Running a Hybrid Film Festival Remotely

The case of Regard Bleu film festival

This article is a case study of a project we did with Regard Bleu film festival, who decided to have its 2022 edition as a hybrid festival. Our system, Movies Everywhere, was used for the hybrid part of the festival. The special part (and what justified an article), was that due to circumstances, the events were managed remotely. It started as an experiment and proved to be a success, which can be implemented by other organizations.

That’s how it was done.

Regard Bleu film festival

Regard Bleu is an ethnographic film festival, managed and run by the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies and the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich (UZH) in Switzerland. The festival is held every two years since 2001.

Regard Bleu film festival team, 2022

The festival team contacted Movies Everywhere. Their first idea was to simply offer the films on demand in parallel to the festival. They said they would be glad to have a hybrid event, which includes all the sessions online, but expressed their apprehension about the ability to run it, due to lack of gear and personnel. The motivation though, was high, since in an academic festival like Regard Bleu, the panels, discussions and Q&As are not less important than the the film screenings.
We do have a VOD module on Movies Everywhere and it was easy to say yes to the initial request. However, we tried to help the festival fulfill its full potential, as VOD is a passive and lonely experience.

Eureka

After a few meetings, we came up with a solution that took into account the above limitations (lack of gear and team members with knowledge of cinematography and streaming).
We suggested the festival team to simply place a webcam and a laptop near the speakers. No camera movements, no zooms, no hand held microphones — just a webcam and built-in microphone. At the end, by the way, we were using Owl.
We also asked them to open a dedicated Youtube account, so we can stream the sessions.
Why Youtube?
First of all, because it’s the simplest to use. We could offer them our Vimeo Livestream access, but Youtube’s UI is simpler and in this case, simplicity was of utmost importance.
We had, however, to be very cautious with Youtube Content ID, which identifies copyright infringements, but unfortunately, has a lot of false negatives (identifying mistakenly a legit content as an infringement). I’ll get to this point later on.

We (Movies Everywhere) agreed to take care of the operation of the hybrid part remotely. That is, to run the festival online events from 1500 kilometers away. It was challenging, but proved successful.

How it was Done

As an academic festival, all the event were wrapped with talks: before, after and in between the films. For a hybrid event, it means switching perfectly between a film screening and livestream (of talks) from the venue.
I would like to remind that a hybrid event is always held synchronously. That means, whatever happens in the venue, happens for the online viewers at the same time. And since an event is a venue has always some unexpected and free elements, a perfect synchronization becomes critical.

Regard Blue film festival lineup of one of the events (screenshot)

To achieve that, the festival producer created an accurate line up of every screening, with an estimated timetable for each part. Also, a team member was in charge of communicating the status of those parts from the venue to me (I was running the hybrid event remotely) in real time.

The principle was simple: When a film is screened in the venue (from a local projector), I played the same file from the Movies Everywhere’s server. When a session started in the venue, I switched to the webcam, which was streaming incessantly. What was left to me was to make this stream live (make in On Air on a Movies Everywhere event).
And how did I know what’s happening in the venue? — By communicating on Whatsapp with the team member in charge. I usually asked for a 30 seconds warning before a change in status (moving from film to panel, ending a panel etc.).
By the way, I would suggest to use Zello walkie-talkie app for that kind of task.

Typical communication between the venue and the remote management of the hybrid event

Appeasing Youtube Neurotic Robot

Let me make a slight pause and relate to the issue of broadcasting through Youtube. We uses Youtube only as our streaming engine, since the sessions themselves were viewable only on Movies Everywhere events. That means, that the audience didn’t have to go to Youtube on the one hand, yet on the other hand, we had to calm down Youtube robot, which is very sensitive to what could be interpreted as copyright infringements.

As you can see in the screenshot of the Whatsapp message above, I asked the person in the venue to turn off the webcam while the film was running in the venue. If the camera and microphone would have been left open, Youtube robot might have interpreted it as if we were trying to broadcast copyright protected content and the broadcast would be shut down without warning.

The opening ceremony, also brodcast as a hybrid event

Expecting the Unexpected

Since the festival is mainly run by students and not full time employees, the team I was working with during the events was changing all the time. That could cause instability, as there’s no time for rehearsals on the one hand and on the other hand, after one student gains some experience, he or she were replaced by another student, which for me meant starting the process from scratch. The festival director and the producer were also extremely busy, since as academic researchers themselves, they moderated some of the panels and therefore were not free to monitor the hybrid events. All that required flexibility and adaptation, some improvisation and reacting fast to changes in the plans, if there were. Happily, there were hardly any glitches. On the contrary: the experience was actually so good, that now we offer it to everyone who is hesitating whether to conduct a hybrid event.
It’s much simpler than you might think! It’s all about planning.

Saada Elabd, Regard Bleu festival director, a PhD candidate and a dear friend

Watch this short video which describes the process. It was recorded during the opening speech of one of the events.

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Online video entrepreneur. Founder of Movie Everywhere, which includes Movie Discovery, Screenable and QuickRights

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Yoram Schaffer

Online video entrepreneur. Founder of Movie Everywhere, which includes Movie Discovery, Screenable and QuickRights