SXSW Fest 2020: Only 7 Features for Virtual Amazon out of 135 Films

SXSW and Amazon has unveiled a slate of 7 features for their virtual festival that will launch on April 27.

The Austin film fest and streaming giant teamed up on April 2 to offer a platform for the titles that had been slated to bow at the March 13-22 event, which was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the following 9 days, Amazon and SXSW worked to entice filmmakers to take part in the online festival that will run through May 6. But it wasn’t an easy task considering that a number of filmmakers expressed unease with allowing their movies to play exclusively on the platform in the U.S. for a 10-day period and were fearful that it could impact future sales prospects.

All total, only five percent of the 135 feature films that were invited decided to opt in for the virtual event. Films with distribution, like Netflix’s The Lovebirds and Neon’s She Dies Tomorrow, were expected to turn down Amazon’s offer. But the vast majority still looking for a buyer decided to opt out as well.
“This is really an unprecedented time. People are waiting for the new normal. And others are waiting for the return to normal,” SXSW director of film Janet Pierson said. “We’re just trying to make best of a complicated situation. And this was a concrete and exciting offer from Amazon to give a wider swath of filmmakers an opportunity to get in front a huge audience who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to that.”

An Amazon source said the number of films that decided to opt in met its expectations.

“We understand every film has its own strategy and we know this opportunity may not make sense for every filmmaker,” said Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke. “However, for those who want to share their stories right now and with as many people as possible, we’re excited to provide them this platform. Until we are able to be together in person again, we hope this program allows these wonderful stories to virtually reach film lovers everywhere in the country.”

The 39 titles are composed of narrative and documentary features the French-language Selfie and Karen Bernstein’s I’m Gonna Make You Love Me as well as short films and episodic titles that had been selected for the festival. The one-time event will be available in front of the Prime Video paywall and free to all U.S. audiences.

The festival will feature online prerecorded panels and Q&As produced by SXSW. Pierson watched one yesterday and said, “There’s an intimacy when you watch someone in their living room.”

The nonprofit Free the Work is collaborating with Prime Video to promote and raise awareness for its program, which works to identify systemic inequalities in film, TV, advertising and the media and expand access for underrepresented creators. Founded by Honey Boy director Alma Har’el, Free the Work is organizing hosted panels that will run in conjunction with content from the lineup.

“Amazon’s SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection is giving a platform to work that would have been celebrated at this year’s festival,” Har’el said. “We’re excited to help celebrate, spotlight and provide a platform for the voices of these talented filmmakers.”

The following titles will stream on Prime Video during the festival’s run:

NARRATIVE FEATURES

Cat in the Wall / Bulgaria, UK, France (Directors, screenwriters and producers: Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova)

This terrific comedy-drama is set on a southeast London council estate, which is riven by social and economic divisions and threatened by the all-consuming force of gentrification. Irina, a Bulgarian woman lives there with her small son and her brother. The lift serves as a toilet, the multi-cultural residents exchange shouts rather than pleasantries, and an expensive refurbishment is undesired but must be paid for. And in the midst of this: an apparently ownerless cat which has had enough of the heated atmosphere barricades itself ‘in the wall’, requiring the residents to collaborate.Cat in the Wall is an arresting critique of society, a whirlpool of emotions from despair to joie de vivre conveyed by strongly delineated characters. This heart-warming tale, shot in a documentary style, is this year’s equivalent of director Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. Cast: Irina Atanosova, Angel Genov, Gilda Waugh

Gunpowder Heart / Guatemala (Director and screenwriter: Camila Urrutia, Producer: Inés Nofuentes) — Claudia and Maria have fallen in love. They live in the city of Guatemala, a city full of stories related to abuse, unforgiving police officers, and charming secret corners. Everything changes one night when they are attacked by three men. They manage to escape but they now have to choose if they want revenge. Cast: Andrea Henry, Vanessa Hernández
Le Choc du Futur / France (Director and screenwriter: Marc Collin, Co-Writer: Elina Gakou-Gomba, Producers: Marc Collin, Nicolas Jourdier, Gaelle Ruffier) — In the Paris of 1978, old formulas do not charm listeners anymore and new music must arise. In a male-dominated industry, Ana uses her electronic gadgets to make herself heard, creating a new sound that will mark the decades to come: the music of the future. Cast: Alma Jodorowsky, Philippe Rebbot, Clara Luciani

Selfie / France

(Directors: Tristan Aurouet, Thomas Bidegain, Marc Fitoussi, Cyril Gelblat, Vianney Lebasque, Screenwriters: Giulio Callegari, Noé Debré, Hélène Lombard, Julien Sibony, Bertrand Soulier, Producers: Mandoline Films, Chez Georges Productions) — Algorithms, Technophobics, Dating App addicts, Vloggers, cloud security breach… each one of us can relate to the wired madness happening on screen. In five subversive and hilarious Black Mirror-like tales, Selfie takes on our digital shortcomings and shows how the new 2.0 era is driving all of us nuts! Cast: Blanche Gardin, Manu Payet, Elsa Zylberstein