While Amazon is to be commended for offering this showcase, participating in such a virtual film festival is a mixed blessing for filmmakers. For some filmmakers, especially those with short films, it might give them exposure they otherwise would never receive, plus a fee for participating. However, for many filmmakers this offer poses a dilemma, because participating could preclude them from appearing at other top festivals in the future and may make it more difficult to secure a deal with a distributor or sales agent. Moreover, it would likely eliminate any chance for a theatrical release and the revenue that might result. Perhaps that is why so few filmmakers elected to participate. The Amazon screenings are comprised of only 39 films including only four narrative features and three documentary features.
One's leverage in negotiating a distribution deal depends on whether distributors perceive the film as desirable. There is no substitute for having your film screen at a top festival in the presence of acquisition executives who can witness firsthand an audience enjoying your film. Moreover, if your film is shown at a top tier festival, you may also benefit by having your film reviewed by the New York Times or other major media. Most publications only review films screened at such festivals, or films that have already secured distribution and are about to be released in theaters. A positive review from a major publication can in turn attract distributors and assist in marketing your film.
Not only do top festivals compete to premiere the best films, many distributors also demand to show films first. It usually is next to impossible to convince theaters to exhibit a film that has already been shown on television or Video on Demand. Indeed, most theaters demand that films they exhibit are not shown in other media for 90 days after the theatrical run ends. Some platforms like Netflix may require an exclusive first run to consider acquiring a film.
The SXSW virtual film festival will stream from April 27 to May 6, 2020, with 39 shorts and features being shown free to the public. A list of the films being streamed can be found here.
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