South by Southwest’s cancellation hints at a tough 2020 for indie filmmakers

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Only a few days after it was announced that No Time to Die was being pushed back seven months due to the outbreak of Coronavirus across the world, the disease has claimed its second movie victim, this time not an individual feature, but the entire South by Southwest festival (SXSW).

The annual event in Austin, Texas has never been as big or celebrity heavy as Cannes, Toronto or even Sundance, but it’s always been a favourite of Indie Filmmakers, often boasting a few breakout hits. In recent memory, Jordan Peele’s immensely popular Get Out and Us premiered at SXSW, as did other box office successes like Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver back in 2017. This year, the headline screenings including The Lovebirds starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, as well as the much-hyped The Green Knight directed by David Lowery. These movies will still be released in cinemas globally, that’s a guarantee. Indeed, both have already released trailers and The Loverbirds is scheduled for a release as early as April. But, if these films are good, the cancellation of the festival may stall the much needed momentum that was so beneficial for some of SXSW’s biggest success stories.

Where the real story occurs here is the unfortunate implications for indie filmmakers getting their big break at the festival, as well as what this means for other more high profile film festivals going forward in a world ravaged by Coronavirus. While big releases often make the headlines, many have lamented on twitter that for those who were lucky enough to debut their more obscure films at the festival, its cancellation is hugely detrimental on their career. Many directors and writers have highlighted that in previous years, SXSW was where they got their starts, and provided a vast array of connections to agents, producers and sponsors. Even for reviewers, festivals provide an opportunity to get ahead on major trades and be exposed to exclusive movie that no one has yet seen. For amateurs and newcomers all around, festivals, especially the non-Cannes of the world, are a perfect place to get a start.

Speaking of Cannes, all eyes will now be on that festival to see whether it will follow suit. Many national governments are coming forward to suggest that early May is when the virus will reach its eventual peak, coinciding with the start of the festival. If Cannes does turn out to be cancelled, it will be an unprecedented move for the film industry, as if last year’s model is taken, awards hopefuls will be shut out. The 2019 festival saw the release of eventual Best Picture winner Parasite as well as a slew of other hopefuls, namely Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pain and Glory and The Lighthouse. While this year’s lineup is currently unknown, many expect Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch to make an appearance, beginning its long road to the Oscars should it be up to the Director’s usual standard.

In the end, who knows how long Coronavirus will go on to dominate 2020? There is a fierce debate online as to whether governments and the media especially are drumming up coverage to spread unnecessary panic, but so far, two huge Hollywood delays have cemented the virus’ impact on the industry. If this trend continues, Coronavirus could go on to make 2020 a very interesting film year.

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