GATFFEST goes virtual: Film festival to launch on Digicel PlayGo app this Thursday

 GATFFEST’s Deputy Festival Director Dr Lisa Tomlinson.

GATFFEST, the region’s biggest community film festival, returns for its eighth staging after taking a hiatus in 2020 because of the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event will unfold virtually this year thanks to the festival’s partnership with Digicel’s PlayGo streaming app which will allow attendees to watch the films for free. 

“In September 2020 Digicel reached out to the GATFFEST Film Festival and they expressed interest in acquiring the videos for the Digicel PlayGo streaming app,” GATFFEST’s Deputy Festival Director Dr Lisa Tomlinson told BUZZ

“We were very tentative about doing a virtual launch because there was just a lot of anxiety around it, this idea that it might not go so well. How do we do a virtual festival?… But Digicel PlayGo adds a difference; a kind of edgy, technological flavour to the film festival.”

The app and GATFFEST’s website will host the event’s launch on Thursday at 6 pm and the subsequent festival which runs from June 28 to July 2. 

Tomlinson said 28 films were selected from 61 submissions worldwide, with the shortlisted films coming from 10 countries including Canada, The United States, Japan, Turks & Caicos, New Zealand, Italy, Argentina and Jamaica. 

International Film Night will run from June 28 to 30 with feature films Dignity (US) written and directed by Pat Battistini and Mogu & Perol (Japan) directed by Tsuneo Goda.

Dark Lies by Andre Wynter and The UWI Community Film Project’s (UWICFP) The Portrait will take centre stage on the Local Film Night which is scheduled for July 1 and 2. 

The festival will culminate with a virtual award ceremony on July 2. 

Other adjustments

Since its inaugural staging in 2013, GATFFEST has curated a space where short films and documentaries are shown and critically discussed by its filmmakers and key players from the creative sector. This element of engagement has been altered because of the virtual execution.

“That high-level engagement that we had before with filmmakers talking about their films or people from the industry, that’s not gonna be available so everything is gonna be through PlayGo,” she explained. “What’s gonna happen now is that persons will be able to vote for their favourite films on the app, they just need to download the app and select GATFFEST and vote for their favourite films in each category. The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony.”

Some elements, however, remain; like the festival’s aim to provide a platform to expose the talents of those involved in the filmmaking process. Tomlinson believes the virtual route will expand the reach of the content and its creators.

“It’s not gonna entirely replace the in-person because I think people really enjoy the red carpet but I think that now that we have the platforms for virtual festivals, I think film festivals are going to be a combination of both because of the way it is able to reach audiences that it didn’t reach before,” Tomlinson said.

 “It’s beneficial especially to the smaller scale film festivals where people are not aware of it so this now gives us a platform to broaden the accessibility and also the filmmakers themselves who would otherwise be cornered or confined to a smaller festival. This is, again, giving them as well as low budget films and up-and-coming film talents that space so more people are able to see them.”

Formerly known as the Greater August Town Film Festival, GATFFEST was formed to showcase the work of graduates from the UWICFP with the long-term hope of positively impacting communities. More than 300 people have graduated from the UWICFP from communities including Hannah Town, Maxfield Park, Jones Town, Granville, Trench Town and Flankers.