Summer’s biggest TV shows bring online fan groups together at the Split Screens festival 

The third season of Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale" will premiere at the Split Screens Festival.  Photo Credit: Hulu/George Kraychyk

The Split Screens TV fest hosts the premieres of topical shows like “When They See Us,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Pose.”

The third season of Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale" will premiere at the Split Screens Festival. 
The third season of Hulu’s "The Handmaid’s Tale" will premiere at the Split Screens Festival.  Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

A television festival with a lineup of more than a dozen topical shows is encouraging fans to bring their online debates into Manhattan theaters.

The IFC Center’s third annual Split Screens Festival hosts six days of premiere events, finale viewings and chats with the casts of shows that have been stirring up passionate conversations in online fan groups. 

"We take that isolated living room experience and bring it into a community setting," says Raphaela Neihausen, the festival’s executive director. "Instead of watching it on your TV, iPad or computer, you’re seeing your favorite show on the big screen, in a room with all these other fans experiencing it along with you." 

The festival runs Wednesday through Monday at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village. More than a dozen series (and a few movies) are in the spotlight this year, much of them connected by ethical, political or cultural storytelling.

"When They See Us" will premiere at the third annual Split Screens Festival. 
"When They See Us" will premiere at the third annual Split Screens Festival.  Photo Credit: Netflix/Atsushi Nishijima

The upcoming Ava DuVernay series, "When They See Us," about a group of wrongly convicted teens in a Central Park rape, who became known as the Central Park Five, makes its premiere at the fest on Wednesday. A "Pose" screening celebrating Janet Mock, the first trans woman of color to write, direct and produce for a series, comes Saturday. And, Hulu’s dystopian conversation-starter "Handmaid’s Tale" — even more relevant in recent days following restrictive abortion laws — makes its third season premiere Monday.

"Television can really impact our lives in interesting ways and get us through tough times," says critic Melanie McFarland, adding that fans "really connect and find their people" through increasingly popular online extensions of such shows.

Private Facebook groups, started by fans themselves, now exist for nearly every new and returning series, no matter how niche. 

"’Game of Thrones’ just ended and people talked about that being the last communal viewing experience. I don’t think that’s true," says McFarland, this year’s co-creative director in charge of programming. "If we look at something like ‘When They See Us,’ that is a series that we’re going to be able to have a real understanding and conversation about an injustice that everybody knew about … That is the power that television has right now." 

Though online groups for the upcoming Central Park Five series are scarce ahead of its release, more than 50 unofficial Facebook groups exist for "The Handmaid’s Tale" discussions, the most popular ones topping out at 15,000 to 45,000 members. "Pose," FX’s groundbreaking drama about the trans experience in ’80s NYC, has found a smaller group of dedicated viewers (2,000), still engaging in thoughtful debates about the political and social issues the series tackles.

"Pose" co-executive producer Janet Mock will be honored at the third annual Split Screens Festival. 
"Pose" co-executive producer Janet Mock will be honored at the third annual Split Screens Festival.  Photo Credit: FX/JoJo Whilden

"While these groups are all incredibly important and valuable for creating community in a different way, our festival allows them to meet in person," says Neihausen. At the debut Split Screens Festival in 2017, Neihausen says she witnessed firsthand fans from all over the world gather for the fest’s "Orphan Black" finale event. 

"They knew each other for years online and met for the first time in person at the festival," she says. 

Below, we break down some of the festival’s highlights that are sure to bring the fans out in droves.

Inside "Russian Doll" 

You’ll hear from Leslye Headland, the co-creator and co-executive producer of the Netflix series starring Natasha Lyonne. The close-up conversation dives into the resurrection and time-hopping elements of the series and might explain some of the open-ended final episode. (Wednesday, 6:45 p.m.)

Natasha Lyonne stars in Netflix's "Russian Doll." 
Natasha Lyonne stars in Netflix’s "Russian Doll."  Photo Credit: Netflix

Premiere of "When They See Us" 

Watch the first half (episodes 1 and 2) of the Netflix drama that chronicles the notorious case of five teens wrongly convicted in a Central Park rape in 1989. Special guests have not yet been announced. (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.) 

Premiere of "Instinct" 

The second season of the CBS drama that stars Alan Cumming as a former CIA operative makes its debut at the festival. The NYC-set series is praised for its diversity, as it features the first openly gay lead of an American broadcast drama (Cumming), an Indian mayor and a leading female NYPD detective. Cumming will attend to lead a discussion alongside executive producer Michael Rauch. (Thursday, 7:45 p.m.) 

(S)heroes: Women of Action!

A fan-driven conversation about women in the industry will range from "Archer" to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." (Saturday, 11:30 a.m.) 

Vanguard Award: Janet Mock of "Pose"

The groundbreaking series gets honored at the festival with a free screening of "Love Is the Message" from the first season of "Pose." Janet Mock will be  receive the annual Vanguard Award. Tickets to this screening will be first come, first served at the IFC Center box office, starting 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. (Saturday, 5:30 p.m.) 

"The Good Place" chat 

Get into a deep ethical discussion with actor William Jackson Harper, who plays Chidi in "The Good Place," during this close-up chat. (Sunday, 2:30 p.m.) 

Premiere of "Fear the Walking Dead" 

Join other "Dead" fans for a live screening of the season 5 premiere. Actors Jenna Elfman, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Colman Domingo, Danay Garcia and Austin Amelio, and Scott M. Gimple will lead a post-episode discussion that you won’t get if you’re watching on your couch. (Sunday, 8:15 p.m.)

Elisabeth Moss (Offred) and Yvonne Strahovski (Serena) star in Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale." 
Elisabeth Moss (Offred) and Yvonne Strahovski (Serena) star in Hulu’s "The Handmaid’s Tale."  Photo Credit: Hulu/George Kraychyk

Premiere of "The Handmaid’s Tale" 

The highly anticipated third season of Hulu’s Emmy and Golden Globe-winning drama will premiere at the festival. Find out what really happened to Emily and baby Nicole along with other devoted fans. Blessed be the fight. (Monday, 7 p.m.)

Meghan Giannotta