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Over the last few months, perhaps no sector of the media and entertainment industry has been more impacted than traditional events and festivals held at theaters and other venues closed by social distancing requirements and other restrictions. One festival expected to be hit hard by this disruption was the annual Chattanooga Film Festival (CFF), held since 2014 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and named by MovieMaker magazine as one of the 25 Bloody Best Genre Film Festivals in the World the last two years.

Born out of a local club of film enthusiasts led by Chris Dortch II, and expanded over the years by the passion and sheer will of Chris and his father, Chris Sr., the Chattanooga Film Festival has grown into a multi-day celebration of the best of cinema’s past and present, with legendary and contemporary artists in attendance, and offering free workshops and panels to educate and inspire future generations to create films of their own.

The 2020 edition of the CFF was originally slated for mid-April, with perhaps its best lineup yet of features and short films, and with a star-studded roster of industry luminaries expected in Chattanooga to educate and inspire the attendees. But with rapidly growing uncertainty surrounding venue availability, travel restrictions, and limits on large-scale gatherings, Chris made the difficult decision in early March to postpone—with the prospects for a rescheduled festival tenuous at best. And because every dollar raised through donations, grant support, and ticket sales go directly into keeping the non-profit festival alive the following year, the cancellation would put the future of the CFF in jeopardy.

Fear not—this story has a happy ending, and our hero entered the scene later in March in the form of Marco Rota, a Microsoft Technical Strategist. Marco had an idea: could Microsoft and its partners help transform the Chattanooga Film Festival into a virtual event? One that could provide a measure of relief for the hard-hit community of independent filmmakers, maintain the intimacy of a festival, provide distribution opportunities for the films, and entertain movie-lovers as they continue to shelter-in-place?

Given the festival’s legacy of innovation, entrepreneurship, and find-a-way spirit, it should come as no surprise that Chris and his father fully embraced Marco’s idea, and a vision for a rebooted CFF 2020 was formed. With the additions of MediaKind, Evergent, VisualOn, and Slalom to the partnership, that vision accelerated into the reality of the four-day, interactive, virtual version of the Chattanooga Film Festival that took place from May 2225 (over the Memorial Day holiday weekend in the U.S.).

The festival had over 75 feature and short films that were streamed through MediaKind’s MediaFirst TV Platform, hosted on Microsoft Azure. Microsoft 365 live events powered more than 30 panel discussions, Q&A’s, and other live sessions featured on the CFF 2020 schedule. And with support from Evergent and VisualOn, attendees were able to purchase badges that allowed access to the festival, and also to interact with creative artists, industry vets, and fellow film enthusiasts alike over the four days.

By any measure, the Chattanooga Film Festival 2020 was a flat-out success. All of the streams and live sessions went off without a hitch. Directors and producers of the features and shorts were extremely grateful for the opportunity to showcase their work and connect with their audiences (and each other). Attendees raved on social media throughout the weekend with their expressions of gratitude for the experience. And everyone involved ended the weekend hopeful that other festivals (film or otherwise) will follow the CFF’s lead and stage virtual events of their own.

Of even greater importance, of course, is that this year’s Chattanooga Film Festival—and the inspiration, innovation, and effort of all those who helped make it happen—secured the continuation of the CFF’s mission to foster a love of cinema, to help filmmakers showcase their art, and to create friendships and a sense of community. It’s a mission that is admirable at any point in time, but no more so than now.

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