The Berlin Film Festival, which was scheduled to start Feb. 11, has been postponed because of the coronavirus, its organizers said on Friday in a news release, making it the first — but probably not the last — major cultural event of 2021 to be affected by the pandemic.
With coronavirus cases soaring in Germany, the Berlinale, as the festival is known, will now occur in a digital form for movie industry professionals in March, the festival said.
The festival’s competition will take place as part of the March event, and a jury in Berlin will select prize winners, the release added. Berlin’s film fans will get to watch entrants at a separate event in June, involving open-air screenings as well as presentations in movie theaters.
“There is a great desire to meet face to face,” Mariette Rissenbeek, the festival’s executive director, said in a statement, but “the current situation does not allow a physical festival in February.” On Sunday, Germany announced a lockdown as coronavirus cases surged, banning most cultural activities until at least Jan. 10.
The delay to the first major international movie event of 2021 is likely to cause concern that other festivals might need to be pushed back, even as Europe prepares to roll out a Covid-19 vaccine.
The Cannes Film Festival is scheduled to start on May 11, just weeks after the delayed Academy Awards, on April 25. Cannes organizers intend the event to occur as scheduled, Aida Belloulid, the festival’s spokeswoman, said in an email, but are “waiting until the beginning of next year to evaluate the pandemic evolution.”
“Then, if we consider May won’t be possible, we will work on new dates, from end of June to end of July,” she added. Whatever date the festival occurs, it will be “a ‘classic’ Cannes,” with a full program and stars on the Croisette, Ms. Belloulid said.
Earlier this year, Cannes was postponed at the last minute because of the pandemic. The organizers ended up staging a “special” edition in October, with just a handful of films and little of the festival’s usual glamour. That event received barely any media attention.
In contrast to Cannes, the Venice Film Festival has yet to make contingency plans and its organizers intend to go ahead as normal, in September. “Of course we don’t know what the situation will be,” Alberto Barbera, the festival’s artistic director, said in a telephone interview, “but we were lucky enough to go ahead with the festival this year without any problems, so next year should be even better.”
This year’s Venice Film Festival featured mandatory masks and a distinct lack of blockbusters, but it was still widely seen as a success, given that it was one of the few major international cultural events to actually happen in 2020.
There was no reported transmission of the coronavirus during the 11-day event, Mr. Barbera said, which suggested the measures had been a success. Some element of social distancing might still be in place in 2021, he added, but that would depend on the state of the pandemic.
Mr. Barbera said any changes to the film festival calendars, following the Berlinale’s move, were unlikely to affect movie release dates. The major studios and distributors will start releasing films only when movie theaters reopen, he said.
“I feel the majority of big films will wait until the fall,” he said, “so that could be a huge chance for the few festivals, like us, Toronto, New York.”
The Berlin Film Festival said in its news release that it was still in talks with its sponsors, including the German government, about the budget for its new events. It said it had no choice but to delay. “The Berlinale would like to emphasize once again that the health and the well-being of all guests and employees come first in all aspects of the planning,” the news release said.