Thessaloniki Fest Live Streams Pitch Forum in Response to Coronavirus Postponement

In a sign of how the global film industry is already adapting to a new reality, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival began live-streaming the pitching forum of its annual Agora Doc Market on Monday, just days after the festival’s 22nd edition was postponed amid growing concerns around a global coronavirus outbreak.

With hundreds of guests from across the globe unable to attend, imperilling a slate of industry events geared toward supporting new filmmakers and boosting production in Southeastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, organizers scrambled to put together an online platform to host this week’s pitching sessions.

Thessaloniki convened 40 producers, directors, commissioning editors, festival programmers and other industry professionals across 16 countries for Monday’s online forum. “It was difficult to coordinate all these people in many different countries, but all of them responded really (quickly), and were happy to do it,” says Yianna Sarri, head of the festival’s industry arm, Agora.

Last week, organizers were forced to postpone this year’s festival as the coronavirus began its sweep of Europe. They said in a statement at the time: “The safety of the working staff, the audience, the city’s residents and the festival’s guests from both Greece and abroad are our top-notch priority.”

Thessaloniki’s digital innovation follows similar pursuits in the film and TV industry on the back of coronavirus-related postponements and cancellations. Last week, following Cannes-set TV market MipTV’s cancellation, a number of distributors revealed they would be setting up virtual showcases for buyers.

Twelve documentary film projects in early stages of development took part in Monday’s Thessaloniki Pitching Forum. Eleven documentary projects will also be presented over the next two days as part of the festival’s Docs in Progress pitching session. Awards and cash prizes will be announced on Thursday, while organizers remain hopeful the festival can still take place in late May or early June.

Organizers say it’s the first time such a pitching forum has taken place entirely online. As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, prompting more festivals and industry gatherings to cancel or postpone, other events are sure to follow in its wake.

“It was an easy decision for us, because we didn’t want to miss the opportunity for all these projects that we were supposed to present in Thessaloniki,” says Sarri. “It’s very important for us to give (filmmakers) the opportunity to present their films, because…they entrust their projects to us. We have an obligation.”

The Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, which was slated to run March 5-15, is among a wave of film festivals to be postponed or canceled in recent days, due to the growing global health crisis. On Friday, SXSW pulled the plug on its 2020 edition.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing International Film Festival, which was originally scheduled for late April, announced it would be postponed until an unknown later date as Chinese authorities continue to scramble to contain that country’s coronavirus outbreak.

A total of 73 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Greece thus far, with government health officials warning this weekend that the number is expected to rise in the coming days. Schools have been shuttered in the country’s hardest-hit western regions, and the government announced new measures on Sunday to try to contain the virus, including a month-long ban on all conferences and a two-week moratorium on live audiences for sporting events.

The country’s first case, a 38-year-old woman returning from northern Italy, was recorded in Thessaloniki on Feb. 26.

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