Independent films face a challenge to gain attention as festivals go virtual.

The loss of traditional film festivals to the pandemic means more than missing cocktail parties and the red carpet.

For smaller indie films, not having the chance to build word-of-mouth momentum at festivals could be the difference between becoming an unlikely Oscar darling or one also hitting the video-on-demand market.

Ricky Staub, a 37-year-old filmmaker, had ambitious plans when his debut film, “Concrete Cowboy,” landed coveted spots at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. That all changed when Telluride was canceled and Toronto opted for a hybrid model with in-person screenings for Canadian audiences and a virtual version for everyone else.

“Everyone told me the best part of finishing your movie was when you started going to festivals,” Mr. Staub said. “I don’t have the opportunity to experience that at all. I have a lot of gratitude, but I’m sad that I can’t go.

At the Venice Film Festival, which was held in person with certain security restrictions and which ends this week, “One Night in Miami” – the directorial debut of Oscar-winning actress Regina King – has already sparked discussions about the rewards. Amazon recently bought it in a bidding war.

Toronto is trying to create that excitement in the virtual world. With a number of online Q&A sessions with filmmakers, drive-in screenings and 50-person theater screenings in Toronto, the event will feature 50 films instead of the 333 scheduled for 2019.

Cameron Bailey, artistic director and co-manager of the festival, agrees it’s “strange”, especially without the usual crowds that fill the streets during the 10-day international event. But he said the festival was always able to nurture new filmmakers and films, even in a virtual world.

“The main currency of a festival is intangible – it’s the buzz,” Mr Bailey said.