While in-person attendance at film festivals is still likely months away, deadCenter Film Festival is making the most of virtual technology during the COVID-19 pandemic through its membership in the Film Festival Alliance (FFA).
At 7 p.m. Saturday, deadCenter’s virtual screening of the documentary Unapologetic will serve as FFA’s capstone event for FilmEx, a virtual conference of film festival organizers from around the world. Sign up and pay for tickets online.
Alyx Picard Davis, executive director of deadCenter, said Unapologetic, a film about police violence against Chicago’s Black community, was a perfect choice for the virtual screening.
“Having Unapologetic is significant because the filmmaker, Ashley O’Shea, has been participating in FilmEx all week and has made herself available to film festival organizers and is making herself available for the Q&A,” Picard Davis said. “I can think of only a couple of films that would speak so poignantly toward this moment in history.”
Unapologetic explores the work of Black Lives Matter activists Janaé Bonsu and Ambrell Gambrell, who raps under the name Bella Bahhs, as they seek justice for the killings of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd and 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officers.
Throughout the film, O’Shay chronicles the difficult and emotionally painful work of BLM protesters as they try to communicate with Chicago Police Department officials (including current Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot) and the public.
Picard Davis said she felt it was imperative that the film be screened as soon as possible, given the current state of the world and the ongoing crisis of police violence against people of color.
“We’re using the technology that we have right now to get the story out into the world and genuinely I think it’s going to connect with more people than it would otherwise,” she said.
Tech used here in 2020
That same technology allowed the 2020 deadCenter Film Festival to take place in a virtual setting in June. While many film, music and art festivals were forced to cancel last year due to social distancing concerns, deadCenter was able to hold its screenings and Q&A sessions on Eventive, a platform for film festival streaming.
Picard Davis described the process of rolling out the virtual festival as “an adventure.”
“We had put so much work into it. At a certain point you just have to let the roller coaster go,” she said. “And I’ll tell you we were watching the analytics come in on day one and people started watching films at, like, 6 a.m.”
By going online, the festival also reached people as far away as Australia. Eventive had developed the technology just before the pandemic hit — Picard Davis said if COVID-19 had hit the world five years earlier, the festival probably would not have gone forward.
Looking to dC, June 2021
While the country goes through the difficult process of distributing COVID-19 vaccines, Picard Davis said deadCenter is moving forward with the 2021 festival for June.
Having proved that deadCenter Film Festival can exist in a virtual setting, the organization is looking toward a hybrid model, with a few limited and socially distanced live screenings to go along with the online viewing component.
Like so many film lovers, Picard Davis misses the community aspect of seeing movies in theaters, but she also recognizes there are people who enjoy the convenience of home viewing. She said her goal is for deadCenter to be able to deliver to both types of audiences.
“The on-demand screening of films … there are people who are going to love that, and that’s how they’re going to want to consume their films,” she said. “They want to wear sweatpants and not care about concessions and other people’s children and they just want to watch it at home. And then you have other people who really like the community aspect that are eager to get back in the theater and watch those movies. They’re probably the people who went to the midnight screenings of Harry Potter.”
In addition, bringing much of the festival online will allow deadCenter and other festivals to be more inclusive, showcasing more unusual or noncommercial films without concerns over mass appeal.
“You can take some more programmatic risks,” Picard Davis said.
Unapologetic online tickets are available for $10 and will feature a Q&A with O’Shay at 8:30 p.m. following the screening. For tickets, go to deadcenterfilm.org.
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