How to love your digital screening room more and more

There was no doubt about it. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we cried out confidently that “hybrid was here to stay”. It is safe to say that working remotely has indeed proven to stick around. But at film festivals and in cinemas we see that in 2023 the focus was on one thing: getting the theaters filled with physical visitors again. You can’t blame them: the digital auditorium has not proven yet to be a pot of money and it turned out to require specific attention and manpower in terms of programming, communication and technology. But if you ask European cinemas and distributors about the role of online film in the future, everyone seems to be unanimous: the belief in the potential of virtual cinema is still there and they expect it to only grow. So how to deal with virtual cinema then, post-pandemic? In this article series by Janneke van Laar from Medialoc, one of the initiators of the REACH’M project, a selection of tips and concrete practical examples for film exhibitors who (want to) screen films online and would like to experiment further. A selection from our experience of recent times, to make you love your digital screening room more and more.

#3: The five magic spells for online events

Being present in a room full of happy, sweaty people, comfortably sunk deep in your cinema seat. Dimmed lights and your smartphone safely tucked away in a bag or pocket. All eyes on stage. Now imagine a similar stage performance, but then being at home, watching the show on your computer screen. How to still feel present in the room, instead of being merely a passive spectator that can skip at any time? How to experience the added value of an online environment? How to actually stay focussed?

We learned a lot from the past few Covid-years on how to produce an interesting online event, right? So let’s put practice into paper. We extracted five essential lessons from a project dubbed Dutch Online Film Festivals. A community-driven undertaking during the pandemic involving four prominent Dutch film festivals: Cinekid, International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), Nederlands Film Festival (NFF), International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). The five magic spells, if you ask us.

We’ll go through them one by one. And to check if these five are still relevant, we had a chat with Eleni Tzialli, coordinator for the Eye International Conference in Eye Amsterdam. This annual conference is an opportunity for scholars, archivists, curators, filmmakers, students, artists, and film enthusiasts from across the world to gather together and explore contemporary professional and academic issues affecting audiovisual heritage today. The 2024 edition is organised within the context of the Swiss National Fund’s Narratives from the long tail: Transforming access to audiovisual archives project which sets out to address and resolve the gap between digital archives and the embodied, participatory world of museological experience. The conference will open the topic of exploring and experimenting with audiovisual collection presentation, by focusing on formats emerging both inside and outside the settings of the conventional film theatre and/or beyond traditional curatorial frameworks, that afford new forms of public engagement and access. This focus comprises immersive, participatory, or multi-screen formats; alternative presentation models that use emerging technologies or low-tech and creative DIY approaches; experimentation with computational analysis of audiovisual collections; and explorations in remix and artistic reuse. The Eye Conference is a hybrid event: next to the physical event with a live audience, Eye uses the MediaContainer by Medialoc to allow people from all over the world to join the event via a livestream connection and to rewatch missed sessions. We quizzed Eleni on the implemented hybrid elements during the conference and how they use the five magic spells.

“We use digital opportunities in an interactive and personal way so that the human aspect is always leading. We want to build a community.”

Eleni Tzialli (Coordinator for the Eye International Conference)

Magic spell 1: Make recording leading
Pre-pandemic, festival organizers focused on the live aspect of their event. Sometimes the event got fully or partially recorded, but more than often the live performance was the leading paradigm in the design and delivery of the event. During the pandemic, the recording of the festival became the leading idea and this required another way of shaping your festival programme which now looks more like the production of a TV show. Each camera shot guides your virtual festival visitors which means you are obliged to make your programme constantly visually interesting. Not just by taking multiple shots but also by offering extra content to your guests and provide them with content items in variable bite-sizes. So, simply placing a camera and recording the event will not produce the most exciting online festival registration. When organizing your festival you always need to be aware of the view and angle of your camera and the presented image on camera becomes extremely important.

“We take the technical aspects very seriously,” Eleni says with a smile. A pretty impressive technical staff produces the Eye International Conference, including a director, around five camera operators, two producers, a livestream operator and a sound technician. For the livestream and recordings of the conference, no less than five or six cameras are being operated which enables the use of several shots and angles instead of making just one wide shot. When clips or videos are shown during a talk or panel, the audience joining the conference virtually sees these images as inserts on full screen (instead of seeing them indirectly on the screen behind the speakers on stage). This also means that the team needs to gather all presentations and imagery well in advance. “Furthermore, we set up the room days before the conference to test all different setups,” Eleni adds. “We leave no room for surprises.”

Magic spell 2: Be really online
When planning your festival programme you need to take into account how your audience is going to experience the online festival. This online experience you are shaping is bound by different rules and dynamics than a televised live festival experience. Your audience behind a computer screen are more likely to quickly shift focus and are different from your classic screening audience. This directly affects the length of your content items and how many items you should share. In comparison, content on the internet mostly focuses around one single topic. This doesn’t mean we need to get rid of all festival formats consisting of multiple topics when we go online, but we do need to consider a good content and programme fit with our audience.

