SXSW 2020 cancelled

Rachel Sennott in Shiva Baby, an official SXSW selection.
front: Rachel Sennott, back L to R: Fred Melamed, Danny Deferrari, and Polly Draper. Credit: Maria Rusche

The city of Austin made the decision to cancel the SXSW this year due to the threat from COVID-19 and thousands of people flying in for SXSW.

While the city of Austin made the right call, a number of filmmakers are hurting right now. I can’t blame them especially after the amount of hard work they and their crew put into these films. My heart especially hurts for those filmmakers in competition who depended on launching at SXSW in order to get acquisition or an opportunity to screen at other film festivals. Listen, we can talk about the importance of local film festivals but it’s the bigger festivals that bring an increasing number of press to see films.

With the fest canceled, those indie filmmakers won’t be able to showcase their films to prospective buyers, press, and film fans in general. In the 24 hours or so since the cancellation, the team at Vanishing Angle, which produced Beast Beast, has opened up their doors to creators to screen films for distributors and press.

A number of filmmakers turned to social media to post their thoughts following the cancellation. One of them included Holler writer-director Nicole Riegel, whose film was set to premiere in the Narrative Feature Competition. Her post is below:

Nicole Riegel expanded beyond her Instagram comments in a brief Q&A with FF2 Media.

Going into SXSW, had Holler been selected for other film fests in the future or was everything depending on how the film did upon launching at SXSW?

Nicole Riegel: Holler was invited to world premiere at other major festivals but could only world premiere at one and I chose SXSW. The other winter and spring festivals are no longer options for us. We have not explored summer or fall festivals yet. A lot was depending on launching at SXSW, especially my own career as a director.

What can journalists do with regards to providing the needed exposure even when the film isn’t premiering at SXSW anymore?  While there’s so much focus on NY/LA, there are a lot of film critics (myself included) that live in other markets.

Nicole Riegel: I want SXSW to reschedule, even if that means isolating the film component from interactive or music. Or some iteration of that. A lot of us debut directors want a SXSW festival world premiere in Austin. We can still sell our films in the interim. A festival premiere is an irreplaceable experience so I would like to see journalists also reaching out to the festival decision makers urging for this to happen for debut directors. You can also reach out to the women directors who would have been premiering next week. Find ways to watch our films, profile/interview us, use social media to champion us loudly (if you like our work) and consistently so Hollywood doesn’t overlook us in the wake of this disaster. Women directors are already overlooked enough. If there’s a filmmaker you’re interested in then stay in touch with the filmmaker and publicist to track everything going on with the film. We will all know more very soon from the festival. Right now, I think we should all be raising our voices and applying pressure to reschedule some version of SXSW Film Festival that gives festival premieres to the directors who want them. It could turn out to be the best SXSW yet.

Shiva Baby writer-director Emma Seligman:

Pink Skies Ahead writer-director Kelly Oxford:

“It was such an honor to secure a world premier for our film, For Madmen Only, at SXSW. Thousands of filmmakers submitted their work to the festival and we were one of 10 documentaries selected for the competition,” For Madmen Only producer Jennifer Pike tells FF2 Media. “In the wake of news about the festival cancellation, we find ourselves at a bit of a loss on next steps. There will be other festivals, but a public launch on the magnitude of SXSW is priceless exposure not only for ourselves as filmmakers but for our film that we put our heart and soul into. The programmers at SXSW championed our film from the start, so it’s heartbreaking to come to terms with the fact that we no longer have a premier there. I truly hope that once the dust settles, there may be a path forward with SXSW. Some of my fellow festival filmmakers and I will be gathering in LA soon as we all feel a bit like family now through this very unusual shared experience.”

“As women filmmakers, we really rely on opportunities like premiering a film at a festival like SXSW,” Lucky director Natasha Kermani tells FF2 Media. “I don’t know if canceling the event was the right call or not (and we may never know), but I do know that this is a major blow, and especially frustrating as we did ‘everything right.’ The stakes are especially high for women in Hollywood, and so I think in every way possible, we need to strive to lift up each others’ work – because no one is going to do it for us. I look forward to getting to know the other women from the fest in the coming months, because there are some truly amazing filmmakers in the lineup and their voices deserve to be heard.”

Prior to SXSW getting cancelled, a number of studios and TV networks decided to pull their screenings from the festival. Other studios decided against sending talent and staff while still allowing their films to screen. The SXSW website, as of Saturday night, no longer included canceled films in their lineup. What follows below is the list of feature films that female filmmakers would have screened during the festival either as a world premiere, North American premiere, U.S. premiere, or Texas premiere.

