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Boston film festivals work through cancellations and sunk costs. ‘We’re hoping to be able to continue’

Filipino transgender filmmaker Isabel Sandoval directed and stars in “Lingua Franca." The movie was scheduled to open this year's Wicked Queer film festival.Courtesy Wicked Queer

The film festival scene in and around Boston, normally robust this time of year, is among the many arts and culture events hit by the coronavirus. Over the past two weeks, nearly all local film festivals — important showcases for filmmakers as well as key events at which communities can gather and connect — have been postponed or canceled outright.

Wicked Queer: The Boston LGBT Film Festival was to celebrate its 36th year April 2-12 at the MFA and other area venues. It has been postponed until September, with dates to be determined. “We’re in conversations with venues but we’re not sure how all the fall festivals [will be scheduled],” says Shawn Cotter, Wicked Queer’s executive director. Besides logistics, Cotter says Wicked Queer needs to assess what new films are still available in the months ahead. “We had 167 films programmed for the festival. Some may be [screening via] VOD by then. We’re not going to bring people out for something they can see at home,” he says.


Two of the region’s most popular summer film festivals will no longer take place in June. The Provincetown Film Society announced March 23 that it will not produce this year’s Provincetown International Film Festival, originally scheduled for June 17-21. The Nantucket Film Festival’s 25th season, also scheduled for June, has been postponed until later in the summer at a date to be announced.

The 22nd annual Boston Underground Film Festival, slated to run at the Brattle Theatre March 25-29, is canceled but has yet to set a new date.

“Whatever we decide to do will be dependent on the Brattle’s calendar,” said BUFF director Kevin Monahan in an e-mail. "We did take quite a financial hit since a lot of travel was already booked, and a lot of printed materials were ordered with the [now] incorrect dates on them. Only a few of our crowdfunding donors have requested refunds, and most of the ones who did plan to re-donate when things are more firmed up. We’re hoping to be able to continue, but it might involve a hiatus of some kind. We’re more concerned with the health of the theaters and cinema culture in general, especially at the Brattle, because our fate is directly tied to theirs.”


The 19th Boston Turkish Film Festival also scrapped its late March dates at the MFA and hopes to reschedule for the fall, says director Erkut Gomulu. Guests were booked for travel to the festival from Turkey so flights had to be canceled.

“International travel has to go back to somewhat normal before we make any new arrangements for the fall,” Gomulu says. “We are hoping when these hard times are over we’ll manage to continue the festival with the support of our dedicated audiences.”

Many tried to find the silver lining in cancellations that hurt organizations financially and eliminated signature celebrations that brought together filmgoers. “We feel very lucky that we made the decision not to run the festival when we did ... and had actually lined up our alternate date of Nov. 19-22 with the Somerville theater a few days prior,” said Irish Film Festival Boston director Dawn Morrissey in an e-mail. The organization was able to avoid the costs of printing programs and booking hotel rooms and flights. “That would have been a total disaster for us financially, not to mention having Irish filmmakers stuck in Boston for an extended period of time. We were touched by our supporters who, instead of asking for ticket refunds, trust we are good at our word for the fest in November..”


Other scheduling changes include Belmont World Film which moved its March and April programs of award-winning global films to July 13, 20, 27; Oct. 3, 10, 17, 24, and Nov. 1 at the West Newton Cinema and the Studio Cinema in Belmont.

The 11th annual Ciclismo Classico Bike Travel Film Festival has moved from March 19 to June 10 at the Regent Cinema in Arlington.

“For me, [the hardest part] is the emotional effect and disappointment of losing our community, even if it’s temporary,” says Leland Stein, co-owner of the Regent Cinema. “Yes, there is a severe financial impact, but I think we are in a better position than many to get through that. However, it’s the realization of not being able to live by the mantra of ‘The Show Must Go On.’ That’s the real bummer because right now the show cannot go on.”