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Free State Festival Forges a New Path During the Pandemic

In normal circumstances, this final week of June would have brought films, comedy acts and performances to packed venues across Lawrence for the annual Free State Festival. Food would have been shared. Ideas exchanged. And people would have gathered in darkened rooms for the communal joy of experiencing stories on large screens and all of the laughter and tears that entails.

But then the global pandemic hit. Large gatherings were safe for neither guests nor audiences, so we postponed our in-person gatherings to 2021.

But Free Staters aren’t known for wallowing in setbacks. We take action! We quickly booked our three headliners for next summer and are thrilled that John Waters, Cameron Esposito and Boots Riley will all be here with us in June 2021. We also quickly switched gears to connect with audiences in new ways. Bridging the gap between moviegoers during social distancing brought new challenges, unexpected delights and technical innovations to our programming.

Since the COVID-19 shutdown, we have hosted 13 virtual film screenings — several of which were world premieres — participated in community discussions and connected with cinephiles from other cities, states and countries. One if the highlights was this debut of the Lawrence-made short film EPIPHANY, directed by Nicole Hodges-Persley which you can watch right here.

And, there’s more to come! 

On June 26 at 6:30 p.m., we are hosting a Q&A with Filmmaker/Screenwriter Kevin Willmott about his latest Spike Lee collaboration, Da 5 Bloods, on Facebook LIVE. Tune in to our Free State Festival Facebook page to listen and ask questions! 

Split screen of a movie poster featuring a drawing of a person in a military helmet and a smiling man.

On Sunday, June 28, we are celebrating Pride Month with the Film Festival Alliance’s Rainbow Retrospective, a collection of Queer Comedy Shorts accompanied by a filmmaker Q&A. Get your tickets here and help support Free State Festival AND the queer filmmaking community.

Whether you are connecting with the Free State Festival through social media, watching films with us virtually, or waiting patiently to see us in person next summer, we wish you all the best in health, wellness, movie-watching and filmmaking in the days, weeks, and months to come.