A US-based film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer.
VIEWS: In the new COVID-19 reality, the virtual film festival has become the new normal.

Covering the CPH:DOX – one of the spring fests to respond to COVID-19 by moving online rather than cancel or postpone – remotely from several time zones away proved a surprising respite from the global coronavirus chaos. Not only was I able to tune in to fascinating virtual talks (see Edward Snowden) at all hours of the day, and discover nonfiction gems (via the online CPH:MARKET, the most abundantly stocked market I’d seen in weeks) – but I was able to do it all from the comfort of home in my pajamas (and sans jet lag).

Of course, there’s the disappointment of not being able to binge on cinema in a vibrant international city in a country with an actual functioning government. But if there’s one thing viewing so many foreign docs over the years has taught me, that’s a First World letdown. I’m not fearing the health crisis unfolding from inside a refugee camp in the Middle East, nor from behind the bars of a US prison. I’m in a place with abundant sunshine, early spring weather and – now shed of its street-clogging tourists – plenty of space to move about safely outside.

Of course, there’s the disappointment of not being able to binge on cinema in a vibrant international city in a country with an actual functioning government.

This isn’t to say there aren’t steep downsides to covering a festival while social distancing – most acutely laid bare by the emotional loss of offline, face-to-face connection. (That and the fact that I seem to get sucked into watching way too many films – evidenced by my recently awaking from a dream with the immediate thought, «that ending didn’t work»). I’ve long been aware that the in-person fest is a viral transmission hotspot – I used to half-joke that skipping last November’s IDFA also meant missing my annual IDFA cold – but it’s also an idea transmission hotspot. Sure, some of that can be replicated online through digital conferences and debates (which CPH:DOX excelled at this year), but a lot occurs in spaces that require the human touch. Coffee with a colleague you haven’t seen in a year, who just happens to mention a work-in-progress he’s producing about a mind-blowing subject you weren’t aware even existed. Meeting a director whose doc you most definitely weren’t planning on checking out, but since she’s so fascinating you do – and it turns out to be the hidden find of the fest. (And then there’s the XR experience – which, unfortunately, cannot always be translated to a virtual fest.) In other words, I’ve also developed a newfound appreciation for the power of happy accidents. And for all the human desires no giant tech company will ever be able to fulfill.

*Excerpted from an article that was originally published on documentary.org, the website of the International Documentary Association, a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles.

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