How will the COVID-19 pandemic reshape cinema?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the course of modern history. With the threat of a global recession at its heel, its devastating and long lasting effects on the world will be felt in months, even years to come. The film industry is one sector of the global economy that is grappling with the effects of this pandemic. When the coronavirus started spreading in late February, it was initially thought that the infection would be short-lived (Cannes, for instance, was still preparing for its festival until late March), and the world would be back on its feet in a month or so. But as the pandemic worsened, film production across the globe ground to a halt. Film festivals were canceled. Theaters were closed. 

Now, as quarantine and lockdown have been eased, defining the 'new normal' fills du jour discussions, and guidelines for film production have been drafted by industry players, we asked film professionals on their views about how this pandemic is going to reshape cinema. 


Jade Castro, film director and producer 

“I'm thinking of the question 'What will the people want cinema’s function to be?' Historically, the  evolution of cinema is closely tied to economics, technology and social needs. If all these things change in the post-COVID world, the first question is 'What is the [new] role of cinema?'”

John Bengan, film critic and educator

“Before artists can proceed going about our trade, we have to find ways to survive. Then we help our immediate and larger communities, for whom we create, compose, perform, produce. Otherwise, cinema will literally die. I'm thinking of how a collaborative and multidisciplinary field like filmmaking can find room to assemble under quarantine. COVID-19 impedes the logistics of production, but it has also turned the cameras on many of us. The new necessity is conference by video, which will soon be—if it isn’t already—on the minds of everyone involved in the process. There may be more digital screenings. Until we find a remedy to our current situation, filmmakers will need to work under new constraints to reconnect with their audience.”

Chalida Uambumrungjit, director of the Thai Film Archives

“I think the people who love going to the cinema will continue going to the cinema but maybe the audience will be selective with the film they watch in cinema because there are more films available online. I think a lot of people will go to cinema as soon as the cinema is back in business. I think the problem is the [Thai] government will allow the cinema to reopen last since they are not convinced that cinema is needed for living."

Dodo Dayao, film director and writer

“A hard reset because the industry needs a shakeup but I'm also talking about cinema as art here where a new form of cinema organically emerges with no instruction codes, a lot of safety guidelines but no rules, and with it a rethinking of not just how we make and see films but also how we evaluate them, without the hierachies of bias, in which a short film can have as much cultural capital and even financial clout as a feature because they can and they often do. That they don't is capitalist misdirection and an obsolete notion. As many old things in the cinema we know, and in the world, should and will be after this.”

Philip Cheah, critic and programmer

“An even greater split between virtual and physical platforms. But virtual has the edge as long as cinemas are seen as point of contagion. But only China seems prepared in the online network service for film. Rest of Asia not as fast. [It's also a] time for people to realize that intellectual properties can be evil. The world is made for sharing. But the paradigm should be payment for what people can afford.”

Daniel Rudi Haryanto, film director

"So far we have only seen pandemics in films, and today we are in a real colossal pandemic film entitled COVID 19. Three months ago, cinema was a social gathering and entertainment. Today public activity is over, but we still experience cinema in our introverted space at home, in our gadgets etc...making use of this narrow space. In Indonesia all is changing now with the lockdown. When the seats in the cinema house and projector lens become moldy I see this is the apocalypse of cinema, but at the same time it becomes a new exploration space for filmmakers to find ways of production and how to create films distribution and exhibition through a new media."

Bianca Balbuena-Liew, film producer

“Private financing will be more difficult as it already is because costs will go up to observe safety measures but producers will also be more conservative as theatrical distribution is quite unpredictable. Will the theater owners prioritize the big films all the more? Will the people be excited to go back to the theaters or will they be used to staying home and watching from their screens? The need for content in streaming sites will be one of our advantages but is it really? Financing affects distribution and vice versa. The lesser the options for distribution, the harder to find financing. This also means a dark future for sales agents. Producers might just distribute the films on their own or contact the streaming sites directly, thus the need for sales agents will become less and less. I really hope I’m wrong. As for public grants and state funding, will this be a priority by the governments? Will this also be in danger? We might have less and less support as the funds for the arts will be channeled to health and other infrastructures. When less people buy cinema tickets, state funding will also be less. 

Will content be the same after this pandemic? I also think it will change greatly. Writers will be our pillar. Creative development will be done online and from home. I hope people will give it more importance. I also hope this will strengthen our need to collaborate with other countries to tell stories.”

Ed Cabagnot, film programmer and educator

“What’s changed? Wearing masks has become imperative.  Which is difficult for a people person like me who is fascinated by faces.  And the thousand nuances that flit through them during your exchanges.  Having been born with a Libra Moon in the 7th House, I pride myself as having mastered what those slight changes of expression and body shifts mean during these heart to hearts. Maintaining physical distance is also enforced now. Difficult for someone used to kissing, spontaneous hugs and backslapping. There is the eternal washing of hands, limited activities, and curfews. You asked how all of these sudden, sweeping social transformations will affect filmmaking in the region. We start from scratch. We redefine methods of production. Filmmaking being the most cooperative of the seven arts will need to find workarounds distancing.  A possibility is that all members of production must get tested first and, if they’re fine, must accept the possibility of being locked down with fellow cast/crew. The sacrifice is being kept away from one’s own family.  It’s a total lockdown with no casual comings or goings.  At best, you’re allowed to leave when you’ve done your bit. The next hurdle is how you’re going to show your oeuvre.  What’s good is that we’ve gotten used to watching at home via streaming services, downloads, and on our devices.  Still, this does not replicate, in any way, THE SHEER MAGIC AND SPLENDOR of watching in a darkened theatre surrounded by strangers all kept in rapt attention by what’s unfolding on the screen. As for stories, this global pandemic have given us at least three lifetimes of tales to tell. Albeit of the more Swedish, introspective kind.”

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