Amazon Teams With SXSW to Launch a Virtual Fest

Atmosphere at the Convention center during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festival - Getty - H 2020
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

The films will stream for free on the platform over 10 days, likely in late April.

SXSW 2020 will see the light of day after all, albeit online rather than on the ground in Austin.

Amazon Prime Video is teaming with the event to launch a so-called film festival collection. Filmmakers who had been scheduled to screen films at the fest were notified Thursday morning and will be able to opt in. Some, who already have distribution with an Amazon rival, will likely choose to forgo the virtual festival. Those who opt in will see their films play exclusively on Prime Video in the U.S. for the 10-day virtual fest, which Amazon will likely launch in late April.

The online event will be available in front of the Prime Video paywall and free to U.S. audiences.

SXSW had been scheduled to run March 13-22. But on March 6, Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced that the festival was canceled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. It was a blow to filmmakers set to showcase their features, some of whom were looking for distribution. The move also was a major setback for the community, given that the fest was expected to draw more than 200,000 people.

Filmmakers who choose to participate in the virtual festival will receive a screening fee. The setup does not mean that Amazon has acquired the films. Those looking for distribution will still have that option.

"We're honored 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. "It's been a privilege collaborating with [SXSW director of film] Janet Pierson and the SXSW team to bring these diverse and inspiring films to viewers around the country. We are supporters of SXSW and other independent film festivals, and hope this online film festival can help give back some of that experience, and showcase artists and films that audiences might otherwise not have had the chance to see."

Added Pierson: "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. 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."

It is unclear if SXSW might still try to continue with some of its panels that had been scheduled during the run of the festival. SXSW already announced its winners' list on March 24.

"I'm thrilled that these two great champions of indie film are teaming up to resurrect this year's canceled film festival," said indie director and SXSW alum Jay Duplass. "These are unprecedented times, and it's going to take unprecedented solutions to carry on and celebrate these great films and the people who worked so hard to make them."

Though the move by Amazon is a one-off event, an insider says the streaming giant would consider teaming with another canceled festival in the future.