SXSW Filmmakers Aren't On Board With Amazon's Offer To Screen Their Movies For Free

The South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas was one of the first festivals hit by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, leaving the various participating filmmakers scrambling to find new venues for their indie films. Enter: Amazon Prime Video with the seemingly generous offer to host a SXSW Online Festival, in partnership with SXSW. But despite the much-needed publicity that this would give to indie filmmakers, many of them are balking at handing over their films to the streamer for fear of messing up potential distributor sales.

When SXSW was cancelled this year, Amazon Prime Video swooped in with the offer to team up with SXSW for the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection, a one-time online film festival showcasing films from the SXSW 2020 lineup that would be made available for free to all audiences around the country. But a new report from Inverse suggests that Amazon is having trouble finding filmmakers to participate in that online film festival, which could actually hurt indie films more than help them.

At least seven films have declined Amazon's offer to screen in its online film festivals, according to Inverse, citing "laughable" screening fees and potential distribution deals that would not look kindly upon Amazon showing these films for free. While the Amazon online festival's purpose is to generate buzz for films, similar to how films garner buzz at film festivals and go on to mainstream or awards success (see: SXSW legend A Quiet Place), the particulars of the deal might actually interfere with films looking to be sold to other distributors.

"For films playing the festival that are looking for distribution/sales, screening for free online can be looked at problematically," a representative for a SXSW movie told Inverse. "Distributors traditionally require exclusive distribution rights, and playing any online platform publicly could infringe upon this."

The problem lies in the fact that Amazon is only streaming the movies for brief time and not taking the extra step to acquire their distribution rights, according to Variety. This presents a problem for indie filmmakers who are still looking to find a permanent home for their films.

"If they were committed to buying the movies at a reasonable rate, that would be an incredible collaboration," an anonymous producer told Inverse. "That would be newsworthy. They would be heroes of the industry."

"Content is currency," Comscore Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian added to Inverse. "If a movie has been out there on a platform, free to everybody, it diminishes the value and the exclusivity of it."

So despite the good intentions behind Amazon's SXSW Online Festivals, it may not benefit indie filmmakers in the long run. Even if theaters remain close for the time being, many filmmakers still want a theatrical release, which would be made even more unlikely if thousands of people get to see it online before it ever hits theaters.

However, a few SXSW films will still be screening on the online platform Stage 32, which recently announced it is launching an event to screen films impacted by the cancellation or postponement of film festivals. However, the Stage 32 screening platform is limited to its network of professionals and members, and filmmakers can choose whether to screen their films privately or publicly. SXSW short filmmakers have also taken to Vimeo to make their short films publicly available online.