Reshaping film festivals and cinemas with OTT platforms

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Reshaping film festivals and cinemas with OTT platforms

Thursday, 06 June 2024 | Chaitanya Kumar prasad

By embracing a hybrid approach that combines virtual access with in-person screenings, festivals have the opportunity to broaden their audience reach

In the age of instant communication and paradigm shifts, transformative changes are progressively taking place in the content domain as it is being collated, consumed and distributed across media platforms. The communication landscape is witnessing a sea of opportunities, being available to access content in a form suitable to viewers, audiences and stakeholders. Cinema also is witnessing an innovation & disruption bringing, forth a change in the status quo of viewing on the silver screen.

The exponential growth of OTT platforms has redefined the mode & matrix of cinema viewing globally. Apart from promoting binge-watching, and accessible viewing, OTT has become a convenient pastime for home viewing. Today the OTT domain is a witness to a recalibration of distribution channels, new revenue models, focus on artistic merit and reconfiguration of the content with outreach mechanisms. India has also been seeing a rise in the OTT domain with quality content being produced in huge numbers.

The global film festival circuit is also witnessing winds of change giving rise to new collaborative partnerships, renewed style of storytelling, narration, participation and branding of cinematic appeal.

As a consequence, film festivals have repositioned themselves as platforms with broadened appeal, wider audiences and a variety of diverse themes related to storytelling. Cannes Film Festival 2024, is responding to these changes by forging new collaborative partnerships and adopting fresh storytelling techniques. This dynamic is evident as film festivals broaden their thematic scopes and embrace diverse cinematic expressions, integrating OTT content that resonates with global audiences. Notable examples include Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma" and PawelPawlikowski’s "Cold War," both of which received significant accolades at major international festivals, underscoring the increasing acceptance and influence of OTT-produced content within the mainstream cinema landscape. This is evident in the case of Indian OTT content representation as well, with many big-name international film festivals accepting its nominations.

India's representation at Cannes 2024 exemplifies this trend, showcasing films that bridge traditional Indian narratives with contemporary global themes, thus appealing to a wide array of audiences. The increasing inclusion of Indian OTT content at Cannes highlights a strategic shift towards embracing digital storytelling platforms, reflecting a broader trend of film festivals adapting to the digital age.

This evolution is mirrored in the increased recognition of web series and digital features, which are now celebrated for their creative quality and innovation at such international platforms.

Indian presence at Cannes 2024 has been a testament of diversity, talent and unique identity; which was showcased by the multiple nominations in various categories and innumerable wins that Indian creators and films have bagged this year.

Since 2023, there has been an increase in the inclusion of OTT content in film festivals showing a shift influenced by the popularity of direct-to-consumer streaming platforms. Major film festivals are integrating digital content into their programs, recognising the potential of OTT to bring innovative storytelling and diversity. Some have even introduced awards for web series to highlight the creative quality of OTT productions.

Over the years IFFI, Goa has created unique templates for integrating the festival with the OTT narrative, reinforcing storytelling with fresh perspective, imagination participation & collaboration. The 51st edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) made history by introducing a hybrid format in 2021.

This innovative approach allowed attendees to participate both in person and virtually showcasing the benefits of blending digital components.

The pioneering move not only tackled the challenges posed by the pandemic but also set a new gold standard for Film Festivals worldwide. The success of IFFI in 2021 as a hybrid model inspired other prestigious festivals like TIFF to adopt similar formats in subsequent years ensuring ongoing engagement and inclusivity.

The 52nd IFFI kept up the momentum. More than 50 films were screened simultaneously on OTT platforms. 10 Masterclasses. For the 54th edition, IFFI introduced the Best Web Series (OTT) Award and honoured "Panchayat Season 2", from Amazon Prime Video, for its authentic depiction of rural Indian life. This move has fostered bridging the gap between traditional and digital film realms.

By embracing a hybrid approach that combines virtual access with in-person screenings, festivals have the opportunity to broaden their audience reach and promote inclusivity.

Collaboration between festivals and streaming services could encompass sponsorships, premieres, acquisitions or joint projects with filmmakers enriching the festival experience and aligning with audience preferences for personalised viewing options.

(The writer is a Former Addl. DG DFF & Festival Director IFFI, Views are personal. Inputs provided by Zoya Ahmad, and Vaishnavie Srinivasan)

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