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SXSW Film canceled, but fest to proceed with jury awards

Joe Gross
jgross@statesman.com
The U.S. Premiere of “Teen Spirit” at the Paramount Theatre during SXSW 2019. The Paramount is often home to high profile SXSW screenings, none of which will be taking place this year. [Scott Moore for Austin360]

South by Southwest speakers can hold virtual presentations. SXSW bands seem to be coming here, at least some of them, determined to play in clubs eager to have them in front of audiences bent on going out like it was 2019 or something.

The situation is a little bit different for SXSW Film. After SXSW was canceled by the city of Austin, filmmakers scheduled to screen here scrambled to figure out the next move was.

SXSW Film took a few days to assess the situation and have decided, as of Friday, that the films selected for competition will still be competing in front of a jury.

They have also given filmmakers the option to upload their films to a screening library that press and industry professionals can take advantage of. The screening room also launched Friday.

Related: SXSW canceled: Here’s how to help artists, service industry workers

This jibes with what filmmakers and their publicists have been saying privately to press: They want reviews of movies either now or banked for later. Press coverage can be an important step for a filmmaker, especially a new one, in securing distribution for the film.

While this is not the same as a room full of viewers, popcorn in hand, watching a movie for the first time — a “stress test” of the movie’s appeal — it is something.

Here is the statement in full from director of SXSW Film Janet Pierson:

Faced with the cancellation of SXSW 2020 by the City of Austin because of health risks associated with COVID-19, the SXSW Film Fest immediately hunkered down to figure out what could we do to help and support the filmmakers whose work we love so much, and who put their trust and faith in SXSW for their launch. Many of them have spent years on the work they were bringing to SXSW.

This was going to a transformative event, and with the cancellation, the filmmakers were left stranded and scrambling. We had several Special Awards juries already in place via links, and since we are not able to present the event, we decided to continue and expand to all the juried competitions, if the majority of the filmmakers opted in and juries were available. We know it’s no substitute for the live SXSW event with its unique and fantastic audience, but at least it’s some way to get attention for these wonderful films.

SXSW is proud to be an official qualifying festival for the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards® Short Film Awards and has confirmed with both organizations that given the extraordinary circumstances that SXSW’s qualifying status still stands.

All Feature films selected for SXSW 2020 will still be eligible for the Film Independent Spirit Awards. Winners of the SXSW 2020 Animated, Documentary and Narrative Short Film categories will still be eligible for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards.

We have also arranged for filmmakers to opt-in to our Shift72 secure online screening library with options to make available for press, buyers, industry, or combinations of these audiences. It will launch on Friday, March 13, and run through Saturday, March 21.

We have been heartened by the efforts of so many in the film industry and wider film community to come together with offers to help SXSW projects by offering screening rooms, fee waivers, and so many ways. We are continuing to explore other ways to support the paths of the SXSW 2020 Official Selection films and filmmakers in this new environment.

We will announce the Award Winners on Tuesday, March 24, for the following categories:

Juried Awards

NARRATIVE FEATURE: Grand Jury Award

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Grand Jury Award

DOCUMENTARY SHORTS: Jury Award

NARRATIVE SHORTS: Jury Award

ANIMATED SHORTS: Jury Award

EPISODIC PILOT COMPETITION: Jury Award

MIDNIGHT SHORTS: Jury Award

MUSIC VIDEOS: Jury Award

TEXAS SHORTS: Jury Award

TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL SHORTS Jury Award

EXCELLENCE IN POSTER DESIGN Jury Award

EXCELLENCE IN TITLE DESIGN Jury Award

Special Awards

ADOBE EDITING AWARD

ADAM YAUCH HÖRNBLOWÉR AWARD

FINAL DRAFT SCREENWRITERS AWARD

LOUIS BLACK "LONE STAR" AWARD

VIMEO STAFF PICK AWARD

ZEISS CINEMATOGRAPHY AWARD