The filmmakers behind this year’s Slamdance documentary Ask No Questions saw their film’s festival run waylaid this spring by the industry’s coronavirus shutdown. Now they are teaming with San Francisco’s DocFest, where the pic was headed next, in an effort bring the fest screening experience to audiences in their homes.
It’s the latest effort from the indie film industry to survive in a world suddenly without access to its lifeblood: festivals like the shuttered SXSW and Tribeca and specialty theaters nationwide.
The idea is an interesting one: Beginning April 28, Lofty Sky Pictures will screen Ask No Questions, a 2D film, in a 3D virtual theatrical environment dubbed VR Movie House, with each of the four showings to be followed by filmmaker Q&As. As part of the initiative, the company is using BigscreenVR to deliver the screenings via avatars in the virtual world.
It’s believed to be the first film to attempt such a move. Here’s a demo of how it will look:
Tickets will be donation-based (the screenings are technically free, but organizers are asking for $5, $10, $20 or more), with proceeds going to support San Francisco’s nonprofit Roxie Theater during its COVID-19 shutdown. DocFest had been set to use the venue before it had to cancel its June edition, where the film was to be co-presented by San Francisco’s Asian film festival CAAMFest.
“VR is not a replacement for the cinema,” said co-director/producer Jason Loftus, who brainstormed the idea and approached DocFest to help. “But with the world on lockdown, it’s the closest we can get to that shared experience that makes a film festival so unique. We also wanted to support an independent theater because we believe it’s such an important platform for independent filmmakers.”
Ask No Questions, co-directed by Loftus and Eric Pedicelli, tells the story of a former Chinese state TV insider who is held in a brainwashing camp and compelled to accept the official narrative on a fiery public suicide, which he believes was a government plot. After debuting in competition at Slamdance in January, the pic was endorsed by Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei.
“We look forward to sharing Ask No Questions with a live audience in San Francisco once the situation improves,” Loftus said. “In the meantime, we look forward to engaging with audiences in a virtual space and providing some support to an independent cinema in its time of need.”