SXSW: An Online Film Festival Isn’t The Same


Some of the suggestions following the cancellation of SXSW this month is to hold an online film festival but there are some problems with this idea.

While the headlining films will survive the SXSW cancellation, make no mistake that they would have benefited from the marketing that comes with playing SXSW.  These films are also secure in having a distributor and a release date.  Other films aren’t so lucky.

There have been a few suggestions of having Amazon, Netflix, or Apple TV+ come to the rescue and acquire all the films.  Patton Oswalt thinks it’s a good idea.  But is it?  There are a lot of factors at play.  While many people are looking to the streamers for answers, what about the indie studios that depend on acquiring these films for survival?  What about future awards consideration?  I’ll get into this a bit later.

Saint Frances took home the Audience Award for the Narrative Feature Competition during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.  The film wasn’t acquired by a streamer during or after the fest.  No, it was acquired by Oscilloscope Laboratories and only recently opened up in theaters.

The Garden Left Behind also took home an Audience Award in the Visions program. To this date, the film is still playing the festival circuit with more festivals to come.

Oh, if you play on a streaming provider before seeing a one week release in New York or Los Angeles, you can forget about an Oscar nomination.  Streamers went hard after The Farewell last year during Sundance but Lulu Wang turned them down in favor of a theatrical release.  The result was that the film became an awards contender.  Sadly, the film fell short in its bid.

When it comes to film festivals, launching at SXSW is different than launching at Sundance or Toronto.  The audiences at Sundance are solely film fans and industry.  SXSW is different because people attending other parts of the conference are able to attend films.  This is what makes it so special to launch in front of the audiences in Austin.  I’ve had experiences at SXSW that don’t get replicated at Sundance, Tribeca, or Toronto.  I mean, they could but the films simply don’t fit the idea of those brands.

Listen, streamers have changed the field dramatically in the last decade.  However, nothing takes away from the theatrical experience.  I cannot stress this enough.  You lose the experience of watching in a film festival environment.

One publicist I’ve worked with in the past, Kalia Hier, posted her thoughts on Twitter.

I couldn’t agree more.  I mean, I’m willing to do what I can on my end but right now, all my reviews and interviews are currently saved as drafts.  Some are scheduled over the weeks and months to come because of a scheduled festival screening or televised air date.  When it comes to film festivals, one of the reasons I request screeners are for interview purposes in addition to review consideration.  When it comes to comedies, my biggest priority is always seeing them in theaters because watching at home just isn’t the same.  This also goes for the smaller indies that don’t screen in Chicago before release: I’m not going to have the same experience as I would in theaters.

I’ve also had instances where a publicist told me not to review off the link and to watch for editorial purposes only.  Such instances included junket interviews at SXSW last year for Bluebird and The Art of Self-Defense.  In both cases, the junkets came before their premiere screenings.

The other thing that comes to this idea–would the focus be on the films/episodics/shorts without distribution?  Or do you also include those with distribution?  Would the streaming license be temporary? One of the things that we lose with cancelling SXSW is smaller indie studios not being able to acquire films.  Not only that but many indie filmmakers were depending on the fest to launch their film.  Film festival programmers often scout films to program in their hometown film festivals.  What happens now?  There’s certainly going to be a ripple-down effect that we’re going to see for sometime.

I’m all for finding answers and solutions but a streamer coming through to save the day just wouldn’t be the same experience.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.