Online Film Festivals vs Film festivals?


By Sze Man Tiffany Sit

I have always thought that film festivals must be a series of events organized as a program and there must be a venue for people to visit and interact with each other in person. Therefore, it is quite difficult for me to understand and accept the idea of online film festival. I started to ask myself, if I can understand or accept online film festivals in the same way as film festivals.

According to relevant seminar materials, one of the most important elements in distinguishing film festivals as distinct forms of film culture is their status as “events”. The event elements are the core of understanding film festivals as a cultural form and how it is different from ordinary film viewing. As Bennett et al. suggested that “festivals traditionally are conceived as ritualistic or recurrent short-term events in which members of a community participate in order to affirm and celebrate various social, religious, ethnic, national, linguistic or historical bonds.” The events of film festivals usually create a disruption of existing ideas of space and time in the event venue. Which also create an atmosphere that makes the participants to enter a ‘separate space’. However, I believe that the development of digital technologies and globalization have changed our sense of time, space and relationships between people. As a result, we started to have online film festivals.

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Another characteristic of film festival events is “temporary”. According to relevant seminar materials, film festivals are usually intense and temporal events which have a clear start and a clear end. Although most of the online film festivals also have a clear start and a clear end, in my opinion, some online film festivals lasted too long which affected its “festival” nature. For example, the ‘I Love Hong Kong Online Film Festival’, an online film festival that lasted for six months was organized by and a premier Asian cinema distributor Fortune Star in 2008 (PR Newswire). This online film festival lasted for half a year and the participants could just watch the films whenever they want through the internet. Therefore, this online film festival had already lost its intense and temporal nature of events to me. Moreover, film festivals usually have an internal event program. A program that allows its participants to experience different activities as there is always something is happening at the festival. Therefore, if some online film festivals do not have actual programmed events including specific event schedule and unique screening program, in my opinion, I would only consider them as an online platform rather than an online festival.


Furthermore, I believe that the “live” or “liveness” elements of film festival as an event are exceptionally important. The red carpets and parties on the opening night, the “live” interaction and discussion between the audience and filmmakers, the sociality and atmosphere that the participants would experience. All of these “liveness” elements of film festival are not replaceable. I think that online film festival cannot provide these kinds of “liveness” with the technology developments we have today.



Bennett, Andy, et al. The Festivalization of Culture. Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2014.

“Jaman Celebrates Hong Kong Movies with its First Online Film Festival.” PR Newswire, 29 Jan. 2008, ProQuest,


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