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‘Cancel is not in our vocabulary’: CIFF 2021 forges ahead with hybrid model

In 2020, 35,000 people attended the Calgary International Film Festival whether in-person or online. Getty Images

Organizers say the Calgary International Film Festival will go ahead in 2021 despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual film festival is held every fall, but adapted last year to showcase movies both in theatres and online to comply with health restrictions.

Organizers said some 35,000 people attended the festival last year, whether in-person or online.

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Speaking to Global News, CIFF‘s Artistic Director Brian Owens said they’re going into CIFF 2021 assuming things “will look pretty similar” to this past year.

“The benefits of the hybrid model for both the audience and the festival team is that we’ve structured things to be flexible,” Owens said.

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“However the pandemic evolves, we can adjust in-cinema capacities and the number of films we offer digitally.

“That said, fingers are crossed for more in-person events and more available seats,” Owens added. “Nothing beats the magic of the cinema.

“‘Cancel’ is not in our vocabulary. If you can believe it, our hybrid model increased the average number of films people watched.

“For many, the virtual, on-demand delivery model meant you could see all the movies on your hit list. When people aren’t anchored to a specific location and time, it was easier to join in.”

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Owens said when it comes to virtual attendance, one in seven audience members last year came from outside Calgary.

“We fill a gap in many rural communities that don’t have their own local international film festival,” he said. “We also managed to bring in new Calgarians — from busy parents to folks who are mobility-challenged.

“We understand now that it is not just a pandemic solution; it’s a way to make our festival more accessible.”

CIFF 2021 will be held from Sept. 23 – Oct. 3.

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Owens said with the Alberta government expecting vaccinations for the general public could begin in the fall, they are “quite confident” that restrictions will be lessened somewhat — or at least on par with what they saw last year.

“As you can imagine, it’s impossible to predict with precision — so we’re keeping it flexible, with the audience experience at the forefront of all our planning.

“There were a few films we tried bringing in last year that were stuck in post-production and unable to move forward because of the pandemic,” he explained. “We’re in touch with those filmmakers and distributors, ready to bring them into CIFF 2021 now that they are complete.

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“With submissions open now, we’re already beginning to curate the best of indie, international and local cinema of the year, many titles which audiences may never have a chance to see again.”

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Owens said COVID-19 has brought an “immense change” to the organization.

“It’s certainly not all bad. When we shifted to remote work and video conferencing, we saw communication and productivity rise across the entire team.”

“We’re really proud of everyone and learned a lot of lessons. CIFF’s a better place to work now and have the pandemic to thank, surprisingly.”

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