Virtual Global Film Entertains Families During Pandemic

Streaming services like Netflix, YouTube and Amazon saw a huge boost in viewership starting in mid-March when most of the local governments in the United States began to institute stay-at-home orders. For Aaron Hipp, associate professor of Community Health and Sustainability, it mostly meant streaming Disney movies while staying at home with three kids under the age of 8. So when he heard that NC State’s Global Film Series was offering a family-friendly film as part of its programming, he decided it would be a fun activity to do with his 8-year-old daughter, Micah.

It was different than “Frozen” or “Trolls.” I also enjoyed feeling like I was participating in a film series or screening, but from my couch without a babysitter,” Hipp said.

Moving Online

Organizers from NC State University Libraries and the Office of Global Engagement decided to move the film series online to preserve its momentum. Since the film series launched in the Fall of 2018, it has attracted thousands of students, employees and community members to the monthly showings.

“We wanted to make sure that we retained the overall mission of the Global Film Series: to expose students to other cultures or historically important moments with a strong academic component led by one of our great NC State faculty members,” said David Hawley, manager of global programming in the Office of Global Engagement.

Planning for the move to an online film series took several weeks of research when Hawley came across an article about the Irish film “Zoo,” which premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in conjunction with the TIFF Kids International Film Festival.

“Our goal was to find an international film that was 1) family-friendly, 2) free and easy for people to stream, and 3) interesting and uplifting during these challenging times,” Hawley said. “It checked all the boxes.”

“We approached the Department of History, which has been tremendously helpful in working with the series,” said Marian Fragola, director of program planning and outreach for NC State University Libraries. “Dr. Charles Ludington agreed to provide the lovely and informative introduction.”

Ludington said he generally likes to speak to a live audience, but there were also benefits to recording his introduction.

“I almost always rehearse in front of a mirror before giving a talk from a script, but by making a Zoom recording I was able to do a dry run and watch myself, and then come back and do the final recording,” he said. “When you’re live in person, there are no do-overs.”

The Hipps watched “Zoo” together after the younger kids had gone to sleep. They both enjoyed the benefits of screening a movie at home, including the ability to pause during scenes that might be more intense for younger viewers.

“The bombing scene was scary for Micah, so it was nice to be able to pause it, take a break and talk a little about what was going on,” Hipp recalled.

Overall, the Hipps gave the movie and overall experience two thumbs up and would definitely continue to participate in a virtual film series.

“It was better, kind of,” said Micah Hipp. “You can sit at home and get your own food, go on the couch and get cozy.”

Film Series Future

Organizers are working now to figure out a safe and feasible way to continue the film series in the fall semester, whether it’s in-person or online. One of the main challenges in continuing the series virtually is identifying high-quality international films that can be screened for free on a variety of platforms. 

“The ability to legally show films for free to a public audience is complicated in itself and becomes even more challenging when you are working with international distributors and producers,” Fragola said.

Both Fragola and Hawley also recognized that while watching movies at home is comfortable, it doesn’t replace the movie-going experience.

“We all love watching movies at home, but there’s just something about going to the movie theater and watching it on the big screen with the big sound that is just exciting,” Hawley said. “From an academic standpoint, the ability to watch the film and then to ask questions to our faculty expert directly after the film is something that you can’t replicate virtually.”