Festivals, film industry and multimedia products after the pandemic: Cluj-Napoca gives a glimpse of the future
Credits TIFF Chris Nemes
The partners of Cluj Future of Work and the participants to the Culturepreneurs programme are testing new ways for producing and distributing culture, making the city a laboratory for testing solutions on what the cultural production will look like in the future
Unirii Square is usually filled with movie lovers from all over Romania when is time of TIFF - Transylvania Film Festival, the most important cinematographic event of the country founded in Cluj-Napoca in 2002 which rapidly became a reference point for filmmakers and movie fans of the region.
Open-air movie screenings in the main public space of the city are normally the most characteristic and prestigious events of the program, but in the year of pandemic emergency the open-air screenings played a role even more important than usual. While all around the world drive-in theatres and outdoor cinema screenings are making a comeback due to the restrictions imposed on indoor screenings by Covid-19 safety protocols, the Transylvania Film Festival decided to focus on an ambitious use of public spaces in order to be one of the first film festivals in Europe able to organize a physical edition in the year of Covid-19.
The Festival, originally scheduled for the end of May, was postponed to the summer (from 31 July to 9 August) by the organizers, the Association for the Promotion of Romanian Movies (Asociația pentru Promovarea Filmului Românesc) which is one of the delivery partners of Cluj Future of Work.
The organization of the 2020 edition of TIFF was a testing ground for improving the resilience of the cultural and creative sector of Cluj-Napoca: it also offered interesting insights on how cultural events and film distribution will look like in the future, and what kind of employment opportunities will arise for all the actors involved in the different segments of the audio-visual sector.
Two open-air screenings per night were organized by TIFF in eleven locations around Cluj-Napoca, allowing residents and visitors to discover unusual places which were just rarely used as locations for cultural events, such as the yard of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine or the schoolyards of the National College and two high schools.
“Even though we had to cancel the parties and the networking events that usually make the city vibrant during the Festival, we kept the soul of our festival alive. The reaction of the public was positive: after months of lockdown they needed this festival as a sign of hope and people thanked us for what we did, showing that is possible to have our life back if we act responsibly altogether” says the festival manager Cristian Hordila.
Other locations that hosted the Film Festival, such as the Arkhai Sculpture Park, were already tested by previous editions of TIFF or, as the Banffy Castle, used by other festivals like the Electric Castle, an annual event combining music, technology and alternative arts that cancelled its 2020 edition but is going to rethink and reshape its format focusing on smaller events in different urban locations, as TIFF successfully tested last summer.
The collaboration among the organizers of different festivals and events was crucial to reviving a community spirit in the cultural and creative industries of Cluj-Napoca during the lockdown. An emergency committee composed of representatives of the cultural and business sector was settled down and worked with the Municipality of Cluj-Napoca to make acquisitions of medical materials in the framework of a local initiative called Un Singur Cluj (One Single Cluj). This collaboration created a climate of mutual trust, that was not only useful to save lives during the emergency, but also to find shared solutions for reviving cultural and creative activities strongly affected by the economic crisis.
“The success of this year’s edition of TIFF gave surprisingly a boost to ticketing sales of other events in Cluj-Napoca: people stayed at home for three months and now are looking for smaller events and concerts or private exhibitions, and this trend is going to continue” says Hordila.
Understanding how cultural consumption habits of people changed after the pandemic is crucial for the future of cultural and creative industries but also for the future of work in these sectors. The coexistence of offline and online activities and a stronger focus on the quality of the contents are elements to be taken into account by the organizers of festivals and cultural events in cities. The Video on Demand platform TIFF Unlimited, promoting Romanian and international arthouse movies all year long (including films from the festival program), had a big increase of audience during the lockdown offering many tailored events and screenings promoted also on social media. “People started to reshape their taste and invest more in new things – says Hordila – We realized that people and community need to have a cultural life, also during the pandemic: even if we are living hard times, we need to keep our mind and soul alive”.
