Hot Docs Postponed, San Francisco International Film Festival Cancelled Over COVID-19 Emergency
Sonoma International Film Festival in Northern California and RiverRun International Film Festival in North Carolina also cancelled
Hot Docs, North America's largest all-documentary film festival, became the latest major festival to be halted in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. The event, set to unfold in Toronto from April 30 to May 10, has been put off indefinitely.
"Hot Docs regrets to announce that due to the recent declaration by the World Health Organization of COVID-19 as a pandemic, and with the health and safety of Hot Docs participants at our Festival as our first priority, we will be postponing this year’s Festival," organizers announced on Friday, noting that Ontario's chief medical officer had "called for the immediate suspension of gatherings with more than 250 people."
The festival held out hope that Hot Docs can be rescheduled, writing, "We remain committed to bringing these outstanding documentary films to our audiences and are currently investigating ways that we can do so at a later date."
The 63rd edition of the San Francisco International Film Festival, meanwhile, was cancelled outright on Friday. SFFilm, described as the "longest-running film festival in the Americas," was scheduled to run from April 8-21. Boys State, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, was to have kicked off the event, followed by "a rousing opening night party" at August Hall, according to a press release sent out last week.
"We are deeply saddened and disappointed to announce that we are canceling the 63rd San Francisco International Film Festival," organizers wrote on the event's website. "As the situation with COVID-19 evolves and concerns around public safety grow, SFFILM is committed to being a part of the solution to keep our community audiences and artists safe and is abiding by the current recommendations from state and city health officials."
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The Sonoma International Film Festival, scheduled for March 25-29, was likewise cancelled Friday, although organizers hope it can be resurrected at some point.
"When this pandemic situation dissipates we will reschedule our fabulous Festival," executive director Kevin McNeely wrote on the SIFF website. "We are already working on Plan B. All of us at SIFF who have committed ourselves to putting together our most dynamic Festival to date, will now regroup, reschedule, and reboot at a new date which hopefully is in the near future. We'll be back!"
SIFF had programmed both fiction and nonfiction films; among the docs scheduled to screen were Fantastic Fungi directed by Louie Schwartzberg and 5B from director Paul Haggis and Dan Krauss.
The RiverRun International Film Festival has been called off too. It was set to run from March 26-April 5 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And the Indian Film Festival Los Angeles, scheduled for April 1-5, was formally postponed on Thursday.
SXSW was the first in a tide of festivals to be scotched by the Coronavirus. It was postponed last Friday, with other festivals following suit this week, either announcing postponements or outright cancellations: Tribeca (postponed), Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (cancelled), CPH:DOX (reduced to online only), the Prague International Film Festival (cancelled), Sun Valley Film Festival (cancelled), TCM Classic Film Festival (cancelled), San Diego Latin Film Festival (cancelled), and Garden State Film Festival (shifting to online only).
The big question now is whether the Cannes Film Festival can go forward. The festival is holding off on any decision, hoping the crisis may abate by the time of the glittering event, which is scheduled from May 12-23 in the South of France.
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.