In March, the Oxford Film Festival (OFF) joined other Oxford events in announcing it’s postponement because of COVID-19. The festival announced the rescheduling five days before the start of the event and now is offering virtual activities for those who planned to participate in or attend the festival.
The festival released a statement on April 14 to announce the virtual film series to showcase the films that were to be featured at the 2020 festival.
“Beginning with the first week, scheduled for April 24-May 1, the Oxford Film Festival will roll out a different series of films each successive week, with themed presentations, throughout the summer and fall as an initial alternative to the film festival that was postponed from March.”
Melanie Addington, executive director of OFF, said the festival is currently facing a poor financial situation because of the postponement. Since the event was postponed so close to the starting date, Addington said supplies were paid for and already printed.
Until the future of the 2020 festival is determined, OFF is providing online movies that were set to play at the festival along with a podcast coming out possibly before next week featuring conversations with filmmakers.
“We’re currently just kind of trying to stay afloat while we also support our community and our filmmakers,” Addington said. “So we’ve put together COVID-19 resources that we’ve been fighting both for Oxford, and for filmmakers in general on our website.”
Addington said that the organization is looking for OFF to be rescheduled for the fall, but if the event is unable to run, the festival could be launched online. The online event would proceed with panels with filmmakers, interactive live streams and a virtual award ceremony.
“Filmmakers are really suffering. There’s no work,” Addington said. “So, giving those winners their cash prizes is something we really want to do.”
Addington said that to help with finances, the festival has launched a virtual cinema and is selling merchandise through their website. Some parts of the community are already pledging their festival sponsorships for 2021.
“So as of right now, we’re continuing to work and figure out the best way to keep the festival going and rescheduled,” Addington said. “We do have a handful of seasonal employees that work the week of the festival and get paid and obviously they did not. That’s something that sucks, and we can’t fix right now. But definitely if the festival gets rescheduled, we’ll bring them on board to get them paid then. That’s definitely something that really is terrible.”
The OFF board released a statement a week before postponing its activities to address that it would accommodate health concerns while monitoring the situation and concerns. The release also said that the festival has seen setbacks in the past.
“It is our intention to present the full slate of exceptional films, speakers and panels at a later date when the festival may be held under conditions deemed safe by governmental and health authorities,” Sparky Reardon, chair of the Oxford Film Festival board, said in a released statement.
Reardon said that the festival is communicating with filmmakers through social media, phone calls and emails.
Dennis Cahlo, director of the documentary “In Flowers Through Space,” said his experience communicating with the festival during this time has been a positive experience.
“(OFF has) a very good system of surveys and questionnaires and they’re so organized,” Cahlo said. “They really utilize the internet in terms of like, here’s a questionnaire, fill it out… and we will take care of the rest. So they’re very organized, very resourceful in that way. I haven’t seen any snags.”
Reardon said that while no set decisions have been made, the festival continues to stay up to date on the public health concerns and work with those participating in the event. OFF staff is currently working with out of town filmmakers to tackle issues with flights and hotels.
“(Participants and attendees have) been very understanding,” Reardon said. “They really have little choice but to do so.”
Cahlo praised OFF for postponing the festival, unlike other festivals which have already canceled their event.
“I was so proud that (OFF) said, ‘No, we’re just postponing,’” Cahlo said. “We are going to do this…The resiliency of that festival is really something to look up to and admire.”
The festival is also offering options for ticket holders and honoring purchases or giving the opportunity to defer the ticket. Event goers also have the option to turn their ticket purchase into a tax-deductible donation toward the film festival.