Despite the unprecedented decision by the mayor of Austin to cancel the SXSW Conference last week due to coronavirus fears, IndieWire will proceed with much of its planned coverage of the movies in its lineup. This will include overviews, features, and reviews, with many films seeking distribution.
This decision emerged in the aftermath of Friday’s news about SXSW’s cancellation and the unparalleled challenge it created for much of the industry. It was made in close consultation with a number of entities impacted by the cancellation, including filmmakers, sales representatives, publicity firms, and programmers at other festivals, with the approval of representatives for the movies we plan to cover.
While a handful of studio movies use the festival to build buzz leading up to their release dates, for many of the lower-budget projects SXSW provides a crucial launchpad. IndieWire wants to support that ecosystem and the ripple effect it can have in the industry. SXSW also allows us to maintain our year-round assessment of contemporary cinema following our coverage at Sundance and Berlin; given the opportunity to continue that process of discovery and evaluation, we were keen on pressing ahead. Our reviews will adhere to the original festival embargo times, unless we’ve been instructed otherwise.
From a practical standpoint, this approach isn’t so different from the way our site usually covers SXSW. Much of our review strategy relies on remote screenings and links, given our limited bandwidth on the ground. This year, we are only covering movies in the lineup with the permission of their representatives. We will not cover titles from any entity that has expressed concern that our coverage might ruin a potential launch at another festival later in the year, or lessen its ability to make an impact there with first reviews.
Many SXSW movies don’t have the luxury of that option. As we reported last week, SXSW can provide a unique starting point for smaller, edgier movies that could have a hard time squeezing into lineups at other major festivals, if they make it there at all. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this conundrum, but we will cover movies that we find most relevant to our readers and the industry.
Of course, certain aspects of the festival can’t be replicated. There are no keynotes, panel discussions, or activations. We won’t be on the frontlines for the first screenings of buzzy studio entries as we have in the past for “Us,” “A Quiet Place,” “Ready Player One,” “Baby Driver,” and others. But these premieres are only one piece of the equation.
Regardless of how the next few weeks develop, the damage has already begun. As coronavirus spreads, we are watching markets crash, schools close, travel scrapped, and jobs lost. In that context, the editorial challenge of covering movies at a film festival may seem relatively minor.
However, festivals play a key role in sustaining the global film industry. It’s unclear whether other upcoming festivals, including Tribeca and Cannes, will proceed. We believe it has become necessary to begin the process of exploring how to fill that sudden gap, and the SXSW situation represents the first step.
If we’re lucky, it might be the last one, too. Whether this strategy represents a new model for remote festival coverage or an anomaly remains unclear. Either way, the show must go on.