For its 19th iteration, the Ivy Film Festival — typically held each year on the Brown University campus — has transitioned to a fully digitized event series that is free and open to the public. Events begin on Friday, April 24, and the festival runs through Thursday, April 30 Graphic by Alex Westfall, Ethan Murakami, Faye Thomas, Joey Han, Katrina Wardhana, Liana Chaplain and Manon Crespin

Ivy Film Festival moves fully online for its 19th annual event

The world’s largest student-run film festival, held each year on the Brown campus, will transition to a fully digital, weeklong event featuring film screenings, new media exhibitions and a digital speaker series.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — There are no tangible tickets to hold, buttery tubs of popcorn to snack on or pre-screening chatter to shush — but that doesn’t mean the show can’t go on.

As stay-at-home orders remain in place and cinemas across the world sit empty due to COVID-19, the team behind the world’s largest student-run film festival is making sure that film aficionados everywhere can still access their favorite form of art and entertainment.

For its 19th iteration, the Ivy Film Festival (IFF) — typically held each year on the Brown University campus — has transitioned to a fully digitized event series that is free and open to the public. Events begin on Friday, April 24, and the festival runs through Thursday, April 30.

The festival attracts upwards of 2,000 attendees each year, so when Brown announced on March 9 its initial policy capping events at 100 people — a decision made early after COVID-19’s arrival and before the University’s full transition to remote operations — the team sprang into action and developed a contingency plan for the festival, which had been under production since last May.

IFF Leaders
The Ivy Film Festival leadership team worked on planning this year’s event since  May 2019, eventually making the decision to go fully online in March. Photo by Olivia Rosenbloom

“We worked really hard on curating a festival that felt like it had that sense of intentionality,” said Brown undergraduate Karina Rotenstreich, one of the festival’s four co-directors. “At first it was heartbreaking, because our initial thought was that we wouldn’t be able to see it through.”

One roadblock was protecting the future festival eligibility of the film selections; if filmmakers want to submit their work to other festivals — which Rotenstreich said almost everyone does — the films are not allowed to be made, or remain, publicly available. So the directors worked with the IFF’s web team to create a password-protected website, which satisfied eligibility requirements while ensuring the festival would remain free and open to the public, which has been part of the fabric of the festival since its inception in 2001. Attendees can register to gain access to screenings and other events and then use the password provided to view the programs.

The students were determined to find solutions to the challenges presented by the need to go digital, largely because they knew the festival could play a significant role in helping to maintain community, even virtually.

“A large part of why we were so determined to digitize and thus preserve our festival week was because we also felt that in the midst of this dark, often lonely time, we thought it could serve as a way to bring people together, as art often does,” Rotenstreich and festival’s three other co-directors wrote in an email.

This year’s lineup will be similar to festivals past, featuring film screenings, screenplays and Virtual Reality 360-degree video selections, as well as a livestreamed speaker series that will include award-winning actors, directors and filmmakers.

The first three days will focus on the festival’s official selection films, broken down into three categories: Purpose, Bridges and Pressure. The IFF team received 350 submissions from 47 countries for this year’s festival, and ultimately 22 of those were selected — the films represent nine countries across four continents and feature 10 languages. More than half are directed by women, and 41% were made by first-time filmmakers.

Rotenstreich says the official selections are the cornerstone of the festival, encompassing the stories that students filmmakers find most important to tell.

“In our minds, that’s the future of the industry,” she said. “We’ve always taken a look at the themes that emerge from their films and thought of them as, ‘This is what the future will look like.’”

The digital speakers series will bring in four film professionals, which Rotenstreich says enables opportunity for interactions with the people who represent of the future of their industry.

Instead of the usual keynote lectures, this year’s festival will feature conversations with filmmaker Eliza Hittman, actor Bryan Cranston, author and politician Valerie Jarrett, and director Jon M. Chu — each will be livestreamed to the IFF Facebook page and later uploaded to both the festival’s website and YouTube page.

“We feel so fortunate to [virtually] bring them to campus and provide this opportunity — not just for the filmmakers, but for the entire Brown, RISD and film community — to learn from them,” Rotenstreich said.

Rotenstreich also noted that an agent from the Creative Artists Agency will serve as a juror for the official selection films, participate in virtual discussions and meet with the festival's Grand Jury Prize winner — a move the directors say will open up unprecedented opportunities for the student filmmakers.

While there’s plenty to be excited about, the organizers are mindful of the current public health crisis and wanted to find a way to help those most directly affected by the pandemic. They’re inviting audiences to, in lieu of ticket fees, make an optional donation to the Rhode Island Free Clinic. The IFF team, which includes 119 students from Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design, said the optional donation was one of the most important parts of their decision to move the festival online.

“We’re hoping to make as much of an impact in the Rhode Island community as we can,” Rotenstreich said. “Almost all of our staff has left Rhode Island, but we really wanted to give back to our home. That’s what Brown is to us, that’s what RISD is to us, and ultimately, that’s what Providence is for us.”