McLean, who had kept a close eye on updates about the outbreak and had braced herself for the worst, agreed. “When the news finally did come down,” she said, “it was a relief that there wasn’t going to be a safety problem, but it was also extremely devastating.”
In the weeks since SXSW’s cancellation, a slew of film festivals and industry events have met the same fate. Hollywood has been hit hard by the coronavirus: Movie studios have postponed the releases of franchise films, theaters have closed in major cities as part of the effort to ban group gatherings and slow the spread of the virus, and production has halted on a number of projects around the world. The Hollywood Reporter estimates that nearly $20 billion in revenue could be lost as a result.
Read: 10 perfect films to watch while stuck at home
For indie filmmakers, the disrupted festival circuit deals a heavy blow as well, even if the impact isn’t as visible. As much as the canceled premiere of a long-gestating labor of love may seem like a “trifle” to Furloni, the lack of the festival experience hurts the health of the larger filmmaking industry. “Regional and local film festivals are the veins and the capillaries for our industry continuing to be able to surface new artists and help them build audiences that will sustain their careers,” Emily Best, the founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, a crowdfunding platform for up-and-coming filmmaking talent, wrote me over email. “So we can’t just bypass film festivals—we cut off future blood supply.” As events continue to get canceled, such filmmakers are learning to adapt to a new distribution model. The only problem? No one’s sure what that model looks like.
Freeland, for instance, has remained adrift since the cancellation of SXSW. “For something that was truly made independently and needs to get shared with the world, the established way to do it is, you start with the best film festival that’s the best fit for your film, and we thought that was SXSW,” McLean said. “And then after SXSW [was canceled, we thought], Gee, well, we’ll look at other awesome festivals we’re excited about, and then one by one they’ve all closed. Now it’s sort of like, okay, so without a film festival what is the path?”
To many, streaming has seemed like the obvious answer. Given the reputation of major platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon as content creators, saviors of canceled shows, and curators of festival standouts, moving these displaced festival films onto the internet sounds like a no-brainer. And with people practicing social distancing and self-quarantining, streaming has become an easy reason for staying in.
The actor and filmmaker Mark Duplass was one of several people calling for streamers to host virtual festivals, tagging a litany of major platforms on Twitter and asking if they could buy short-term rights. But as it turns out, he told me over email, his idea wouldn’t work. “I’ve looked into it quite a bit and, as you can imagine, it’s fairly complicated,” he wrote. “The major streamers have a set of standards for delivery of these films that are too expensive, complex, and ingrained to change … and those standards don’t make sense for them to stream any films in a short, limited window.”