A great film can get you out of a funk, whisk you away from worry (at least, for a little while) and give you a glimpse into someone else’s life. During the ongoing pandemic, many of us have also been turning to film to escape the relentless news cycle and get lost in another world for a couple of hours. But if you feel like you’ve seen it all before, and have been spending more time scrolling and searching than watching, you might want to check out the Nickel Independent Film Festival.
Established in 2001 as a way for local filmmakers to screen their work, the annual festival now also encompasses national and international work, professional development workshops, panel discussions, networking events, film challenges and more. This year’s festival kicked off on July 20 and will run until the end of the month. And in light of the pandemic, it has headed online, meaning that cinephiles can enjoy more than 60 independent films from the comfort of home.
“We definitely miss the feeling of watching movies together with other people and can’t wait to make that happen again, but in the meantime the pandemic has given the Nickel a good excuse to experiment with some new approaches. We’re pretty lucky because so many people are used to watching movies on their computers or tablets, and it’s harder and harder to find someone who isn’t used to doing that. So that was one big obstacle removed,” says Elling Lien, Executive Director of the Nickel Independent Film Festival.
This year, the festival is utilizing a pop-up streaming platform that updates every 24 hours with new films to watch that day, and all virtual screenings are offered for free – something that Lien says is made possible through the festival’s supporters.
“As a professional arts organization, we’re committed to paying artist fees, so one big thing that helped us overcome that was we have a really solid funding base that held steady once the pandemic hit. Support like from the Canadian Department of Heritage, ArtsNL, Canada Council for the Arts and the Government of NL, plus lots of other support from businesses and organizations. With that in place, we were able to continue supporting artists with screening fees and make this shift,” he says.
One of the biggest obstacles in moving online, Lien says, was finding the right platform. Eventually, the festival settled on Eventive, which, Lien adds, was started by independent film festival administrators.
“They make everything feel intuitive and look good, and they have enhanced digital rights management, which is important.”
While there’s something special about sitting in a room full of people and watching the magic unfold on the big screen, Lien says the biggest advantage of moving the festival online is the increased accessibility.
“Newfoundland and Labrador is huge, and it’s not easy to take a jaunt up to Nain or St. Anthony or Burgeo and screen a film. This shift online for us meant we are able to reach anyone with a decent internet connection and give them a touch of the festival experience,” he says.
“It’s working so well that now that we’ve done this, I imagine we’ll always at least keep one foot in the streaming world, even once we start having physical ones again.”
While many people and organizations are experimenting with new ways to reach their audiences these days, there’s going to be a learning curve along the way and things won’t always go as planned. Lien’s best piece of advice – embrace it.
“I think because we’re kind of all making this up as we go along, I feel like there’s a lot of forgiveness from people and understanding that things are going to go wrong. That problems will come up. That the polished experience we strive for as organizers or businesspeople is not going to be there,” he says.
“And that’s just an excellent time to experiment, because you never know what amazing approach you might stumble upon.”