Event in Greek port city was to have started Thursday; meanwhile, SXSW 'working closely' with health officials on its festival safety
Update: Facebook reportedly pulls out of SXSW
The Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival is being postponed over fears about the Coronvavirus (Covid-19), just days before the event was to have launched in the Greek port city.
"Following the latest announcement issued by the World Health Organization, which updated its estimation concerning the spreading of the coronavirus, and in accordance with the Ministry of Culture & Sports, the administration of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, with a feeling of responsibility, decided to postpone the 22nd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival," the festival announced on its website today. The event had been scheduled to open Thursday, March 5 and run through March 15.
"The safety of the working staff, the audience, the city’s residents and the Festival’s guests from both Greece and abroad are our top-notch priority," the festival said in its statement. "We are considering the prospect of hosting the 22nd Thessaloniki Documentary Festival at the end of May/beginning of June and we’ll keep you up to date as soon as there’s more news to share."
Festival officials noted that some of the activities scheduled for Thessaloniki will shift online.
"A significant part of the initiatives and projects hosted by Agora, the development branch of the Festival, will be carried out via the Internet, providing the chance to accredited professionals from all over the world to watch and evaluate Greek documentaries so as to include them in their future financing projects and festival programming," the festival noted.
"Furthermore, the Docs in Progress segment will be carried out online so that awards and cash prizes are bestowed without any delay."
The postponement announcement comes little more than a week before the start of the much larger SXSW Conference & Festivals in Austin, Texas, running March 13-22. Hundreds of thousands of attendees are expected at SXSW, although how the Coronavirus will impact those numbers remains to be seen.
Social media platform Twitter announced earlier on Monday that it was pulling out of SXSW, where CEO Jack Dorsey was scheduled to appear as a featured speaker. The company said it is suspending all "non-essential" travel for employees, including to Austin, in response to Coronavirus concerns.
Update: On Monday Facebook reportedly announced it is likewise pulling out of SXSW. "
Due to concerns related to coronavirus, our company and employees will not be participating in SXSW this year," Facebook said in a statement provided to two media outlets.
Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Congressman Adam Schiff, law professor Anita Hill and former Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang are among the numerous speakers still scheduled to attend SXSW, not to mention dozens of documentary filmmakers from newly-minted Oscar winners Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert to previous Oscar winner Alex Gibney.
SXSW, which brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy, says it is monitoring Coronavirus developments.
"SXSW is working closely on a daily basis with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event," SXSW said in a statement on its website. "As a result of this dialogue and the recommendations of Austin Public Health, the 2020 event is proceeding with safety as a top priority."
On the festival website, SXSW posted an exchange with Austin Public Health officials regarding Covid-19 that included this observation from APH: "There is a lot about COVID-19 that is still unknown, but what we do know is that personal hygiene is of critical importance. We hope that people follow the science, implement the recommendations of public health agencies, and continue to participate in the activities that make our world connected."
An Austin resident named Shayla Lee launched a petition on Change.org urging cancellation of SXSW in light of Covid-19. As of Monday afternoon, more than 23,000 people had signed the online form.
Worldwide more than 90,000 people have been sickened by the disease, which emerged in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. More than 3,000 people have died from Covid-19, including six people in Washington State.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.