Filmmakers Take a Pass on Amazon’s SXSW Film Fest

April 27, 2020 by

Well, that wasn’t quite what we’d hoped for. Earlier this month, I wrote about how the films set to premiere at the canceled SXSW Film Festival had the opportunity to opt-in to Amazon’s 10-day event Prime Video Presents: The SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection, which runs April 27 to May 6. At the time I wrote the article, the schedule had not yet been released, and I profiled the music documentaries I found most interesting. Well, it turns out the one and only music doc that will be screened is My Darling Vivian about Johnny Cash’s first wife Vivian Liberto. In fact, only seven of the entire slate of 135 feature films that were invited to SXSW took Amazon up on their offer — a measly 5%

I did some research and discovered the primary reason the vast majority of the filmmakers did not opt-in to Amazon’s virtual festival was because many have not yet secured distribution deals. They were concerned that participating in the event, where everyone in the country has the chance to see their film for free, could hurt their future sales prospects.

Eric Francisco wrote an excellent piece for Inverse earlier this month that explains why filmmakers weren’t buying Amazon’s offer. “There’s a huge difference between having a thousand people see your film and sell it based on buzz, and have 300 million people see your movie unlimited times for 10 days,” an anonymous producer told Inverse. “If you were a distributor, would you buy and market a movie shown to everyone who has an Amazon account, which is basically all of America? I wouldn’t.”

The Hollywood Reporter reviewed the terms of the agreement that Amazon offered to filmmakers. HR reported that it was made clear than Amazon was not acquiring the rights to the films, and for opting in, filmmakers would be paid a “screening fee” by SXSW, not by Amazon, for participating. That figure has not been made public, but one of Inverse’s sources called it “laughable.”

Because distributors typically require exclusive distribution rights, Amazon screening the films for free online is seen as undermining that exclusivity. According to another of Inverse’s sources, “If they [Amazon] were committed to buying the movies at a reasonable rate, that would be an incredible collaboration. That would be newsworthy. They would be heroes of the industry.”

At first glance, it looked like Amazon would be heroes. I live in Austin and was very excited to cover the music documentaries for 360°Sound. Then COVID-19 hit and the fest was canceled. I was disappointed and thinking I may not ever get to see some of the films. Then Amazon came along and said they would screen the films — I was thrilled! And now, we’re left with what seems like a shell of what could have been.

I get it though, after learning more about how the independent film industry works. It has to make financial sense for the filmmakers, and unfortunately, this Amazon deal did not. And filmmakers have to do what’s best for their film’s future. Many have dedicated years of their lives, working tirelessly on these projects.

Time will tell if the film festival model returns to its traditional look. For now, let’s make do with what we have. Below is the complete list of the full-length feature films that will be screened by Amazon beginning today, along with their trailers. Stay tuned to 360°Sound for updates. We’ll also be posting exclusive interviews with music documentary filmmakers!

My Darling Vivian

Directed by Matt Riddlehoover

My Darling Vivian | Film Threat

The sole music doc entry tells the story of Johnny Cash’s first wife, Vivian Liberto. Cash and Liberto met at a roller rink in San Antonio in 1951 shortly before Cash shipped out to Germany with the U.S. Army for three years. During this time, the two wrote love letters to each other every day, and they married when Cash returned in 1954. Some of these letters, along with never-before-seen photos and footage, are revealed in the doc. The couple had four daughters, Rosanne, Cindy, Kathy, and Tara, all of whom are interviewed in the film. Early reviews have been very positive. The film currently has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes!

You can watch the My Darling Vivian trailer on Facebook. For more info on the film, visit the official site.

Cat In The Wall

Directed by Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova

Gunpowder Heart

Directed by Camila Urruita

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me

Directed by Karen Bernstein

Le Choc Du Futur

Directed by Marc Collin

Selfie

Directed by Marc Fitoussi, Cyril Gelblat, Vianney Lebasque, Thomas Bidegain, and Tristan Aurouet [Editor’s note: Trailer is in French]

TFW NO GF

Directed by Alex Lee Moyer

 

There’s also a handful of episodic films and plenty of shorts. For the full listing, visit Amazon.

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