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Is it possible to attend a film festival in person during a pandemic? This is Harry Silverlock's story of how he attempted, and to some degree succeeded, to attend Dok Leipzig.
I’m Harry, a Bristol-based producer in virtual reality, and research fellow finding new ways to tell stories with technology, particularly in relation to dance. Gimme One is my first VR project and we have been enjoying the film festival success we have been receiving during Covid – it feels strange to be celebrating so much in these circumstances.
Our virtual reality documentary Gimme One was selected as part of the Dok Neuland programme and, after being unable to attend our world premiere at BFI London Film Festival, we decided we would take the plunge and attend Dok Leipzig.
We decided that the safest way to travel would be by car and began preparing for our trip somewhat naively whilst following the UK and German governments updates on travel and entry requirements. Everything was set up, EHIC card in pocket and a car full of bits and bobs but to our dismay, less than 12 hours before we were due to begin our trip, there was a big change which made us question whether it would be worth going at all.
The German government had revised their entry requirements and implemented a full 14-day quarantine for all UK arrivals unless they could get a Covid-19 test from an official EU testing station. This would effectively put us in quarantine until we had our results upon arrival in Germany. We bit the bullet and went anyway.
Adapting our plans aboard a Dover ferry, we changed our route and instead headed for Frankfurt Airport, a Covid-19 testing station, where we were hustled and bustled and eventually, after a stick shoved down our throat, we proceeded to our accommodation to quarantine until we had our results.
We waited 3 days and received the all-clear. Then we proceeded to Dok Leipzig where we had already missed the opening of our exhibition.
We took part in a digital extended reality (XR) conference as keynote speakers. Despite just us and one other creator being at the Dok Neuland programme, it was very popular with hour-long queues to enter the exhibition space.
The installation and curatorial team had really put in the extra mile to make sure our XR work was displayed in a playful and meaningful way.
We scouted about the rest of the festival, a few film screenings were very sparsely attended, with only 6 people in a 400-seat cinema. It felt like the audience didn't feel confident enough to attend the cinema, a trend seen across Europe. And then came Angela Merkel's big announcement of a national lockdown for Germany from 2 November which kept us on our toes and we started planning our trip back.
Our exhibition was cut short as the German lockdown came into force we drove off into the sunset, heading to the ferry to get back to our own cosy homes as the second UK lockdown loomed.
Being part of the audience experience and playing with other creators works. As part of our journey we were also asking audience members to fill in surveys for research for our future projects. It was great to get on the ground audience research – a rare thing these days!
Would I recommend for filmmakers to go to festivals during a rise in Covid-19 cases? Probably not. I actually felt like I was missing out on the online programme by being there physically. However, I think our case was unique as cases were surging even as we arrived. Pick your windows of opportunity wisely.
Lockdown 2.0! We will use this time to develop our research, film festival strategy and develop further ideas for projects.
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