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Out & About: Technology helps film festival evolve in pandemic

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/13/2020 7:28:54 PM
Modified: 9/13/2020 7:29:09 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Like many arts organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, White River Indie Films has been rethinking its role in the community and how it can still connect with viewers.

After its annual festival was canceled, the WRIF board got to work on how to bring films to viewers. After a successful run of virtual screenings and discussions in the spring, the nonprofit organization is currently in the midst of its free Race & U.S. Elections Film Series. John Lewis: Good Trouble and Time for Ilhan are available now through Sept. 22. Slay the Dragon and Capturing the Flag will be up from Sept. 22-Oct. 6. Panel discussions will take place virtually on Sept. 22 and Oct. 6. People can stream the films for free via wrif.org.

“This will be our biggest film series, essentially an online film festival,” said Samantha Davidson Green, president of the WRIF board.

The grant-funded series was initially scheduled to take place in person in 2019 but was delayed as the organization worked on its film festival.

“We really wanted to adapt the series to address the current movement and everything that has emerged in the context of COVID and Black Lives Matter and the new consciousness of structural racism and the damage it is doing to our structural processes,” Davidson Green said.

“What we want to do is have people watch, but also come back to our website and connect with local or national resources to take action, to volunteer. It’s not just watching the film or listening to the conversation, but we hope at least some percentage of people will be inspired to engage in the democratic process.”

Throughout the pandemic, board members have also thought more about the role that the organization plays in the community.

“In that sense, we went into ‘What is our service role, what is the community need that we can provide?’ ” Davidson Green said. “I think it’s shifting our identity a bit in terms of seeing ourselves in more of a regional context.”

The film series reflects that. Johanna Evans, vice president of the WRIF board, said that while there’s “so much fatigue” around talking about elections, the films in the series “have a lot of positive energy behind them in the terms of us being able to effect change, the types of things we as citizens can do to make that happen.

“Samantha and I feel very strongly about film as a tool to help people find their place in this story,” Evans said. “It also gets to their emotional center in a way that makes them want to do something about it.”

The virtual format allows people who live outside of traveling distance to White River Junction to participate, and technology has continued to improve as both hosts and attendees become more comfortable.

“In terms of how we stack up against national numbers for virtual screenings, we’ve done great,” Evans said. “People were willing and eager to try out the virtual platform.”

WRIF has also strengthened its partnerships with other film organizations, including the Burlington-based Vermont International Film Festival.

“We don’t have the geographic limits anymore of our physical gatherings as a festival, so we have an audience now joining us from all over the country, occasionally overseas,” Davidson Green said. “We really see an opportunity to function as regional partners. We can see each other’s films without covering the distance. We can participate in each other’s panels and talkbacks.”

And people are eager for that connection.

“They want to come back for the community experience which is something we really need during this time of isolation,” Davidson Green said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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