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SLO International Film Festival switches to virtual format

SLO Film Fest
Posted at 9:42 AM, Mar 09, 2021

The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival kicks off Tuesday and like so many events during the pandemic, the six-day festival is virtual.

Filmmakers and organizers say it's the perfect way to enjoy movies in the comfort of your own home while supporting the community.

Rewind to March 2020 and you'll remember we were just beginning to learn about COVID-19.

Suddenly, events were being called off over concerns about the virus. SLO Film Festival director Skye McLennan remembers coming to a tough realization about the 2020 festival.

"We were five days out from our festival and unfortunately, it was canceled due to the pandemic," McLennan said.

In a last-minute scramble, the SLO Film Fest put all their 2020 films online.

"It was just kind of links on a website. There wasn't a lot [of virtual technology] out there so it's really changed for this year," she told KSBY.

Starting Tuesday, digital pass holders will gain access to over 100 films that will be available virtually through March 14.

"This will be our most unusual film festival. We really wanted to put safety at the forefront and make sure we were providing a good experience that people felt comfortable in," McLennan said.

Last week, San Luis Obispo County moved into the "red tier," allowing movie theaters to reopen at limited capacity. However, the SLO Film Fest isn't going to do a last-minute pivot like they did in 2020. McLennan says her team is proud of the online festival they have created and they are thankful local theaters are now able to reopen to some extent.

"We're really excited that that's happening, especially for our venues. We're just really excited for them because they have been hit really hard," she said.

The 2021 festival has a heavy focus on diversity, featuring films like Aimee Long's. "A Shot Through the Wall" is the story of an Asian-American cop who accidentally shot a black man.

"Really my intention was to make a film that represents us, represents Asian Americans," Long said. "I am Chinese-American myself and I wanted to tell a story that’s from the perspective of a Chinese-American."

Chris Boone and Kevin Smokler hope their film, "Vinyl Nation," spurs a boost in sales at local record shops like BooBoo Records and Cheap Thrills.

"We wanted to make sure our film played in great music towns all over the United States and San Luis Obispo is obviously one of them," Smokler said.

Boone looks forward to chatting with festival-goers over Zoom.

"We may not be able to see you in person but there are opportunities to reach out and talk to filmmakers and ask them your burning questions after you see these films," Boone said.

Plus, you can support local restaurants while you watch.

"We asked all our filmmakers for food pairings with their films," McLennan said. "So, if you're a pass holder as well, you get discounts for local restaurants."

Filmmakers and organizers say watching these films is unlike most of the screen time that consumes much of our daily lives. This festival is a curated, local experience.

"You're really getting to see something unique that has been personally chosen by the staff at the SLO Film Festival for you as a resident of San Luis Obispo County," Smokler said. "They have you and your movie-going pleasure in mind."

The popular Surf Nite event, which was originally scheduled to take place on Wednesday, has been rescheduled for Thursday because of a chance of rain. It will take place at the Sunset Drive-in.

Tickets to access the festival's films are still available online.