At the start of the year, I found myself looking forward to a list of exciting festivals lined-up throughout the year, with dream line-ups and once-in-a-lifetime moments on the horizon. But 2020 didn’t exactly go the way any of us wanted it to. One by one, festivals left and right were being rescheduled and rescheduled again, and eventually cancelled altogether. This chain reaction left me feeling like there was little to look forward to, especially with the year coming to a close, and just as we’re about to enter another uncertain year. But seven months in and with all of us continuing to try and get a handle of things in the new normal, creative solutions have since been popping up all around that are making being stuck at home a lot less boring, and bringing all of us back together in virtual spaces.
Last month, Smart GigaFest became the breath of fresh air that many of us really needed, including myself. Film viewings, gaming, sports and e-sports, and musical performances—a number of local wavemakers and foreign talent alike brought together under one roof (so to speak) in a way that I haven’t seen done in quite the same way before. Going way beyond just a one-night-only online experience, GigaFest featured a diverse mix of content for every type of person, from seasoned film buffs all the way to hardcore basketball fans.
Given the current situation, binge watching movies has kind of become a regular occurrence for me, especially since weekends aren’t as eventful as they used to be. But with an arsenal of movies having piled up in my “Already Watched” list throughout quarantine, I found myself searching for a viewing experience with a little more excitement and anticipation; and for three weeks, GigaFest gave me just that. The Korean Film Festival, that on its own drew in K-culture lovers from select cities to their local movie theaters in the past couple of years, had its first-ever online run with GigaFest this year, allowing its doors to open to people all around the country into shared streams of films starring some of the biggest names in Korea (and now, the world!)—namely, Crash Landing on You stars Hyun Bin and Son Ye Jin, and Park Seo Joon of Itaewon Class fame. There was something about waiting for the scheduled stream that gave me a similar feeling to waiting for cinema doors to open and settling in my seat, knowing that my friends and even strangers were watching the same thing I was, in real time.
On the gaming and sports end of things, livestreams of some of the most anticipated events of the year kept me on the edge of my seat. Watching the 6th season of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League-Philippines as well as the all-female E-sports league Liga Adarna: Laban Para Sa Korona, and seeing the pros play on a completely different level was a sight to behold. On the other hand, catching up to the heat of the competition with the NBA playoffs kept my adrenaline up and screaming at my computer screen in both excitement and frustration. These livestreams easily felt like exclusive VIP access seats, and the best part of it all was that I didn’t even have to step out of my bedroom or get dressed up to see it.
When I mentioned droves of local and foreign talent being brought together by Smart in a way that hasn’t been done before, streaming the 2020 iHeart Music Festival almost back-to-back with the GigaFest Virtual Concert is the perfect example of what I meant. When else would I be able to watch the likes of BTS, Miley Cyrus, Khalid, and Alicia Keys alongside James Reid, Nadine Lustre, Curtismith, and KZ Tandingan in the span of a week? The musical performances brought the concert experience directly to me, and words of wisdom in between some of my favorite songs energized me and a lot of other people to get through the worldwide situation together. In the words of Alicia Keys during her iHeart set: "2020 has been something, and nothing is the same, is it? But you know what I call it? I call it 'The Great Transformation.' One thing that's true, you can never stop the music. We need it now more than ever."
With all of that, it seems like GigaFest was going to end the surprises with the livestreams and one-time performances. But to my surprise, it didn’t. With students all over the country stuck at home, it’s difficult to experience and learn something new when you have nowhere to go. But with GigaFest also came the launch of smartuniversity2020.com, a new virtual space that brings back the feeling many of us have missed about school—being back on campus, learning new things we couldn’t before, and meeting new people again.
I’ve seen a lot of online shows in the past couple of months, but GigaFest was one that wasn’t just for one type of crowd, but for a whole assortment of people brought together through technology, engaging entertainment, and lasting life lessons if you look for them. And while this year hasn’t gone the way I expected it to, the month-long festival reminded me that there’s still a lot worth celebrating and even more to look forward to.