Narrative Feature Competition

  • Holler – Nicole Riegel (writer/director)
  • I’ll Meet You There – Iram Parveen Bilal (writer/director)
  • Pink Skies Ahead – Kelly Oxford (writer/director)
  • Really Love – Angel Kristi Williams (director/co-writer), Felicia Pride (co-writer)
  • Shiva Baby – Emma Seligman (writer/director)
  • Topside – Celine Held (co-director/co-writer)
  • Violet – Justine Bateman (writer/director)

Documentary Feature Competition

  • The Donut King – Alice Gu (director/co-writer), Carol Martori (co-writer)
  • An Elephant in the Room – Katrine Philp (director)
  • Finding Yingying – Jiayan “Jenny” Shi (director)
  • For Madmen Only – Heather Ross (director/co-writer)
  • Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide – Malia Scharf (co-director/co-writer)
  • Once Upon a Time in Uganda – Cathryne Czubek (co-director)
  • Red Heaven – Lauren DeFilippo (co-director), Katherine Gorringe (co-director)

Narrative Spotlight

  • Best Summer Ever – Lauren Smitelli (co-director/co-writer), Terra Mackintosh (co-writer)
  • I Used To Go Here – Kris Rey (director/screenwriter)

Documentary Spotlight

  • 9to5: The Story of A Movement – Julia Reichert (co-director)
  • Baby God – Hannah Olson (director)
  • The Dilemma of Desire – Maria Finitzo (director)
  • Good Ol Girl – Sarah Brennan Kolb (director)
  • M for Magic – Alexis Manya Spraic (director)
  • A Most Beautiful Thing – Mary Mazzio (director)


  • Crestone – Marnie Ellen Hertzler (director/co-writer)
  • Freeland – Kate McLean (co-director/co-writer)
  • Golden Arm – Maureen Bharoocha (director), Ann Marie Allison (co-writer), Jenna Milly (co-writer)
  • I Will Make You Mine – Lynn Chen (director/writer)
  • Make Up – Claire Oakley (director/writer)
  • Selfie – Hélène Lombard (co-writer)
  • She Dies Tomorrow – Amy Seimetz (director/writer)
  • TFW NO GF – Alex Lee Moyer (director/writer)


  • Dembangers – Lindsay LaVanchy (co-writer)
  • Lucky – Natasha Kermani (director), Brea Grant (writer)
  • Relic – Natalie Erika James (director/co-writer)
  • Run Sweetheart Run – Shana Feste (director/writer)
  • Witch Hunt – Elle Callahan (director/screenwriter)
  • Yummy – Eveline Hagenbeek (co-writer)

24 Beats Per Second

  • Jose Feliciano: Behind This Guitar – Helen Murphy (co-director/co-writer)
  • Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time – Alison Ellwood (director)
  • Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over – Beth B (director)
  • The Nowhere Inn – Carrie Brownstein (co-writer), Annie Clark (co-writer)
  • Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm – Hannah Berryman (director)
  • Sisters with Transistors – Lisa Rovner (director)
  • Tomboy – Lindsay Lindenbaum
  • We Are The Thousand – Anita Rivaroli (director)
  • Without Getting Killed or Caught – Tamara Saviano (co-director/co-writer)


  • Cat in the Wall – Mina Mileva (co-director/co-writer), Vesela Kazakova  (co-director/co-writer)
  • La Miami – Laura Herrero Garvín (director/writer)
  • Gunpowder Heart – Camila Urrutia (director/writer)
  • Marygoround – Daria Woszek (director/co-writer), Aleksandra Swierk (co-writer)

Festival Favorites

  • Bull – Annie Silverstein (director/co-writer)
  • Coded Bias – Shalini Kantayya (director)
  • I’m Gonna Make You Love Me – Karen Bernstein (director)
  • Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell (director/writer)
  • Save Yourselves – Eleanor Wilson (co-director/co-writer)
  • A Thousand Cuts – Ramona S. Diaz (director)
  • Us Kids – Kim A. Snyder (director)

Special Events

  • Out of the Blue – Brenda Nielson (co-writer)
Tags: Coronavirus, Holler, Pink Skies Ahead, SXSW

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Danielle Solzman is a Chicago-based film critic and an aspiring filmmaker if she can ever put enough time aside to work on her feature-length trans-led political comedy script. When not in Chicago, she attends various film festivals such as Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and Toronto. She graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a BA in Public Relations while earning a Masters in Media Communications from Webster University after writing a thesis paper on comic books against the backdrop of the American political culture.
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