This year’s edition of SXSW was cancelled due to the coronavirus, a huge blow for the up-and-coming filmmakers hoping to showcase their work. Fortunately, in the age of streaming, other avenues are available, and Amazon have stepped up to the plate to offer an online SXSW of sorts.
The tech giant is joining forces with the festival to launch “Prime Video presents the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection”. Amazon is inviting filmmakers to take part in the online festival, which will play exclusively on Prime Video in the U.S., and be free to all audiences.
Filmmakers who participate will get paid. Amazon mentioned that they will receive a screening fee for streaming their film over the 10-day period. SXSW and Prime Video are hoping to begin screening movies by late April. To that end, SXSW has begun reaching out to filmmakers who were invited to the 2020 festival and given them details about making their films available.
As Collider pointed out, this probably would have been a stronger announcement if Amazon already had a number of films lined up for the online festival. It’s unclear what films will screen, and it’s probable they won’t be the films that had the most buzz anyway. Why? Because a “hot acquisition title” wouldn’t have much to gain from screening their film for free on Amazon for a week and a half.
For example, if one million people watch a film on Amazon, that’s the equivalent of $10 million in box office sales (although not everyone watching a film online for free would see it in cinemas, obviously) – still, no small number for an indie release. They’d be better waiting until cinemas re-open and going the theatrical route instead.
On top of that, some films have already been purchased by studios. Judd Apatow‘s The King Of Staten Island, which was scheduled to open the festival, already has distribution at Universal, and obviously the studio isn’t going to let Amazon steam their recent acquisition for free.
So we’ll have to see what titles are actually available when this online festival launches. It’s a good idea, and hopefully one that can soften the blow for indie filmmakers, but it’s debatable how many will take Amazon up on their offer.
“We’re honoured to be able to provide a space for the SXSW filmmakers to share their hard work and passion with audiences for the first time”, said Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, in a statement. “It’s been a privilege collaborating with Janet Pierson and the SXSW team to bring these diverse and inspiring films to viewers around the country”.
“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”, said Janet Pierson, Director of Film, SXSW.
“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”.
This may not be the last online film festival this year. Tribeca has been pushed back (for now), Cannes has been postponed – oh the potential irony of Cannes patrons having to watch films online – and even festivals scheduled for later in the year are debating delays. Whether this Amazon idea is a success or not, it may have given some other streaming companies similar ideas.