a lot different due to COVID-19 and the corresponding safety measures in place. But this doesn’t mean that the show can’t go on, at least in some capacity. While the pandemic has presented some unique challenges, artists and arts groups around the province are showing how to overcome them in their own unique ways.
Take the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival for instance. When it looked like COVID-19 was going to put the brakes on their annual “Films on the Go” series (a cross-provincial screening tour and educational outreach program), they decided to switch things up. This summer, “Films Where You’re At” is giving cinephiles the opportunity to view some great local short films from the comfort of home. The series kicked off on June 11 (which was followed by a live Q&A with the film’s directors) and will run every Monday (from 12-2pm) and Thursday (from 7-9pm) until August 31.
All of the films were screened during last year’s festival and were written and/or directed by women from Newfoundland and Labrador. The series also includes the documentary “Miawpukek – Middle River,” which was written and produced by the Grade 10 class at Se’t A’newey Kina’matino’kuom as part of the SJIWFF’s FRAMED filmmaking camp.
“All short films are available online during our screening times. We have covered artist fees for the duration of the summer, so our viewers can watch for free,” says Jamie Lewis, Marketing Manager with the SJIWFF.
This isn’t the first successful pivot that the SJIWFF has made. Recently, they also revamped their “Scene and Heard” industry series to offer #CozyChats, a three-week series of candid and interactive chats with local and national filmmakers hosted on Instagram live. The series was a smashing success with 1,331 viewers, “far exceeding our expectations for this pilot program,” Lewis says.
Adjusting programming from a physical to a virtual space, however, does present some challenges. One of those, Lewis says, is making their regular patrons and attendees aware of their offerings.
“Then there’s the logistical challenge – adjusting our workflows and offerings for a digital space. Thankfully we have a great technical director – Victoria Wells – who has really taken the reins when it comes to facilitating these digital events,” Lewis says.
“There is also the issue of internet accessibility, which has been a pretty common theme throughout this pandemic – access to high-speed internet is limited by both economic status and location, particularly in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Everyone these days is trying to figure out how to get on with their “normal” lives during this abnormal time. And depending on their craft, it’s not always easy for artists or groups to adjust their programming to adapt to the circumstances. For those who have, there are some great lessons to be learned, Lewis says.
“We’ve made a point to look to other festivals to see how they’re pivoting – we’re lucky in that our event occurs late in the season, so we can really look to other industry players for insight on how to pull off our programming this year,” she says.
“Look to the community to see how they’re pivoting, engage your team members, patrons, any other stakeholders or community members who would have insight on how best to stay operational. Use the global connectivity of the digital space to your advantage by connecting and collaborating with people that you wouldn’t normally be able to include in your programming or collaborative work.”
Visit the SJIWFF website and click the video link to watch “Films Where You’re At” during the scheduled times. The password will be posted to the page an hour before start time.