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Heads Up, Movie Pirates: This Film Festival Wants You

The 11th annual Montclair Film Festival's web campaign is cleverly designed as a movie piracy website — one that actually lures you to get free tickets to the fest.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”

John Wilson/Netflix © 2022

Those who’ve attended a film festival know the infamous “arrrrrr” erupting from select corners of the audience whenever an anti-piracy disclaimer flashes onscreen. The sound is meant to evoke, of course, pirates, but it also reminds of the inherent community of the moviegoing experience — and it doesn’t just exist in the rarified space of a film festival.

The 11th annual Montclair Film Festival, running October 21-30 in the namesake town in New Jersey, has come up with a clever way to combat piracy while also targeting its very practitioners — in the form of a fake streaming website promising free rips of movies like “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” “The Whale,” “White Noise,” and “She Said.”

The website very much resembles one of those Angelfire-esque websites that, through its aggressive ad placement and the sheer number of links you have to click through, seems perilously close to crashing your computer. The activation, however, is a bait and switch designed to lure movie pirates to the festival’s online program guide and then offer them free tickets to screenings.

“We thought, what can we do that’d be an interesting way to get people who are actually trying to download films, to get their attention, and say, ‘Why don’t you come and check it out in the theater because we think the experience you’ll have with us will be superior to the experience you’re having online?,” said Tom Hall, Montclair Film’s co-head and artistic director, during a recent interview with IndieWire.

Montclair Film, which year-round runs the six-screen theater The Clairidge, partnered with Goodby Silverstein & Partners New York on the campaign. Hall says that the experiences we have in theaters are the “ones that we remember. I don’t remember stuff I download at home and watch on a screen as much as I do the cathartic, empathetic experience of being in a room with other people. We thought, let’s do this as a fun way to highlight the stay-at-home disconnect between the theatrical experience and what people are experiencing at home,” he said, adding that the festival did some SEO tweaking and keyword buys for better search placement.

“We don’t want to take a shot at streamers,” Hall said of the festival, which hosts multiple Netflix titles, including “Glass Onion,” “White Noise,” and “The Good Nurse.” “We get that’s where the industry is going, but piracy seemed like a fun way to do that, and invite people who are [pirating] for economic reasons or for convenience reasons to maybe take a chance on theatrical with us,” Hall said.

Hall is also hoping to bring back a little bit of the anticipation factor with the festival, even when we know movies like “White Noise” and “Glass Onion” are a stone’s throw from coming out on Netflix after their theatrical window shutters.

The idea used to be that you’d wait for a title to come out at the video store, but “now you can just get a copy online right away,” Hall said. “That’s changed people’s perspective. Everything now is so instantaneous. There’s something to be said about waiting. We [at The Clairidge] are not in the New York City break for independent films to come out. We wait two, three, four weeks to be on the next wave of films. Our patrons can easily go to New York City and see a film. We understand intimately how … instant gratification impacts theatrical for even a town like ours.”

One of the big-ticket items at the festival is an evening with Daniel Craig, with the actor in-person for a live conversation with Stephen Colbert, that also serves as a fundraising event for Montclair Film. See more highlights from the 10-day festival and get tickets here.

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