Amazon Providing Platform for SXSW Films
Details of 10-day "virtual festival" still to be confirmed
By Richard Whittaker,
4:45PM, Fri. Apr. 3, 2020
Films hit by the cancellation of SXSW Film 2020 may have a chance at an audience after SXSW and Amazon announced that they plan to launch a 10-day virtual festival later this month.
The project, named Amazon Prime Video Presents the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection, will be open to all SXSW-selected films. The films will be available to anyone with an Amazon account, free of charge: However, filmmakers will receive a screening fee. SXSW has started reaching out to filmmakers with details, and the festival and Amazon are aiming to start the screenings in late April.
In a statement announcing the initiative, SXSW Film Festival Director Janet Pierson wrote, “Ever since SXSW was cancelled by the City of Austin, we’ve been focused on how we could help the incredible films and filmmakers in the SXSW 2020 Film Festival lineup. We were delighted when Amazon Prime Video offered to host an online film festival, and jumped at the opportunity to connect their audiences to our filmmakers. We’re inspired by the adaptability and resilience of the film community as it searches for creative solutions in this unprecedented crisis.”
The deal has also been met with support from former Austinite and leading indie director Mark Duplass, who said he was "thrilled" that SXSW and Amazon were undertaking this experiment. “These are unprecedented times, and it’s going to take unprecedented solutions to carry on and celebrate these great films and the people who worked so hard to make them.”
There had been some online discussion when SXSW was first canceled that an online platform could potentially just acquire all the titles without distribution deals. Yet this isn't quite that: Instead, the offer is just for the 10 days of the festival, and filmmakers will still be able to look for separate distribution deals.
So far, no titles have been announced, and the decision-making about who can and will opt in makes for a complicated picture. Indie distributor Oscilloscope has teamed up with Mailchimp Labs, the content wing of online marketers Mailchimp, to provide a platform for SXSW short films through the end of April, including the locally-made short "The Paint Wizzard." However, shorts generally rarely find homes outside of the festival circuit or online, so it's not a completely analogous situation when it comes to features.
Moreover, some of the SXSW feature titles will be out of contention anyway. Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae's comedy The Lovebirds had been acquired by Netflix even before the festival. Similarly, Amazon had several titles of its own scheduled, including two sci-fi projects – VR afterlife comedy Upload and anthology series Tales of the Loop. Meanwhile, positive word for Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow saw it get acquired by Neon just after the festival was canceled. Films with a greater degree of star power or representation have a better chance of being acquired anyway, and may wait for a deal.
The big question surrounds the smaller films – many of them that hoped for a launch at SXSW. They're now in the same situation as the legions of titles that saw similar launches scuppered at other canceled festivals like Cannes and Tribeca. There are also complicated rules and agreements in place about how and when films can be screened, and showing a film outside of a festival setting can often be seen as already being self-distributed, thus hitting its selling price to distributors.
At the same time, the film industry is in a period of furious experimentation at the moment, with major titles rescheduled, titles that were already on general release rushed to VOD, and smaller distributors experimenting with "virtual cinema" projects with indie and art house theatres.
Expect a lot of discussion over the next few days about what this, if anything, will mean for future distribution deals, and whether and which filmmakers will sign up for this experiment.