How did Eye manage to engage their online audience? During last year’s conference, a chat function was being introduced during the live streamed sessions. This chat was visible during the entire day of each conference. “The chat made a huge difference in engaging our virtual audience,” Eleni says. In hosting the chat, she incorporated best practices she came across at conferences she joined herself. This includes opening the chat by welcoming the virtual audience, actively asking how everyone was doing and from what country or city people were tuning in from. The questions from the virtual audience during Q&A sessions where also managed via the chat, where Eleni continuously responded to each question posed to keep involving the digital audience, whether it would be that a question was going to be asked in a few moments or that it would be shared with the speaker after the session when time ran out. Lowering the threshold for people to respond, she made use of a friendly, informal tone of voice. “Like you are talking to a friend,” Eleni explains.

Magic spell 3: Drop your focal point
A traditional festival has this one focal point where the whole machinery needs to perform and deliver. In essence that’s the secret sauce of a live festival, bringing together its audience and artists in this powerful experience. An online festival might be missing some ingredients of this secret sauce but replaces this with some other interesting ingredients. Everything is being recorded or can be recorded and this enables you to try new creative options. You could re-release your festival online in pieces or in full. You can experiment with free streaming on other channels to attract more audience to watch more content on your own channel. In essence the festival program doesn’t need to be delivered as one monolithic block of festival joy but try to play around with delivery formats and revenue models.

The Eye Conference is offered to the virtual audience by an online platform. On this platform, the livestream sessions can be found, as well as the recorded sessions and other pre-recorded presentations to be watched at any moment convenient to a participant of the conference. During the livestream sessions, Eye experimented with different forms of engaging the audience. The chat turned out to be a huge success in allowing the audience from all around the world to join in the conversation. Another element that was less heavily used, consisted of digital break-out rooms, where virtual participants could join in during coffee or lunch breaks for an informal talk. “People probably could use a break from the digital screen by then,” Eleni imagines.

Magic spell 4: Limit risks in going live
An important question you need to address is the need for live streaming of your festival event. Live streaming introduces a big technical risk and any added value should be clearly motivated. A good reason to do live streaming is when you are looking to interact with your audience, because this interaction will not sprout by itself. Chats, QA banners and virtual rooms can be very engaging but you will need to actively attract and nurture your audience. Live engagement should preferably be part of your festival format. So think about the role of live engagement and interaction at your festival and its organizational requirements. Do consider hybrid options as well. For example a festival programme recorded in advance and streamed as being live, followed by a roundtable session or a call session afterwards. This approach limits the risks for technical issues and failures while maintaining high audience interaction.

Eye also takes measures to limit risks when possible. When having difficulties in receiving or sending out the live stream signal, all sessions are recorded as well and are made available to the virtual audience to be re-watched afterwards. Next to that, some presentations during the live conference are virtual talks. To limit the risk of technical issues, Eye asks the speakers to record these sessions instead of presenting their talks live via livestream. Months before the conference, speakers receive, next to some best practices, a list of requirements on how to record their talk in the best possible way. Like: use a flat background, make sure the frame leaves rome for more than just your face, ideally use a mic etcetera. After their sessions were played on the big screen, the speakers would join digitally for a Q&A via livestream.

Magic spell 5: Spread across multiple channels
Your online audience is always moving and will not be bound to one digital space. It can be valuable to share your programme on other channels, in sizeable content chunks or perhaps even in full format. A good example of such a strategy can be seen when Tonight shows are being shared on YouTube. When putting together a great festival programme you can consider sharing your content on multiple channels. This will affect your festival programme and some changes even in your organization. Involve your editorial teams on how they can share festival content on different channels including your own website and work closely with the marketing and communications department.

Eye does not spread their conference amongst multiple channels, but they do make sure the recorded sessions of the conference are being included in the Eye archive. This allows them to conserve and spread the valuable insights on the subject of film archiving for years to come.

Building a community
What is the main reason for Eye to keep offering the Eye Conference as a hybrid event, even after the pandemic? “It’s in a way very practical,” Eleni says. “We want to enable access to those who are not able to join physically, due to whatever reason they might have. The topics of this conference are global, and we want to share these insights. In order to do so, we want to create different options for people to join and to connect with the knowledge shared. We ask speakers to leave their contact details at the end of each presentation so that the virtual audience, that misses the coffee moment after the session, can still get in touch personally. We use digital opportunities in an interactive and personal way so that the human aspect is always leading. We want to build a community.”

On 26 through 29 May 2024, Eye Filmmuseum, the University of Amsterdam and the Laboratory for Experimental Museology (eM+) at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) will present the 9th Eye International Conference, this time with the topic ‘Presenting Audiovisual Collections: Experiments and Explorations’. For more information, visit

We would love to hear what your online and hybrid plans, questions and ambitions are. In any case, we are ready for you with lots of online ideas and experience! We would love to think with you. Please reach out to us via