SXSW says it will try to reschedule the 2020 event: 'We are devastated to share this news with you'
Update: Tribeca Film Festival postponed indefinitely
SXSW 2020 has been cancelled, after the mayor of host city Austin, Texas declared an emergency over the COVID-19 virus.
"The City of Austin has cancelled the March dates for SXSW and SXSW EDU. SXSW will faithfully follow the City’s directions," SXSW announced Friday on its website and via Twitter. "We are devastated to share this news with you. 'The show must go on' is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation."
The conference and festivals were to have begun a week from today -- March 13 -- and run through Sunday, March 22. SXSW officials seemed to hold out hope they might be able to salvage the massive music, interactive, film, and comedy event, holding it at some future date.
"We are exploring options to reschedule the event and are working to provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible for 2020 participants, starting with SXSW EDU," SXSW wrote. "We understand the gravity of the situation for all the creatives who utilize SXSW to accelerate their careers; for the global businesses; and for Austin and the hundreds of small businesses – venues, theatres, vendors, production companies, service industry staff, and other partners that rely so heavily on the increased business that SXSW attracts."
At a news conference Friday afternoon, Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared a local disaster stemming from the Coronavirus, forcing cancellation of SXSW, although according to reports Austin has not seen any confirmed cases of the respiratory disease. Earlier this week, Austin public health officials had expressed confidence the event could go forward without jeopardizing public safety.
But cancellation seemed increasingly likely after a succession of major participants pulled out of SXSW in recent days, including Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Netflix, IBM, Warner Media and Amazon Studios. Stars with movies set to premiere at SXSW also started to bail, a list reportedly including Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani of the Paramount comedy The Lovebirds.
On the documentary side, SXSW was set to host the premiere of Alex Gibney's latest documentary, Crazy, Not Insane, and 9 to 5: The Story of a Movement, from newly-crowned Oscar winners Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert (American Factory). Boys State, acquired by Apple TV+ after it won the Grand Jury Prize winner for U.S. Documentary at Sundance, was to have played at SXSW too. But when Apple dropped out of SXSW, it took Boys State with it.
The latest developments bring into question whether the Tribeca Film Festival -- scheduled for April 15-26 -- can realistically go forward. New York had 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at a news conference. Texas had 17 reported cases as of Friday, according to the Texas Tribune.
[Update: On Thursday, March 12, Tribeca announced it was postponing the event "until further notice."]
"The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in New York State doubled on Thursday to 22, with officials announcing eight new cases in Westchester County, one on Long Island and two patients in New York City who are critically ill," the New York Times reported Friday. "But the virus’s potential reach was underscored by a much larger number: The City Department of Health is keeping tabs on 2,773 New Yorkers currently in home isolation, most of them in self-quarantine, city officials said on Thursday."
Tribeca announced its full lineup earlier this week, making no mention of concerns about the Coronavirus. Festival director Cara Cusumano, in fact, seemed to play up the bonus of assembling crowds for the cinematic experience.
“This year’s festival embraces the unique power of film to bring people together -- whether that’s literally the communal experience of watching a film in a packed theater, or the more intangible way a great film can make you empathize with a stranger’s struggle,” Cusumano said in a statement Tuesday. “In an election year where we will go to the polls to make big decisions about our future together, these films are an opportunity for connection and understanding.”
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.