Hallelujah for hybridity? Two and a half years on…

No, this is not another opinion piece on The Future of Film Festivals. Instead, we want to look at how festivals currently connect and collaborate with filmmakers and audiences. Is hybridity still the way to go?

It, evidently, is when the government implements social distancing rules. Or when it bans large-scale gatherings of people altogether. Then, hybridity could simply be a method to let a festival go ahead. But what does it bring to the table substantially?

1. Hybridity increases the festival’s (literal) accessibility.

Financial limitations, physical/mental conditions, time and distance; These reasons to not attend a festival aren’t eliminated by online festival activities. Nonetheless, it certainly helps! Digital screenings are much more affordable. Plus, a screening can be attended or left on one’s own accord.

Even with a lot of COVID-19 restrictions lifted, many festivals still offer audiences digital alternatives. Whilst steering away from the true hybrid form of the 2021 edition, Sheffield DocFest’s successful 2022 edition included a selection of online films and artworks. Enjoying a world-renowned festival from the comfort of your home, how perfect!

2. Hybridity leads to creativity and new experiences.

In 2021, when times were even more unsure, our friends over at CPH:DOX explored every possibility within the hybrid realm: Guests could attend panels and view films online. More so, their annual INTER:ACTIVE exhibition turned into a digital, live XR experience. Let’s say you are trekking a hidden world, learning about Icelandic folktales; Such an experience is undeniably special on its own. Yet, it gains an extra dimension when it turns into a collective, one-off experience across many different locations. 

This past April, in an event from their year-round Extended program, NFF gathered with many other cultural institutions. Sharing views on (in)effective use of hybrid spaces and practices, they came to interesting points. How the hybrid form increases sustainability, for example. Hybridity is thus certainly a form that asks us to explore new areas and ideas.

Through our work, we’ve also heard some cons to having digital festival activities:

1. The festival doesn’t properly function as a meeting place.

The human connection simply doesn’t unfold the same way in a digital space as in person. Concentration levels are different and spontaneity practically disappears from the equation. Collaborating with international colleagues is decidedly easier with digital meetings. Is the quality the same as in-person meetings, though?

It’s interesting to note how our beloved IDFA had over 2000 professionals physically joining the festival last November, even with online programmes in place. One case doesn’t make a study, for sure. This is, however, a small indication that people want meet up again!

2. Online is not necessarily the best way to view films.

We don’t want to advocate for the purist stance that films are only to be shown in cinemas. The at-home viewing experience is very different, nonetheless. The lack of collective concentration and the presence of distractions… These things can result in experiencing a story in an unfulfilling way. 

Screen size can matter as well (though not with every film). Certain details might be important to the narrative or part of the film aesthetic. They can get lost when screen size gets reduced. To decide if that’s genuinely problematic, we’ll probably have to ask for every filmmaker’s intentions.

To conclude: there’s not really a conclusion to this. The interpretation of hybridity sometimes even seems to shift; Last year, it might’ve meant a complete digital experience alongside physical events. This year it could be a streaming platform with a selection of films. Additionally, some say the hybrid form is only fitting for industry activities. One might rather have the general public at the festival grounds and operate digital programmes for professionals. That said, filmmakers/artists and festivals are still exploring new means of creating and organising. For everyone!

What do you think? Has your festival developed new ideas through adopting the hybrid form? How have you experienced meeting other professionals or audiences these last years? If (and please allow us this marketing segue) you want to hear how Fiona can assist with setting up or adapting your festival, feel free to contact us. We have plenty of (online) features available for you!

About The Author

Laura Schenkels
Oerol 2022: Top 3 performancesNew Zealand International Film Festival 2022: Top 3 films


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