Coronavirus fears have impacted SXSW Film with Apple’s decision to pull out of SXSW entirely, a move that will preclude the premieres of the Spike Jonze’s documentary “Beastie Boys Story” as well as screenings of “Central Park” from “Bob’s Burgers” creator Loren Bouchard and the docuseries “Home.” Sources close to the situation said that the Apple/A24 documentary “Boys State” may still screen since it isn’t a world premiere, though talent may not attend.
Also joining the fray of no-shows is Netflix, with Variety reporting that screenings of “Uncorked” and documentaries “A Secret Love,” “L.A. Originals,” “Mucho Mucho Amor,” and “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics,” will no longer be at the event.
Earlier this week, Amazon Studios also pulled back from the event, which meant Greg Daniels’ sci-fi show “Upload” and Matt Reeves and Nathaniel Halpern’s “Tales From the Loop” also won’t premiere at the festival.
The Apple cancelation leaves Apple TV+ with a challenging path forward for its upcoming release slate, as well as the brand in general. Following its November launch and a fruitful awards season, the nascent streaming service was relying on SXSW for its wide reach and receptive audiences. “Central Park,” which was set to premiere opening night on March 13 at the 1,200-seat Paramount Theater, is the much-anticipated musical-comedy from “Bob’s Burgers” creator Loren Bouchard.
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Early looks have been encouraging, but this was by no means an inexpensive production: Apple TV+ needs the series to connect with animation fans, families, and a more general audience, which made the hip festival credibility offered by SXSW all the more valuable. “Home,” a docuseries focused on innovative homes, also could have benefited from critics reviewing the series out of the festival and any additional interviews gained from the reporters in Austin.
While the Emmys are still six months away, FYC events have begun and select SXSW events serve a dual purpose of building awareness with overall audiences and Emmy voters alike. The Spike Jonze documentary “Beastie Boys Story” was scheduled to debut at the Paramount Theatre, kicking off its Emmy run in Austin, and Jonze was set to speak at a featured session prior to the premiere. “Little America” executive producers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon also had an awards-minded conversation canceled at the festival.
At this writing, Universal Studios still plans to bring SXSW’s opening-night film, “The King of Staten Island” directed by Judd Apatow and starring Pete Davidson. Talent participation would be especially key: Not only is Apatow something of a SXSW opening-night mascot, but Apatow and Davidson are also scheduled to kick off the SXSW Comedy Festival. That portion of the SXSW Conference begins immediately following their film’s world premiere with the Apatow-hosted “The King of Staten Island Revue featuring Pete Davidson, Bill Burr, and Friends,” which will benefit the Friends of Firefighters foundation.
Among the other entities that have canceled their SXSW participation are Facebook, Twitter, Intel, Mashable, and Indeed, among others; the Austin American-Statesman is keeping a running list.
Other major studios that have yet to pull out of the festival include A24 (“Green Knight”), Orion Pictures (“Bad Trip”), and Paramount (“The Lovebirds”). “The Lovebirds” co-star Kumail Nanjiani tweeted this evening that he was avoiding large crowds since his wife, Emily V. Gordon, was immunocompromised.
I love this script and everyone involved here, but in light of recent developments I have decided to pull out of this table read. I feel bad about it but it’s the only choice I could make. I’m sure my replacement will be someone talented and awesome, should you decide to go. https://t.co/qBnE0JJeZ3
— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) March 5, 2020
On the afternoon of March 4, Austin resident Shyla Lee launched a change.org petition seeking signatures of those in favor of canceling the event. “I’m concerned about the hundreds of thousands of people who will be traveling to austin texas in march for the SXSW festival,“ she wrote. “I believe that having an event like this is irresponsible amid an outbreak. So far SXSW has not made any plans to cancel or reschedule the festival. They have not made any plans on how they will prepare against the spread of the virus. Please think about the children, immune compromised, elderly, diabetic, asthmatic, (ETC) people who could die because of this.” The petition currently has nearly 46,000 signatures.
The SXSW statistics report for 2019 recorded participation of approximately 417,400 across the SXSW Conference & Festivals (which includes music, tech, and film), SXSW EDU, and SXSW Gaming.
However, Dr. Mark Escott, interim medical director and health authority for Austin Public Health, told the Austin American-Statesman today that canceling SXSW wouldn’t make the city safer from the virus.
“Today the threat of community spread in Austin remains low, however, we are prepared for it to happen here,” he said. He added that it is not a matter of if, but when, COVID-19 comes to Austin.
SXSW representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Additional reporting by Eric Kohn.