SXSW Cancellations

The entertainment industry is starting to take a hit as large gatherings of people for major events create concerns about spreading coronavirus to more of the population. The global release of No Time to Die was pushed back from April to November, but it’s the indie world of cinema that might be hurting the most after the cancellation of the South by Southwest music, film, tech and media festival was announced just before last weekend, less than one week before it would have began on March 13.

Chief Executive Roland Swenson says the cancellation of SXSW by the city of Austin could end up costing festival organizers tens of millions of dollars due to the fact that their insurance doesn’t cover disease-related cancellations. Swenson says that kind of cost could make it extremely difficult for SXSW to come back in 2021.

Speaking with The Wall Street Journal, Swenson expressed his concerns about the future of SXSW:

“I am most worried about my people and what this means for their future, and I don’t know what that is yet. We are planning to carry on and do another event in 2021, but how we’re going to do that I’m not entirely sure.”

Right now, festival organizers are in the midst of figuring out all the logistics that come with canceling the event. That includes sending back semi-trucks full of supplies, taking down festival banners, and canceling travel for the festival’s guests, which includes countless celebrities from movies, film and music, content creators, as well as some high profile politicians such as Hillary Clinton.

But the real blow will likely come from the hundreds of contracts the festival signed with sponsors, vendors, venues, artists, and more. The festival’s lawyers are going over all those contracts to see how much of the festival’s costs they can recoup, possibly taking advantage of certain grants to help them out. No matter where the money comes from, they’re definitely going to need more of it by the time summer rolls around in order to stay afloat.

Helping somewhat with the costs is the fact that the festival has decided not to issue refunds to sponsors or badge holders who had already paid for access to the festival. Instead, they’re being given credits for the next festival, whenever that may be. But that covers just a fraction of their losses, and the lack of insurance for this kind of setback is the real problem. Swenson added:

“We’ve had to show our insurance policy to all kinds of people, and nobody ever said, ‘Hey, there’s a big hole here. We did not anticipate a pandemic. We’d always taken the attitude of, ‘Well, we’ll never cancel, so that’s not going to be an issue.’”

Even though SXSW was adamant the festival would go on, Mayor Steve Adler determined the risk was too high with so many people descending on the city, some of whom would have been coming from international destinations where coronavirus has been spreading more rapidly than in the United States. It’s a growing concern, especially with so many more events on the horizon, such as the Coachella music festival and the Cannes Film Festival.

The potential good news is that SXSW organizers are “exploring the possibility of rescheduling sometime this year.” Swensons says they should know if that’s a possibility within a few weeks, but with the concerns of coronavirus growing all the time, I’m honestly not sure how that will be possible, especially if SXSW is already worried about whether or not they’ll have enough money to make the festival happen in 2021.

This is truly a blow to the indie movie scene. Not only has it crushed the dreams of so many talents hoping to see their movies on the big screen with a hyped crowd for the first time, but it will seriously hurt local business owners who were planning on roughly $355 million being spent in the city of Austin during the festival. The impact of this cancellation will be felt for months, maybe even years, but we’re hoping for the best so SXSW can live on.

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