The film festival circuit has taken another casualty amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Austin’s Fantastic Fest, a hugely popular genre festival that has been running for more than 15 years, announced that it is canceling its 2020 edition. However, Fantastic Fest has hopes that it can hold a virtual program to replace this year’s festival, and commit to a physical festival in 2021.

Fantastic Fest 2020 is canceled, the Austin-based genre festival announced in a blog post Wednesday. This would have been the 16th annual Fantastic Fest, which was originally slated to run from September 24 to October 1. While the festival is canceled rather than moved online, Fantastic Fest programmers still intend to schedule online gatherings during the original dates. Fantastic Fest said in a statement:

While the interactions that happen between, before and after films, interactions that make the festival “Fantastic” simply cannot be recreated through Zoom, and we therefore don’t believe a “virtual film festival” would capture the spirit of Fantastic Fest, we do still want to gather the Fantastic Fest community on our regular dates for an online event, a “Celebration of Fantastic Fest,” to reconnect and share an online experience.

We’re currently in the lab working on a program of fun online gatherings and events for that celebration. Our goal will be to have a virtual event every night from September 24th through October 1st – shorts programs, 100 Best Kills, secret screenings, an online Fantastic Feud, other fun surprises, and a look back at some amazing films from Fantastic Fest history – for us all to interact and reunite. We aren’t ready to announce all the details, but we’ll be in touch in the weeks ahead.

The festival was founded in 2005 and has become a staple of Austin’s growing genre film community, as well as a hub for weird genre films in horror, science fiction, fantasy, and more. As it grew in influence in recent years, the festival would come to host premieres and screenings for films from high-profile directors like Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, and others. Last year it hosted the U.S. premiere of Taika Waititi’s Oscar-winning Jojo Rabbit.

It’s unfortunate that genre lovers won’t be able to celebrate the buzziest niche films as usual at this year’s Fantastic Fest, but this cancelation is the best possible outcome at a time when coronavirus cases continue to surge in the U.S. As Fantastic Fest is one of the few major film festivals to take place in a single location, making a socially distanced version impossible, this cancelation makes sense.

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