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Virtual Film Fest Keeps Vibe Alive in Shutdown

With gatherings of more than 10 people still prohibited in Los Angeles, Samuel Douek took a different direction with the film festival that he puts on every year in the city. The Studio City resident postponed the Hola Mexico Film Festival until September and this month launched the Hola Mexico Virtual Theater, an online venture that screens films previously shown at the festival but not available elsewhere. “If people are not going to the cinema, then maybe the cinema needs to go to them,” Douek said. While the virtual theater is not meant as a replacement for a film festival, he added that he is trying to create the same type of atmosphere. Films were available for 24 hours at a cost of $4.99 and included with them were conversations between Douek and filmmakers and actors appearing in the films. The films screened weekly on Thursdays through Sundays from May 21 until May 31 at HolaMexicoFF.com. Douek said that he planned to keep it going with additional films. “The first weekend we did really well and there were a lot of people who tuned in,” Douek added. “We are going to continue it for as long as we can.” Mexican outside Mexico Started in 2008, the Hola Mexico festival in Studio City bills itself as the largest Mexican film festival outside of Mexico. It screens its films at the Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live and the Montalban theater in Hollywood. For the virtual theater, Douek went through the list of the films that have played at the festival and picked ones that were not available on streaming services such as Netflix. Among the films that have drawn in audiences watching from home have been “Revolucion,” an anthology of 10 short films exploring revolution and what it means to young Mexicans. Among the award-winning directors showcasing work in the film are Gael García Bernal (known from starring in “The Motorcycle Diaries” among other top films) and Diego Luna, also an actor who has appeared in “Y Tu Mamá También” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Airing on the second weekend of the theater was “Historias del Desencanto” (Stories of Disenchantment), which Douek described as a science fiction/animation drama that fell under the radar. “For me, it is one of the best films to come out in the 2000s out of Mexico,” Douek said. Other films that have screened include comedy “Tiempo Felices” (“Happy Times”), about a man who hires a company in order to break up with his girlfriend; and “El Cielo Abierto” (“The Open Sky”), a documentary about the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the voice of the voiceless in El Salvador. No deals Virtual theater, however, does not address the core economic function of film festivals – that of independent filmmakers getting their work before an audience in hopes of securing a distribution deal. As the films being shown have been out for several years, or in the case of “Revolucion” for 10 years, it does not help filmmakers sign any deals, Douek said. “It helps maybe in getting exposure and money, but not so much in the distribution,” he explained. Tracey Adlai, a San Fernando Valley native who runs the Valley Film Festival, said the festival business model is still viable for a few reasons. One is that the distributors come to festivals because they have already vetted the films and know which ones are high quality. Another is that it might be the only chance for a film to be screened in a theater. Currently, with Hollywood shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, distributors have been coming out of the woodwork to buy up films for release in the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2021, Adlai said. “Any festival going on right now that has been programmed or has content pretty much is being contacted I would think by distributors – at least we have,” she added. The Valley Film Festival is scheduled to take place at the Laemmle NoHo 7 theater in North Hollywood in early August. The theater is supposed to reopen in late July and if for some reason does not, then Adlai would be willing to cancel the festival rather than hold it online, she said. She has attended several virtual film festivals this spring and found the experience to be not all that positive. The Q&As were too long and all had technical issues, Adlai said. “For me personally, and the people who are on my team, it is just not what we want to do. But the model of showcasing by adding virtual programming (like Douek is doing) is a great model and we are going to be doing more of that as well,” she added.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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