“Thoughts on the Shift from Screen to Stream” in Millennium Film Journal

Thoughts on the Shift from Screen to Stream in our 2020 Pandemitime
Lynne Sachs
May 2020

Most of us can recount the thirty days of March 2020 like a story, each day representing a chapter in a narrative comprised of bewilderment, apprehension, tension, drama and fear.  To use the word “overwhelming” is less hyperbolic than it is obvious.  Words could not describe…. and yet we tried to find them. From the start, whenever and wherever that may be, we were all characters in a complex, interwoven dynamic that became enormous and global so quickly, we hardly knew what was happening. 

In the spring of 2019, I was invited to be on the Ann Arbor Film Festival jury which would be held March 24 to 30 of 2020. I had a year to anticipate the experience of seeing and discussing a multitude of new short films with my fellow jurors in a town renowned for its passion for experimental cinema. Just a few weeks before the 2020 festival was to begin, my two adult daughters mounted a campaign to convince me that the Corona Virus had become so profoundly threatening that I needed to curtail all of my travel plans. I would be putting myself and our family in danger simply flying from NYC to Michigan. I might also be harming other people by asymptomatically carrying the virus from one place to another.  Something was happening to our zeitgeist but no one knew what it was. 

I have been making and traveling with my films for thirty years. I always feel committed to being where I have “promised” to be. It was not that I felt invincible but rather responsible, as if the survival of the alternative form of cinema I love so much depended on my sticking to the plan. Like all of us during that time, the Ann Arbor Festival was also responding to a situation that had only recently been labeled a pandemic in the context of their own commitment to presenting the work of hundreds of filmmakers in a grand theater for a devoted local audience. Within just a few days, the festival shifted from being the 58th Annual to being the 1st Virtual. 

Not long after the virtual festival was announced, I started to see some surprising posts on Facebook in conjunction with this radical shift from screen to stream.  Experimental filmmakers and enthusiasts from around the world were writing about the festival as if it had opened its curtains to an entirely new audience, one that had only been able to hear about this bastion of alternative, underground filmmaking from afar but had never expected to be able to see the films with their own eyes.  I’ll never forget the feeling of pathos and exhilaration that I had when I read a post from a filmmaker who wrote that she would not have been able to afford to pay for a ticket to fly from her country to the United States to attend her screening.  Now, she had the opportunity to see her work in the context of the entire festival, to feel a part of a global experimental film community. For me, the most moving aspect of the entire virtual shift during the first week of our global pandemic was watching five filmmakers from countries around the globe sitting on their beds talking through Zoom about their work, amongs themselves and with the public-at-large, this time very, very large.