Strong public policies are also needed to support the transition of cultural and creative industries towards the creation of new products and initiatives. Since 2010, the Municipality of Cluj-Napoca doubled every year its budget dedicated to supporting cultural events and NGOs: a total budget of 2 million euros will be assigned to innovative cultural projects this year with a call launched during the summer. “The decision of continuing to finance local NGOs in the cultural sector, taken after debates with civil society and approved by the City Council, is strategic because creating a gap of one year can have very bad consequences for a fragile sector as culture strongly affected by the pandemic” says Ovidiu Cimpean, director of the Cluj-Napoca City Hall.
The measures adopted at local level to support cultural and creative industries can also contribute to create effective national policies, taking into account not only the needs of the businesses but also the impact on cultural life and employment perspectives in local contexts. This is the reason why the Municipality of Cluj-Napoca is strongly backing its cultural sector in the dialogue with national authorities, to define a national scheme to support the evolution of the cultural sector after the pandemic.
The experience gained in the last months by the representatives of cultural and creative industries who are testing strategies and initiatives for the recovery of the sector can be useful also to give insights into the future of the cultural market and new tools to young potential entrepreneurs, who are going to face the evolution of the cultural scene and the habits of end-users. In the framework of Cluj Future of Work, last July the Culturepreneurs programme selected for its 2020 edition 69 participants (out of 110 total applicants), who are starting online classes in these weeks on business and marketing basics but will continue with thematic modules by the beginning of 2021. One of these modules is dedicated to innovative audio-visual contents and its curricula were created by the Association for the Promotion of Romanian Movies as a delivery partner of the project. Twelve participants of Culturepreneurs will carry on their tailored projects using technologies for virtual reality and computer-generated images to improve their business idea.
The use of virtual reality for creating innovative services or cultural activities, such as a hologram opera show or a healthy activities program, are some of the ideas to be potentially developed by the participants to the innovative audio-visual contents module of Culturepreneurs. These project ideas are in line with the current trend of offering more experiences remotely accessible to the users, with formats to be created through the use of new techniques of shooting and editing. These entrepreneurial projects can follow the path of innovation in the use of virtual reality and animation technologies, followed in recent years by other professionals in Cluj-Napoca, such as a group of architects using virtual reality for showcasing its projects to foreign customers or two designers who created their first short animated movie through the use of digital animation techniques.
“I have the feeling that in the near future we will have many good examples of innovative use of multimedia technologies for creating new services and products in Cluj-Napoca. The city is a good environment to do this kind of experiments because the public sector and private actors are eager to listen also ideas that may seem crazy but can be potentially very innovative in many sectors. Cluj-Napoca can become a renowned center for new techniques of shooting in Europe” says Cristian Hordila.
The collaboration between public and private actors is crucial for making sectors at the forefront of innovation, such as the multimedia sector, an engine for local growth and to permeate the whole innovation ecosystem with approaches useful to catch the recent evolution of cultural and creative services. The CGI&VFX Lab to be completed in November at CREIC, the business center of the Cluj Innovation Park that will host the courses of the innovative audio-visual contents module of Culturepreneurs from January 2021, will be the playground for testing virtual reality equipment and software. The Labs hosted by CREIC (CGI&VFX, Design and Machine Learning) are an urban asset that will be opened to potential entrepreneurs and innovators, also after the end of Cluj Future of Work.
Giving widespread access to innovative equipment and specialized training courses can be a powerful tool to offer more opportunities for learning and testing to local youth and to create a widespread culture of innovation in the city, an aspect that is more important than ever after the current crisis for the multiplier effect that the innovation created in the Labs can have in making the local employment market more resilient and able to respond to external shocks.
“The equipment that we are buying for the Labs is now more needed than before the pandemic: they can be decisive for increasing digital skills for all. Having this infrastructure and the curricula of Culturepreneurs can give more opportunities to local talents who don’t have a lot of places where to grow their ideas: with the help of this program we can create an ecosystem of people who can generate startups and business opportunities in Cluj-Napoca” says Ovidiu Cimpean.
Cluj Future of Work can be the accelerator of a series of decisions taken by the local governments and public institutions active in Cluj-Napoca for innovating the way technical knowledge is turned into concrete activities and entrepreneurial projects in the city: the choice of moving the Faculty of Theater and Movies of the Babeș-Bolyai University to CREIC goes in that direction and shows how a stronger connection between academia and places equipped for testing innovation is crucial for urban growth and the future of cultural and creative economies.