SXSW Film Awards

The South by Southwest Festival was one of the first major film and tech festivals to be hit hard by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with the city of Austin canceling the event entirely out of abundance of caution. But the cancelation, which came merely a week before the Austin festival was set to run from March 13 through 22, left filmmakers scrambling for a place to showcase their films. Independent filmmakers, and especially short film filmmakers, were even more at a loss without access to resources that would allow them wider distribution. But a local drive-in theater in Austin has stepped in to rescue the short films from their fate.

The coronavirus crisis has impacted every business, from restaurants, bars, to Hollywood itself — major studios shutting down productions, and movie theater chains forced to shut down their locations until the pandemic runs its course. But the one business that has seen an unexpected resurgence is the drive-in theater, which until now had been in danger of disappearing. But as we’ve reported on, drive-in theaters are getting more business as audiences are eager to get out of the house while maintaining social distance in the privacy of their cars. One drive-in theater in Austin, Texas is using this surge in business to give back to the independent filmmakers whose short films were left without a home after the SXSW cancelation.

In a story from  Ars Technica, the Blue Starlite Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In, a drive-in open year-round in Austin, is holding a series of screenings that showcase the short films that were set to premiere at SXSW 2020. The screenings, dubbed “SXSocial Distance: A Night of Short Films,” would be held over four evenings and allow filmmakers to premiere their shorts to a wider audience.

“They have the hardest time getting any attention, and this festival and the newsworthiness of that premiere would’ve been huge to them,” Blue Starlite founder Josh Frank told Ars Technica. “So they realized it could be salvaged: they could still show their movies in Austin and also do something newsworthy. Maybe they didn’t get to show at SXSW, but a drive-in offered its screens.”

Over 100 shorts were set to debut at SXSW before it was canceled earlier this month, many of them from first-time filmmakers. While the festival still awarded the films in competition virtually, spotlighting the acclaimed films that didn’t get to premiere, short films often get the — well — short shrift as many don’t actively seek them out.

So if you’re in Austin and want to see the short films that never got to premiere at SXSW, head to Blue Starlite, which is also offering screenings of films like Ferris BuellerThe Princess Bride, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. See the theater’s Facebook page for its programming schedule.

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