I enjoy film, but I love television. For some reason I have always been captivated by the stories shared on the small screen, starting with my House obsession in high school and building from there. Unfortunately for television fanatics like me there is not a lot out there in terms of festivals, at least not compared to the world of film. I have had to get my commentary fix through comic book conventions as they slowly evolved to celebrate television shows and incorporate all types of media.
There was always a gaping hole where I wanted a festival celebrating television to be. Where was the Tribeca of television? A festival solely dedicated to the discussion of the stories being told in long form, something more than an awards show or panel at a comic book convention. It seems that television critic Matt Zoller Seitz saw the hole and decided to leap in and fill it with the inaugural Split Screens Festival in NYC. It was exactly what I wished for all these years.
Split Screens Festival was unique in that it was completely dedicated to television. Other festivals like Tribeca have begun to include screenings of noteworthy shows but film has always been the emphasis. However, at Split Screens it was television that ruled the stage. New shows, old shows, cancelled shows, and discussions surrounding the future of the industry were highlighted over the period of nearly a week at the IFC Center.
It was a television lover’s dream and brought together fans, talent, and creators in an intimate and unparalleled way. Screenings were paired with panel discussions that integrated moderator questions and audience feedback. The screening sessions alone were worth the price of the ticket because they created a space where fans could watch something together on the big screen, reactions and all. Anyone who has watched a movie in a theater, especially on opening night, can probably attest to the unique experience it provides. Split Screens did that for television fans.
An activity usually done at home – watching television – was brought into a public space where it could be shared and celebrated. Wrapping panel interviews into each of the screenings was icing on the television cake as the minds behind the masterpieces were able to react in real time, too. For example, Raúl Esparza sat with the audience during a screening of a Hannibal episode where he got a lot of screen time and admitted that it was his first time seeing it. He got a chance to process it on stage with the audience and moderator in a way that was utterly unique to the event.
Split Screens Festival even took advantage of cancellations, speaking to a well organized and connected event. After news got out that WGN’s Underground would not be returning for another season the subsequent panel that had been planned was cancelled as well. Despite the gap in programming the organizers behind Split Screens bounced back quickly and filled it with another Hannibal event, once again packing the theater. It is always refreshing to see an event that is quick on its feet and creative even in the face of unpredictable circumstances.
The final thing I admired most about the festival was its commitment to television as a whole, not just networks or streaming platforms. This was exemplified in their New Platforms, New Voices panel which celebrated the success of web series and the new opportunities available to creators in the 21st century. Much like the industry it was celebrating, Split Screens Festival aimed to be innovative in the way they presented television and did a heck of a job.
As a television fan, aspiring critic, and lover of all things story telling I couldn’t be happier with how Split Screens Festival turned out. It was a highlight of my year in media so far and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next year.