The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival has been selected as one of MovieMaker Magazine’s 50 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee, heralded as the first festival cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic to pivot quickly and go virtual.
SLO Film Fest was added to the list for the 6th time in 7 years, in a year when quick thinking and execution by the festival’s staff provided festival pass holders, sponsors and filmmakers with over 60 films virtually during it’s scheduled festival week, March 17-22, despite an unprecedented shut down of events due to the coronavirus.
From the article: “SLO was one of the very first film festivals to go online. It deserves a lot of credit for putting safety first and cancelling its live component early, out of the abundance of caution that soon became the norm. And it earned praise for a quickly assembled online program that balanced anti-piracy concerns with its goal of supporting filmmakers. We can’t wait for it to be able to resume: Sometimes called “the happiest place in America,” San Luis Obispo is known for tranquil Central California weather, wine and beer, and a festival that boosts a personalized Filmmaker Concierge for moviemakers and other special guests. SLO also offers the truly unique Surf Nite in which surfers and ocean-lovers unite for an event that’s like a cross between a ’60s surf movie screening and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.”
The SLO Film Fest was cancelled by the County Public Health Agency on Thursday, March 12, just five days before it was to begin. It was one of the first film festivals to cancel. Austin’s SXSW had cancelled almost a week earlier with no immediate plans for virtual programming. A film festival in Oxford, Mississippi with the same dates at the SLO Film Fest decided to postpone and then went virtual, as well.
SLO Film Fest had already sold close to 500 festival passes with roughly 100 visiting filmmakers from around the world, as well as countless more out-of-town festival-goers were forced to cancel travel plans. While coordinating those changes, assisting and managing the cancellation with the filmmakers, patrons, vendors, and staff, festival organizers also executed a plan to offer a majority of the festival films online during the festival week.
“We emailed all of the festival filmmakers on that Friday and asked them if they’d be willing to share their films, via password-protected online links, with our pass holders, sponsors and other filmmakers for the duration of the festival. I was very surprised at the immediate and extremely positive response we got from filmmakers all over the world, some of who had already been in quarantine in Europe for a week or more. By Tuesday morning, we had 63 films in two categories participating. It was quite exhilarating!” said Festival Director, Wendy Eidson.
The Festival also presented virtual awards on Sunday, March 22 by publishing a web page that included “acceptance speech” videos from filmmakers from a variety of countries.
Since then, organizers have continued to share films online. Building on the success of that initial virtual film festival, the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival pass holders have been offered a chance to watch many of the short and documentary features again in special encore screenings. All festival fans were able to watch the youth films in the Filmmakers of Tomorrow category, and the festival is now sharing the Best in the Fest films from the past ten years, with a new film introduced each week. So far, Tom Walters’ 2014 winner (and locally produced) BOTSO, Mark Hayes’ 2018 winner SKID ROW MARATHON and Gabriela Cowperthwaith and Tor Myhren’s 2011 winner CITY LAX: AN URBAN LACROSSE STORY have been added to the lineup. These films will be available to watch on a variety of platforms (some free, some for a small fee) until the end of June.
After a year of planning and expenses for the 2020 Festival, cancellation has been a major challenge for the SLO Film Fest. But thanks to the overwhelming support of loyal Festival sponsors and many pass holders, plans for the 2021 Festival are being developed. Organizers will announce new dates and plans in the coming months.