Most film festivals are bricks-and-mortar affairs that take place wholly in cinemas. But this year's New York-based Tribeca Film Festival has entered the virtual realm: audiences will be able to watch festival films on its website (tribecafilm.com/festival) or participate in Q&A sessions. Some online films are free, while others demand a premium subscription.
'People are now watching films in many different ways,' says Tribeca's executive director Nancy Schafer. 'It's not just about theatres any more. Internet technology means that there are now different ways to experience a film.
'We want to enter the dialogue about how people's viewing habits are changing. That means the festival has to change too. We felt the festival should start to incorporate some of these new ideas.'
Founded in 2002 by actor Robert De Niro to help regenerate New York's economy after the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks, the festival is now a national event, thanks to the virtual site.
'We want to make it so that people who can't attend the festival can still watch the films and be a part of it. We talked a lot about how to take Tribeca outside of New York,' Schafer says.
Distribution rights have always been a barrier to festivals screening films online. There is no business model for festival programmers to negotiate online rights. Streaming videos can conflict with the rights of theatrical and DVD distributors.
'That's why there are a limited amount of virtual seats for the virtual films, as well as a fee,' Schafer says. 'We are approaching the virtual screenings as one more theatrical screening. That way, it doesn't interfere with anyone's distribution opportunities.'
Tribeca also plans to extend the festival throughout the year by means of video-on-demand licensing deals with US cable television providers. Twelve films will be distributed across the US. That way, those who missed the virtual screenings can still see some of the films, Schafer says.
'This way, the festival will go on throughout the year. Films will go out on VOD, they will go out on DVD, and some will have a theatrical release.
'The festival is actually becoming a distributor. The distribution system here in the US has broken down. So this is another way Tribeca can help filmmakers find an audience.'