HYBRID OPTIMISM – How to create a festival programme in the time of Corona?

As I write this, all cinemas in Helsinki’s metropolitan area have been closed – just as I was close to finishing DocPoint’s festival programme, with only a few final touches to go.

Despite these terrible times, I feel oddlyor perhaps unrealistically – optimistic: the new Corona regulations will push infection rates down so that in January we will be in a much better situation. The healthcare system will get a start on the vaccination campaign after the turn of the year. And by the start of the year, we will have returned to our new normal, where theatres can sell up to one third of their capacity (it’s funny: this doesn’t seem like such a terrible scenario anymore).  

The 2020 edition of DocPoint went better than we could have imagined. Immediately afterwards we jumped right back in the saddle and started planning next year’s anniversary edition, the twentieth DocPoint festival, which would be held in January-February of 2021. The anniversary festival would be incredible: a programme bigger than ever before, events for everybody to enjoy, new audiences and collaborations. Clubs! Exciting international guests! An extravagant opening party!   

I started scouring the world for documentary films to select and watch.    

Well, Corona came in March. At the office we didn’t go into panic mode, but instead, calmly moved to working remotely. It didn’t bother me, as piecing together a festival programme can only be done in the peace and quiet of my home. Of course the situation would simmer down before 2021, if it even got that bad in Finland.

Then news started coming in from various festivals: Copenhagen’s CPH:DOX festival had moved online, and SXSW in Texas would be cancelled altogether due to the pandemic. One after another, the spring and summer festivals announced they were moving online, rescheduling, or cancelling their events. Even Cannes. At DocPoint we came to learn a new term: hybrid festival. We tried to inspire optimism in each other.

To film producers and sales agents I relayed news of Finland’s relatively good situation compared to other European countries. In all likelihood we would be able to hold a traditional film theatre festival, where so many others have been unable to this year. I was met with many thanks and congratulations, as film folk were elated that at least somewhere in the world there would be actual film theatre screenings, even if they were only shown to a limited audience.

At the same time, we were pondering our options at the office. Should we cancel? Of course not. Reschedule? No. Move entirely online? Maybe not… A hybrid festival? Potentially, but what kind? And how do we do it?

Now, at the beginning of December, we have come a long way.

There has been a fantastic selection of documentary films on offer this year too, even though some productions have been rescheduled, and others have moved faster than ever onto streaming platforms. The effects of Corona will be seen for a while in the film industry: lord knows how many great productions have crumbled under the pandemic. There’s especially a shortage of Asian productions. As a result, our anniversary programme will be a tad smaller than we initially planned, but still impressive. In addition to an otherwise spectacular programme, DocPoint’s anniversary will also be celebrated with ananniversary selection’, a series of films compiled by the DocPoint creative directors of all times.

We don’t dare dream of having a grand party anymore, but we still plan to hold DocPoint first and foremost as a film theatre festival, where the most relevant and recent documentaries from Finland and around the world are shown. For those who feel that going to cinema is still a little too risky, we also have a wonderful selection of productions available online.

I remain optimistic, however I can’t go so far as to join those festival folk who delight in the new online possibilities that Corona has introduced us to. This peculiar time has forced us to examine just what a documentary festival is. What justifies such a festival, and what really makes it tick?

The twentyyear-old DocPoint is here so that we get to watch fascinating international documentaries that wouldn’t otherwise be available in Finland. Through DocPoint, we also get the pleasure of seeing them on the big screen. Very few Finnish documentary films get theatrical releases in Finland, which makes DocPoint all the more important. And of course that our collective audience gets to experience the magic and myriad of feelings that can arise from films. The countless insights, thoughts, questions, and discussions. DocPoint is also here, so that the artform of documentary films gets the forum and visibility that it deserves.

I hope that we can show our films in movie theatres, since that is where they were made to be shown. The online sphere is a substitute, which lacks the unique comradery of watching a film together, and the enchantment of a big silver screen. I am still grateful that we have a substitute option though, as a documentary watched from a computer screen or television is nevertheless a thousand times better than no documentary film at all.

So welcome to DocPoint either live or online, 29.1.-7.2.2021. I hope the world is doing somewhat better by then.

Kati Juurus  

The author is DocPoint festival’s artistic director.  

Photos: Tuomo Manninen