Montclair Film Responds To Montclair Design Week Concerns About Festival Overlap in October

Back in September 2019, Montclair Design Week made public its plan for events in October 2020, months before anyone knew there would a coronavirus pandemic.

Then March 2020 began the shutdown. Montclair Film announced that the Montclair Film Festival, held annually in May, would be postponed.

Fast forward to summer 2020, and organizations in Montclair have had to face numerous challenges due to cancellations as a result of the pandemic. Many have had to go back to the drawing board, throwing out old dates and looking for new times to schedule events, many of them virtual.

Still, Morozov, founder of Montclair Design Week, was surprised when Montclair Film announced that the postponed Montclair Film Festival – with virtual and drive-in screenings – would take place in October, during the same week as Montclair Design Week.

Montclair Design Week started a petition after learning Montclair Film Festival events would take place at same time as their event

Morozov says Montclair Design Week asked Montclair Film to move their dates, reminding them of the notification back in 2019. Montclair Design Week also started a petition, citing concerns that scheduling both events at the same time “weakens the volunteer pool, distracts the attention of potential sponsors and attendees, and forces people to make difficult choices about which event to attend.”

The petition also states that “in a time when all community organizations are hard hit by this pandemic, this is a time to support one another, and not add unnecessary burden.”

Executive director of Montclair Film Tom Hall sees the situation differently.

“I want to begin by saying we do not see this schedule as a conflict, and I am disappointed to see two events with very different missions working to create a program in the middle of this pandemic being framed as in conflict,” says Hall. “When we postponed our film festival in March due to COVID-19, we, like so many others, faced an extraordinary challenge to re-configure our entire organization’s programs and schedule to meet these unprecedented circumstances.”

Montclair Film, says Hall, depends on earned and sponsor revenue from two major events each year — the film festival and its annual fundraiser. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with no festival taking place in May and facing a calendar year with the possibility of not being able to present either event, Hall says the organization was tasked with trying to solve an incredibly difficult dilemma.

“We are staring down a very long, uncertain road to full recovery for in-person events,” says Hall. “No one has a timeline for the safe return of movie theaters or in-person indoor events – which will likely be the very last things to come back online — so we have had to weigh multiple factors in planning a way to still have an event this year, which is mission critical for our organization’s survival.”

The biggest challenge was finding a week that took Montclair Film out of direct competition with established film festivals that have been on the fall calendar for decades, all of whom are changing the landscape of the film festival season this fall.

Hall says that in order to avoid any conflict with the fall film festival season, the only available time slot that worked for Montclair Film was October 16-25, 2020. He added that the schedule Montclair Film relied on to make their decision, only came to light a few weeks ago in July, as each of these organizations made a decision to carry forward with a program:

Venice FF
September 2-12

Toronto FF
September 10-19

New York FF
September 25-October 11

Hamptons FF
October 8-14

Hall says while there are other film festivals taking place October 16-25, the film festival schedule in the autumn is based upon premiere status, and so for Montclair Film Festival to have access to films with this move, it had to position the festival after these major events, who will screen films first. Given film rights, virtual screening complexities, and the pandemic, Montclair Film needed to host its in-person screenings via a drive-in (outdoors) and that meant November was off the table because of weather uncertainty.

This year, because of COVID-19 and following safety guidelines from state and local authorities, all Montclair Film’s in-person screenings will be limited to drive-in formats and 90 percent of events will be virtual (meaning at home and on your own schedule). Hall says this means there will be very few (if any) in-person opportunities for volunteering.

Given these factors, Hall says patrons would not need to choose between both events, but would have the opportunity to fully participate with Montclair Design Week and the Montclair Film Festival, “the same way multiple events, street fairs, Outpost In The Burbs shows, Wellmont concerts, Museum programs, theater and dance performances, etc. traditionally take place in early May during the Montclair Film Festival’s traditional dates.”

“We know that Montclair is a vibrant, diverse community that can sustain a robust schedule of artistic programs and, given the pandemic, we are looking to keep the organization alive to face a deeply uncertain future. We hope for and expect Montclair Design Week to succeed this October and hope our patrons will fully engage with both events. We wish them the best in their planning and look forward to seeing their programming,” says Hall.

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  1. Thank you for the article and for digging into this important issue. I have a question and some thoughts: 1. Why did you not speak with Montclair Design Week — this makes the article very onesided, which is unfortunate. You have extensive quotes from Tom Hall, but no follow up questions which is also unfortunate. Some important missing information from the story: The first and most obvious thing to note — it is simply not true for MFF to say that the only time they could do their festival is the same time as Design week — they could be one week later and still in October, or they could be in November, or another time… The Film Festivals’ explanation simply does not hold water. Secondly, they knew over a year in advance when Design week was, this was not an accident or oversight. Third: The film festival says it needs to hold a festival for economic reasons — this is true of all festivals — and MFF holding their festival at the same time as the Design Week festival will cut into Design Weeks revenue — especially since they are a smaller festival without the very large budget that the film festival has. Simply put: the Film Festival will cause economic harm to Design Week (in addition to forcing the audience/volunteers/sponsors to choose). This makes their actions feel reckless and unconsidered. Fourth: The claim that stepping on the week of another festival is the same as the normal overlap of other general events is disingenuous, to say the least — of course, everything in life overlaps, but that is categorically distinct from two Montclair festival overlapping. The film festival is not acting as a good community citizen, it is not being supportive of other festivals, it is putting itself ahead of the community, and it is doing it in a time when we need be working together (Design Week is exemplary in regards of collaboration during COVID — working with other organizations on PPE, street closures, business support and many other collaborations). All the festivals are hurting. Montclair is better than this, the Film Festival is surely better than this (I cannot imagine that the MFF board would agree with such a decision if they knew the real details — and how logical it would be to be one week later, etc.). I believe that we cannot let one very well funded organization simply decide that it does not need to consider the larger community and the collective well being of our artistic and cultural community at this moment. Montclair Film Festival please do the right thing and move your festival. I would encourage readers to get both sides of the story and if they feel similarly: sign the petition. Again thank you for your reporting, and bringing attention to this important story

  2. First of all, I live in town and never heard of design week, so I think they should be thanking the film festival for allowing them all this free publicity. maybe that’s what this is — a publicity stunt?

  3. I have to admit your condemnation was in line with the times. A zero-sum existence.
    I also live in town and rather enjoy the arts establishment getting schooled by the upstarts. The corporate money will won the day, but I can say we have a diverse, progressive and rather inclusive group of stakeholders.

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