News2020.05.09 10:00

How Vilnius International Film Festival went digital in 7 days 2020.05.09 10:00

After spending an entire year preparing for the 25th anniversary edition of their event, organisers of the Vilnius International Film Festival had less than a week to move it from cinemas to streaming platforms in the midst of the pandemic.

With all mass gatherings banned by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the team quickly adapted and accomplished what seemed like an impossible task – going fully digital, according to a press release by Go Vilnius, the promotion agency of the Lithuanian capital.

The story of their success has captivated the interest of many other festivals that may be facing similar challenges in the near future, as the pandemic continues to affect cultural events all over the world.

After learning about the ban on public gathering in Lithuania and the announcement of a nationwide quarantine in mid-March, the festival team had to quickly reorganise their tasks, create new sponsorship, communication and marketing strategies, make arrangements with film distributors for on-demand viewing, partner up with streaming platforms, solve technical difficulties, refund tickets and answer an influx of viewer inquiries.

In the end, the Vilnius IFF that ran from March 19 to April 2 became one of the first film festivals to switch to a digital format.

Its films were streamed 56,000 times and, according to data collected by the research company Kantar, the streams were most often watched by two people, which adds up to some 112,000 total viewers. In comparisson, Vilnius IFF attracted 126,000 filmgoers last year.

Read more: Vilnius Airport becomes drive-in cinema as virus halts flights

In total, 69 percent of the programme – 118 films – made it onto streaming sites and on-demand TV.

The European Debut and Short Film competition also took place, with international juries choosing the winners online. Winners are set to receive cash prizes and trophies.

Other key parts of the festival were also preserved, including live interviews with filmmakers, open discussions about films, and presentations by festival programmers, all of which received 750,000 views online.

The festival’s photographers also improvised a red carpet photoshoot, using photos sent in by people celebrating the awards ceremony at home.

The Vilnius IFF also supported movie theatres by broadcasting the awards ceremony from an empty cinema and playing the closing film in vacant movie theatres across the country.

As far as the festival’s organisers were concerned, cancelling or postponing the event was never an option, in part because of audience expectations and also to minimise financial losses.

“All of our hard work paid off, emotionally more so than financially,” said Vilnius IFF CEO Algirdas Ramaška. “We received enormous support from various institutions, partners, viewers, people from the cultural sector, and the media.”

Subsequently, Ramaška shared his team’s best practices with over 500 festival organisers and other industry members from around the world during a webinar organised after the official closing of the festival.

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