Will the global pandemic push the vulnerable film industry even closer to the edge? | Sunday Observer

Will the global pandemic push the vulnerable film industry even closer to the edge?

26 April, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has had significant consequences on almost every socio-political and economical aspects of mankind, and naturally, people’s health and security came to the forefront and the impact on the entertainment industry, of course, has been an area of least concern and has not been figured at the forefront of national or international levels of concern.

Vulnerable industry

In this context, due to the pandemic, no industry perhaps, has been damaged as quickly as well as widely as the entertainment business, particularly, the cinema industry. Proving this fact, in Sri Lanka, the first industry to shutdown in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak was the film theatre industry and the cultural events which had been organised by then. Although, in Sri Lanka film theatres were not one of the thriving industries even in the pre-corona world, the global situation is quite the contrary. Analysts estimate that the virus has already cost the global box office as much as $5 billion, mainly due to theatre closures in China (the world’s second biggest film market, behind only the US), but also in Japan, South Korea, Italy, and France.

The film industry is particularly vulnerable to the pandemic because of its 100 per cent people driven process and from the beginning to the end it requires that large numbers of people huddle together in small spaces. Also, it is a truly global industry, where most of the production companies and studios have offices and film sets in several countries and they often require employees to travel between them frequently.  

‘Work from home’

Unlike many industries, it is impossible to imagine a ‘work from home’ strategy for a film shoot. Although,even if directors can teleconference with actors until the actual time of a shoot, actors have to interact with each other and makeup artists and camera crews cannot do their jobs virtually. 

Because of the nature of the industry with its high potential of  social interaction, those in the industry are more vulnerable to infection. Also, they have a higher risk potential of spreading the virus, due to much physical contact is normally required to make a movie.

Demand skyrockets, supply fails

However, while the outbreak has shaken the process of the entertainment industry, in contrast, the demand for the entertainment business has increased like never before. Due to the effect of the focus on vital social distancing, sitting in front of the television or computer in our own living room  has become the only option available for entertainment. The demand for TV series’ and online streaming skyrocketed overnight and became more popular and probably  a necessity in day- to -day pandemic constrained life. However, none of the industries were able to predict, and were ready to face such a pandemic situation. Many new media platforms such as Netflix, iflix and many others have had to suspend their productions on all scripted series and films for the present. Sadly, although there is a surging demand for these platforms, soon there will be no new content to stream when the original content starts to dry up.

What’s the solution?

However, should this be the ultimate situation? Aren’t there any alternative measures which can be taken? At the time when radio came along, did it eradicate the newspaper business? Absolutely not! When movies came along, did they eliminate radio? No, not really. And when television came along, did it eliminate movies?  Obviously, they did not. Therefore, just because COVID-19 comes along, does it have to eliminate all alternative entertainment platforms and independent film festivals? No, it should not have to. And is this the common scenario in almost everywhere in the world? Fortunately, it is not. The silver lining of the coronavirus outbreak is that the entire world is under the same threat without any disparities. It has treated everyone equally. Therefore, unlike any other crisis, the coronavirus pandemic has given an equal chance for all to come out of this calamity in our own efficient as well as creative way.

Recently Denmark and Sweden announced that they have re-started films and TV shoots under a new set of preventive measures with regard to the coronavirus crisis. However, Sweden did not impose a lockdown or any other drastic restrictions to fight the pandemic as did other countries around the world; it is among the first European countries, along with Denmark to put in place specific government guidelines allowing production to be jump started. Restriction  of shoot gatherings to a maximum  of 50 people on set, minimum crews, distance pre-planning, subordinate departments such as casting, location scouting and pre-production related activities working remotely via video conference or  with self-shot tapes, demotivating the incorporation of those who are above 70  years in the crew, restricted buffets and coffee stations, thorough adherence to one-metre social distancing rules and many other simple yet precise measures have helped them to fight against the pandemic and get along in their respective fields efficiently.

Film festivals cancellation

However, while one side of the world is well prepared and is successfully switching to the post-corona world, the other side of the world is behaving otherwise. Recently, numerous global film festivals due to take place in the coming months, announced their cancellations due to COVID-19.

The Cannes International Film Festival was due to start on May 12 and has been postponed until further notice.  The Festival’s two parallel sidebars, the Directors’ Fortnight and the  Critics’ Week, issued a statement saying that they had cancelled their 2020 editions. The statement added: “In order to support the whole film industry impacted by the current circumstances, each section, in consultation with the Cannes Film Festival, is looking at the best way to keep on supporting the films submitted to its 2020 edition”.

In addition, the Tribeca Film Festival in New York which was founded by Robert de Niro has also been postponed.

Need of an alternative cinema culture

 While there is no doubt that it will be a rough year at the global box office for the industry, most analysts expect that it will recover eventually. But the virus has already shown how incredibly vulnerable the entertainment industry is to something like a pandemic.

As a solution, it is paramount for each and every country to think through about  strenthening the national cinema while also  thinking  through an alternative independent cinema culture and industry, especially in  countries like ours where the cinema is no longer an industry.

Venice Film Festival to go ahead with or without Cannes

With festivals, albums, concerts, and more being pushed to the fall or cancelled entirely due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Venice Film Festival is sticking to its plans for September. In a recent interview with the Italian media, Venice Biennial President Roberto Cicutto once again confirmed the September 2 – 12 dates for the 77th Venice Film Festival and down played plans for a Venice x Cannes Film Festival collaboration. Out on another glorious European coast, strict social distancing regulations forced the Cannes Film Festival to postpone this year’s event, once to mid-July and a second time indefinitely. While Cannes Director, Thierry  Fremaux, suggested to Variety that  the Venice Film Fest and Cannes may combine their efforts, Roberto Cicutto said that there is no “hypothesis” for a collaboration at this time. “With Cannes, everything is possible, but I find it disconcerting that Thierry Fremaux keeps saying he is continuing to examine the situation and does not say what he wants to do,” he said, later adding “We are going forward with our program, and if Cannes is still thinking (about their course of action) then there is no dialogue.”

Meanwhile, Venice is exploring options to make sure its September Festival can still happen, including a digital option for foreign press and potentially using cinemas. They’ve given themselves until May to figure all that out, which seems to be the new rule of thumb for all coronavirus- related time lines. As the oldest film festival in the world, Venice may be at a higher risk for the coronavirus, but it is not going down without a fight.

(Courtesy: Variety)