For nearly 20 years, hundreds have filled the seats of a downtown Montreal theatre for the Fantasia International Film Festival — leaping, shouting, screaming and laughing in time to the events displayed on screen.
Fantasia has always been about more than film premieres. It's a gathering place for fans of genre films, a place where people can meet and discuss what they've watched and a place where they have the chance to see some of their favourite directors up-close.
With the COVID-19 pandemic making it difficult to hold an in-person festival however, Fantasia President Pierre Corbeil was concerned he would lose some of that community feeling.
"An event like ours has such high energy screenings that that's what really feeds us, motivates us on a day-to-day basis," said Corbeil.
But after months of planning, the festival managed to move online for the first time in its two-decade history, and it went a lot better than Corbeil anticipated.
"It's not the same as being in-person but overall we really have a feeling of great accomplishment," he said.
The festival, which wrapped up Wednesday, featured digital panels and Q&A sessions where viewers were able to ask their questions and interact with filmmakers in real-time.
For Corbeil, the highlight of the festival was having Halloween director John Carpenter accept his lifetime achievement award from the comfort of his own home through a YouTube live session.
This wasn't Carpenter's first time at the festival. He premiered his film Vampires at its third edition back in 1998.
"Montreal's one of the most beautiful cities I've ever been to. I was kind of shocked at how pretty and majestic it was. I really had a great time, that was a fun festival," Carpenter told festival viewers last week.
"[Vampires] was shown in front of like 900 crazy people who really reacted to his film in a way that he was totally stunned and really surprised," added Corbeil.
While Carpenter didn't get to feel the energy of an in-person audience this time, Corbeil believes the online interaction was a good compromise.
"Whatever 2021 brings we feel we'll be totally capable of meeting the challenge," said Corbeil.
Still, he hopes to be able to hold at least some of the screenings in-person next year.
Premiering first film online
Polish director Daria Wosjek was excited to premier her first feature film, Marygoround, this year, but was a little disappointed when she realized she wouldn't get to do so in front of a live audience.
Her film was initially supposed to have its international premier at South by Southwest, but when that was cancelled, she premiered it online at Fantasia instead.
Wosjek, who won the festival's top prize, said she enjoyed reading the viewers' feedback and questions while her movie played.
"Maybe these virtual festivals and these virtual kinds of relationships with audiences will be our new habit," she said.
"It was really interesting. I mean it's really different because you're typing with them. … Their points were really witty and clever and funny so it was a pleasure, experiencing this screening in a different way, in your home."