London’s FrightFest has faced many a horror in its time – from the movies to some of the filmmakers and audience members – but has been finally felled by Coronavirus. The hugely popular horror film festival had already been forced to go digital-only during its traditional August Bank Holiday weekend slot this year, but had – perhaps in hope as much as expectation – announced a physical event in October, both a replacement for the main event and an expansion of the smaller Halloween festival.
While cinemas are – so far – unaffected by the latest round of government restrictions, the new rules surrounding hospitality curfews seem to have been the final straw. FrightFest prides itself on being as much a social gathering as a film festival, and even before the new restrictions, the idea of fans packing out the Imperial pub around the corner or attending the after-parties at the Pheonix Arts Club was unthinkable. With the latter now impossible under any circumstances and the very real possibility of further restrictions to come, it seemed that the organisers realised that any physical event would be so much a shadow of its usual sense that it might end up damaging the brand in terms of both financing and reputation.
So instead, FrightFest is instead moving online once again, with tickets going on sale October 1st. In this, it joins Manchester’s Grimmfest, which is running a fully online programme this year, taking advantage of the move to actually expand what it is doing – after all, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? Abertoir is also online-only, though a lot vaguer about just what will actually be happening, while Sheffield’s Celluloid Screams and Nottingham’s Mayhem are still holding out for physical events – the former is due to announce details at the end of this week, with a website that is currently just a holding page, while the latter has sensibly stripped things back to one film a day – essentially becoming a local event for local people this year. Of course, both events remain at the mercy of the government’s whims, and who knows what the situation will be this time tomorrow, let alone by mid-October.
It does feel as though 2020 is effectively a write-off, and any attempts – however understandable – to simply postpone events will be doomed to failure. Whether 2021 will be any better is open to question, of course. But while digital festivals are clearly not going to offer the same pleasures as a physical event, perhaps there is the opportunity to either step back or experiment, finding new ways of making these events work both as a viewing and communal experiences – and if nothing else, it theoretically removes the restrictions of ticket availability and opens events up to those who could not afford the combined costs of tickets, travel and hotels. None of this is ideal – none of this year is ideal – but perhaps this is an opportunity to look at events from the ground up and reinvent for when all this unpleasantness is a distant memory.