AFI Fest Is Going Virtual For Its 2020 Edition

AFI Fest is the latest film festival to go virtual this year amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The festival, which is often an early stop in the awards season circuit, is going virtual for its 34th edition this October, dispensing with its usual physical festivities held at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.The Los Angeles Times broke the news that this year's AFI Fest is officially going fully virtual. The festival moved up its schedule from its most recent dates in November to October 15-22, with festival organizers planning to have the same programming structure as past years, including sections dedicated to world cinema and new auteurs. While other festivals are drastically scaling back the number of films being screened, AFI Fest will likely only reduce its number by 10% to 20%, according to Michael Lumpkin, director of AFI festivals. Last year, AFI Fest screened more than 140 titles.

"Structurally it's very similar to what we've done in the past years," Lumpkin told the LA Times. "Presenting great films from around the world to our audiences and having really great discussions and conversations around the films and around the industry."

AFI may be better prepared to make the switch to virtual than the other fall festivals doing away with their physical editions, as it has already done it before. The AFI Docs festival, based out of Washington, D.C., took place in June with ticketed virtual screenings and events, and included live Q&As with filmmakers and events with industry leaders and activists.

The AFI Fest is considered an early stop in the awards season circuit, with Oscar contenders building buzz at the Los Angeles-based fall festival. Usually held in November, AFI shifted its dates forward from its usual November slot in order to be closer to the Toronto International Film Festival and be "more competitive." Other awards circuit fall festivals like the Venice Film Festival, TIFF, and New York Film Festival are offering a hybrid of physical and virtual events. Meanwhile, the Telluride Film Festival recently canceled its Labor Day weekend event.

AFI plans to announce its lineup in September. The festival has hosted world premieres of awards season contenders that weren't yet ready for earlier festivals like American Sniper, Selma, The Fighter, The Big Short, and Monster, with last year opening with Melina Matsoukas' Queen and Slim and also showing Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell. With the state of the upcoming Oscar season in flux (and maybe not even happening next year), it will be interesting to at least see AFI's choices for this year's awards contenders.