As Europe copes with yet another wave of COVID-19 infections and skyrocketing cases of the Omicron variant, prospects for a full-blown comeback for the international film festival circuit are looking less likely every day.
The Netherlands and Denmark have taken the strictest measures so far, while France and Germany have closed their borders to U.K. travellers. Other countries are expected to follow suit. The current scenario puts pressure on the European festivals scheduled in the first few months of the year, including the Rotterdam fest (IFFR) and the Berlinale, which could be the most impacted. Cannes and Venice, meanwhile, might be spared as they were in 2021. Here is what we know so far about what to expect at key international festivals in 2022:
International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR)
Jan. 26-Feb. 6
With the Netherlands enforcing a strict lockdown ahead of Christmas, International Film Festival Rotterdam’s plans for an on-site 51st edition could be a mission impossible, but they haven’t yet called it off. Restrictions will remain in place until at least mid-January, while the festival is due to open on Jan 26. Reacting to the lockdown announcement on Friday, organizers told Variety that they were currently “evaluating impact and what is realistically feasible” and will announce their decision later this week. IFFR’s popular industry events, CineMart and Rotterdam Lab, meanwhile, will take place online. Dutch documentary festival IDFA, which wrapped on Nov. 28, narrowly missed the new restrictions.
Berlin Film Festival
Feb. 10-Feb. 20
After going online in 2021, the Berlin Film Festival is committed to returning with an in-person edition as long as cinemas remain open, Berlinale executive director Mariette Rissenbeek and artistic director Carlo Chatrian told Variety on Monday. Although very little info about the selection has leaked so far, Chatrian is in the process of assembling his jury (headed by M. Night Shyamalan) and lineup, which he hopes to be broader in scope and more accessible than his first two editions, according to industry sources. A number of French films are expected to world premiere during the 72nd edition of the festival, including Claire Denis’ “Fire” with Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon; Francois Ozon’s “Peter von Kant” with Isabelle Adjani; Mikhaël Hers’ “Les passagers de la nuit” with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Emmanuelle Beart; and Alain Guiraudie’s “Nobody’s Hero” with Doria Tillier and Noémie Lvovsky. The European Film Market is also on track for an in-person edition and about 2,000 have so far registered. Due to the pandemic, the festival — which is the first to take place under Germany’s new political leadership — and market won’t be hosting cocktails or parties, and screenings will have to be booked online. Considering the travel restrictions, it will be challenging to pull together a truly international festival with Asian, American and British delegates likely sitting this edition out.
Cannes Film Festival
After a bullish 2021 edition that saw Julia Ducournau’s “Titane” win the Golden Palm from a jury presided over by Spike Lee, Cannes is gearing up for another big year in 2022 to mark the festival’s 75th anniversary. Cannes chief Thierry Fremaux is already pursuing some high profile U.S. titles and talent, and is also still hoping to bring Netflix back to the festival, which could happen if the streamer accepts to world premiere its movies outside of the competition roster. A sign of their friendly relationship, Netflix recently partnered with Fremaux’s Lumiere Institute in Lyon to host a week of gala premieres. In 2021, the festival’s selection was super-sized with, among other things, a Cannes Premiere section (that might not be back in 2022, according to an insider). What might stick for 2022 are the beach screenings hosted as part of the Cinema de la Plage lineup. Cannes has also changed its main media sponsors for the first time in 28 years and will be working with France Televisions and the platform Brut instead of Canal Plus Group starting in 2022. So far, the festival hasn’t set up a contingency plan in the summer or fall and is prepping for a May edition as normal, roughly three weeks after France’s presidential election.
Venice Film Festival
Aug. 31-Sept. 10
Like Cannes, Venice had a glorious 2021 edition packed with stars and anticipated movies, from “Dune” to “Spencer” and also Paolo Sorrentino’s Netflix original “The Hand of God,” which is Italy’s international Oscar contender. Venice’s artistic director Alberto Barbera, who is closely monitoring the evolution of the pandemic and its potential impact on winter festivals, has already started the selection process for next year’s edition. Due to its standing as an awards season kingmaker in recent years Netflix has had a large presence on the lido which has become the streamer’s main awards race launching pad, beginning with Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma,” which scored three Oscars in 2019. Venice in 2022 should continue this trend, making Netflix’s upcoming modern-day Jane Austen adaptation “Persuasion,” starring Dakota Johnson and Henry Golding, a potential Lido title alongside more esoteric fare.
BFI London Film Festival
October 2022 TBC
The 2021 edition of the London Film Film Festival, operated by the British Film Institute, expanded on its 2020 hybrid model and was a massive success. Operating in London and at 10 partner venues across the U.K., the festival boasted mostly sold out screenings, which attracted 139,400 physical attendances and 152,300 virtual attendees. The festival screened 161 features and physically hosted a galaxy of talent, including Jay Z, Beyoncé, Idris Elba, Regina King, George Clooney, Todd Haynes, Dakota Johnson, Kenneth Branagh and Bill Murray, among many others. The 2022 edition will hope to expand on this and return to the heady days of 2019, but COVID-19 will remain a factor. After this year’s closing night film, “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” it emerged that two guests had tested positive. Next year will benefit immensely from the presence of Jason Wood, who joins the BFI in the newly created role of director of public programs and audiences. In his previous roles, Wood drove HOME, Manchester and London’s Curzon cinemas towards becoming cultural centers of excellence and is expected to bring that nous to his remit, which includes the London festival, enhancing festival director Tricia Tuttle’s team.
Busan International Film Festival
October 2022 TBC
Busan, Asia’s biggest and most prestigious film festival, seems to have put most of its political, financial and management issues behind it. But, due to COVID conditions, it has scarcely had a chance to shine under the leadership of new festival director Huh Moonyoung. Both the 2020 and 2021 editions were held as hybrid editions that emphasized public health measures and operated as largely local affairs with just a handful of foreign visitors of any kind (filmmakers, executives or press). The most recent edition expanded the number of in-person screenings and allowed the festival to restart its discovery role, playing 223 films to 76,000 spectators over 10 days. Seating capacity at each of the 29 venues was limited to 50%. The associated film rights market (also under new management) was held entirely online, except for a lonely, in-person IP pitching strand. For next year, organizers hope that the coronavirus has been banished, borders have reopened and travel within Asia can resume.
Nick Vivarelli, Naman Ramachandran and Patrick Frater contributed to this story.