Film Festival Jury Duties in the New Normal Film World
by Mark Adams
Though to the outside world serving on a Film Festival Jury must seem like one of the best things around, the truth is that it is a serious, challenging and often tiring duty that at the very least has to be taken extremely seriously. After all, you are giving an award – usually just one – to a specific film and want said award to help draw attention to that film. The point is that you have watched a selection of films chosen for you by film festival programmers; have evaluated and taken a critical view of all of the films and then engaging in rigorous discussion with colleagues to come to a conclusion as to which is the best film of that selection.
Not everyone will agree with choice – and that, of course, if as it should be. Taste and critical viewpoints are by their nature are objective. One critic’s masterpiece is another’s failure. But the key thing is that you viewed each and every film on a level playing-field; pulled together your critical thoughts and decisions; listened and debated and sometimes argued with your fellow jurors and eventually arrived at a conclusion that you were all happy with.
Not always an easy process, but always once that is challenging and ultimately enjoyable.
Of course, in the New Normal world of on-line and virtual film festivals things are all slightly different.
At the very least one would expect to be physically at a film festival. Which as a rule means the dubious joys of travel, hotels, late nights, convivial company, food and drinks and that thing we are getting close to forgetting about – the physical and visceral sensation of sitting in a cinema; chatting with friends and colleagues and relishing that special moment when lights go down and the flickering image is projected onto the screen and you get absorbed into the filmmaker’s world.
The New Normal begins with how good your Broadband WiFi provider is; whether you can get the Vimeo link to stop buffering; hoping you can get the system to mirror onto your television and even just hoping that the subtitle synching works properly. Of course, your own home cinema experience might well also include juggling trips to make coffee/open a bottle of wine; answering the door to the postman; fending off children and/or needy pets and simply worrying about the small screen experience you are judging a film on as compared to its possible big screen glory.
Then comes the Zoom/Skype/WhatsApp meeting with fellow jurors to full and frankly discuss the merits of the films you have viewed. A whole other can of worms for sure – trying to have a meeting via Zoom is hard enough, let alone fully and frankly debating the merits of various films, especially if you are new to each other and are working against the clock.
But we can easily overcome such things. Critics love to whinge and complain, but it is still a pleasure and an honour to give awards to films. Sure, last year I served on major juries at Venice, San Sebastian, Mumbai and Les Arcs, but for 2020 this is the film festival world we are having to get used to.
© FIPRESCI 2020