Over 70 short films from canceled SXSW festival get a second life online

Over 70 short films from canceled SXSW festival get a second life online
Marquee from the 2019 South by Southwest Festival. Photo: Shelley Hiam.

Short films that would have been shown at the 34th annual edition of South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, will get a second life online. Independent distributor Oscilloscope Labs and the tech company Mailchimp struck up a deal to present an online platform to host this year’s shorts for free.

Announced Wednesday, the Mailchimp Presents site features over 70 short films, all streamable without a login. Viewers can watch the works in any order they want, with the option to “shuffle” the selection to create a unique playlist.

“The night that SXSW was canceled, filmmakers were wondering what to do next, and prominent members of the tight-knit film community offered support and a signal-boost — we wondered if we could do the same at scale,” Sarita Alami, director of programming for Mailchimp Studios, said. “With this project, we’re trying to accomplish two things: to offer these artists a platform for exposure, and to provide access to some amazing work from artists I’m sure we’ll be hearing about for a long time to come.”

South by Southwest announced its 2020 jury and special awards Tuesday, foregoing the physical screenings typically at the heart of the festival. The shorts available on the Oscilloscope Labs and Mailchimp platform include the four shorts that won across the categories “Midnight Shorts,” “Animated Shorts,” “Texas Shorts” and “Texas High School Shorts,” in addition to the seven films that received special recognition.

“When we curated and announced our slate for the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, filled with an array of wonderful films we were excited to share with our unique audience, we had no idea of the unprecedented impact that [the] coronavirus would have on all our lives,” South by Southwest’s Janet Pierson said in a statement announcing this year’s winners. “Our hearts were broken for all the filmmakers who invested so much time and talent in their work, hoping for a transformative experience at our event. We’re honored to at least be able to present our juried and special awards.”

She continued: “We know that it’s no substitute for the actual festival’s vitality, enthusiasm, and potential for surprising outcomes — and that it is only available to a small fraction of our program — but we hope it will help garner some well-deserved recognition for these wonderful works.”

The festival was canceled in early March amid fears about the rapid spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. Before announcing their decision, festival organizers received pressure from an online petition, signed by over 50,000 people, to drop this year’s iteration. The events, which span film, music and tech, draw in thousands of attendees.

In a statement, South by Southwest officials said that they were “devastated” to share the news.

“‘The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place,” officials said. “We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.”

South by Southwest’s push to stream online echoes a similar move from Tribeca Film Festival, which recently debuted a weekly curated program of short films. Created after this year’s festival was postponed, the series draws from the Tribeca Film Festival’s alumni archive and is set to include online premieres.

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Top Image: Marquee from the 2019 South by Southwest Festival. Photo: Shelley Hiam.