The Nantucket Film Festival wraps up its 27th edition, joining other regional festivals in meeting the challenges of the return of the pandemic – Deadline

At first glance, it seems more idyllic than scary on Nantucket Island, a tony dollop of sand-and-plank homes 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast. Tourists returned in force to the cobbled streets, passing shops and restaurants nestled in the center of a centuries-old town square. Summer is here, and the ordeal of the Covid is starting to fade in memory.

Yet the pandemic is very much tied to the Nantucket Film Festival, which wrapped up its first entirely in-person edition since 2019 on Monday. Like a few dozen other well-established regional festivals across the United States, Nantucket is navigating the environment most difficult operational situation in its 27 years of existence. Today it announced its annual slate of awards, crowned by the winner of the People’s Choice Award for Feature Film, It is not finished. Director Sean Mullin named his film after one of the enduring and eccentric aphorisms of New York Yankees great Yogi Berra.

While Yogi’s rallying cry holds true for the dozens of one- and two-tier film events at the world’s premier festivals like Cannes, Sundance and Venice, the game was changing dramatically even before the outbreak of the coronavirus in 2020. They return in -person mode to a transformed market, a market in which the laurels of the festival still carry weight, but of a different kind.

“People have been starving for experiences“Mystelle Brabbée, artistic director of NFF, told Deadline in an interview. “They’re so excited to be back in theaters.”

Even so, the festival has scheduled a slate roughly two-thirds of its previous scale and the opening night screening of the National Geographic documentary. fire of love at the Dreamland Theater was still only about 70% full.

While optimistic about the way forward, Brabbée acknowledges that a major factor affecting festivals has been the rise of streaming services picking up a number of titles. Additionally, movies backed by streaming services are less cinema-oriented and therefore “often completely bypass festivals,” she added. “There is no doubt that this has an impact on regional festivals. And a vast array of quality films “- titles that Nantucket would incorporate after their premieres at Sundance, South By Southwest or Tribeca -” have just disappeared.

It’s not that Brabbée has anything against streaming. Like other festivals, Nantucket incorporates many into its slate. Nantucket Festival founding board member Ben Stiller is often a major presence and returned this year for a screening of an episode of Breakup, his Apple TV+ series. The relationship of festivals to streaming is only newer, especially with so many new streaming outlets just hitting the market in the last three years.

Mark Famiglio, president and president of the Sarasota Film Festival, says expectations are recalibrated for events like his. “We had a budget that was five or six times what it is today,” he said. At its peak, Sarasota would welcome 50,000 visitors, and he estimated its impact on the region’s economy at around $50 million. Economic impact is still an inexact science, but it measures the amount of additional spending on local food, accommodation and services by crowds flocking to a festival. Sundance estimated its 2019 edition injected $182.5 million into the local economy, but the last two festivals have been largely sidelined due to lingering Covid concerns.

While it’s never easy to keep donors and sponsors engaged during this grueling time, some additional buffers for festivals include regional production and having a slot on the calendar during awards season. Palm Springs and Santa Barbara, for example, benefited from their timing in the heat of the Oscar race and their locations near LA. Government funding has been available for many festivals during the pandemic, with Nantucket saying it made up 25% of its public support revenue in 2021. (Many smaller festivals and cultural events, however, have been unable to provide funding). (obtaining government support, creating a more dire situation than that of more established regional stalwarts.) In-kind sponsorships, long a staple of festivals large and small, have waned as economic pressures mount.

The Woodstock Film Festival, which takes place every fall in the upper Hudson Valley, has generated crucial new interest due to local production. A number of new sound stages have sprung up nearby, bringing new people to town, who eventually tune into Woodstock’s year-round activities. Meira Blaustein, co-founder and executive director of Woodstock, said awards screenings held at the city’s theater reach small but significant pockets of Academy voters in the area. (New Jersey’s Montclair Film Festival moved into the fall for its 2021 edition, but may find itself with a similar opportunity.)

These new sources of income and vitality have helped to counter a sobering set of economic burdens for all festivals during the pandemic. Many moved immediately to online mode in 2020, but then had to invest in a series of safety measures when vaccines kicked off and business started picking up in 2021 (before the Omicron wave in the latter part of the year and at the beginning of 2022). “We certainly had to raise additional funds” for Covid expenses, Blaustein said. “And for the festival, fundraising, period, is always a big challenge. Fortunately, we have loyal, long-term supporters who understand our needs and want to see us not only sustain ourselves, but also grow.

Famiglio says Sarasota – which managed to survive the housing crash and financial crisis of 2008 – has seen encouraging signs of unexpected development: new residents moving in as remote work, taxes and other incentives lure them in Florida. “This influx has not completely offset the challenges we face, but it has mitigated them,” he said. “It caused a different kind of excitement, a different kind of culture.” The lineup for April’s annual event, he said, is beginning to reflect new voters, many of whom are younger. Serialized streaming programming “certainly changed the festival circuit,” he said. “It’s like sticking a needle in your arm, it’s addictive. It’s a whole new art form.

The work-from-home era that made life so complex for festival organizers at first (“I didn’t even know what Zoom was until 2020,” laughs Blaustein of Woodstock) ended up being a ray of sunshine. for some destination festivals. Where once seasonal migration brought herds of people to town during certain weeks of the year, the prospect of building more of a year-round presence now seems realistic. “We see traffic jams in April – you never saw that before July,” Nantucket Brabbee said. She added that “the face of the island is changing rapidly”, with many long-time residents and festival-linked business owners cashing in when the property market has soared.

This year, as the weekend progressed, enthusiasm grew for Nantucket’s less conventional offerings. It resumed its annual “late night storytelling” event, which featured attendees such as filmmaker Peter Farrelly; John Turturro came, not only for a conversation on stage with his Breakup director Stiller, but for a staged reading of parts of his upcoming film produced by Spike Lee Howard Beach. Ramin Bahrani, Jenny Slate and Cooper Reif were among others in town.

With the path of all independent films a little uncertain, film festivals have also found support by partnering with other cultural events. Nantucket has comedy, food and wine, and many other activities on the schedule. “Our community partnerships have quadrupled over the past two years – that’s the nice silver lining,” Brabbée said. “The island is full of festivals and we all support each other.”

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