“The minute they came to me and asked if I’d support them I was more than happy to,” says Montague, who was also one of the producers of Griffiths’ feature film directing debut Ride Like a Girl.
She said the impact of coronavirus on the film industry had been particularly severe, with almost all production shut down and a majority of cast and crew ineligible for JobKeeper because of the short-term, gig-based nature of employment.
“In this time of crisis I think all communities need to support the industry they’re in.”
MIFF announced on April 7 that this year’s event, scheduled to run August 6-23, would not go ahead. But even as he was staring into “a black hole of disappointment”, artistic director Al Cossar and the rest of the senior management team were exploring the possibility of some sort of alternative event.
What they have come up with is MIFF 68½ – a nod both to Federico Fellini’s cinema classic 8½ and the fact this year’s event is not quite what had been planned for the festival’s 69th iteration.
“This isn’t a substitute, it’s a creative response to our circumstances,” says Cossar. “This is a time of experimentation and it is very much about finding and fostering audiences where they are right now.”
Films will be screened on a pay-per-view basis, with most available for the duration of the festival. A small number of sessions will be time-specific, “to create a sense of community event”. The program has not yet been finalised, but Cossar says free programs such as MIFF Talks will be part of the offering.
There are, he believes, opportunities in this reimagined festival that could serve MIFF well into the future.
“There’s definite potential for regional connectivity, the MIFF Schools program,” Cossar says. “It won’t replace what MIFF does – that’s something that will take place in cinemas, and we will always aspire to bring people together, but there are opportunities.”
Griffiths agrees. “Often cultural things evolve at a glacial pace, and nothing makes us adapt as fast as war and pandemics,” she says. “We can’t predict what lasting change will come from this, but we can predict that change will come. But I don’t think it will mean the demise of the medium at all.”
There is a chance that movie theatres will have reopened by the time this digital MIFF rolls around. In fact, the National Association of Cinema Operators announced on Tuesday it had targeted a July restart for the sector, with several senior figures telling this masthead that July 16, the date Christopher Nolan’s big-budget Tenet is due to open around the world, has “totemic” significance in their planning.
NACO did warn, however, that cinemas would not open until it was deemed medically responsible to do so and until the US market had restarted (because the supply of Hollywood films is so crucial to the major exhibitors).
At any rate, Cossar insists “we’re committed to this project even if cinemas do reopen then”.
“There may still be gathering bans plus social distancing protocols in place, which provide uncertainty as to how cinemas may operate,” he adds. “So if they do hit that mark in mid-July, we’d still see a huge amount of relevance with MIFF 68½ for audiences.”
MIFF 68½ will run August 6-23. The Age is a festival media partner.
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.