Coping With COVID-19 Crisis: Filmmaker Alex Lee Moyer Opted In To Amazon Prime Video’s Online SXSW Plan Because “We Need To Be Seen To Exist”

Editors’ Note: With full acknowledgment of the big-picture implications of a pandemic that already has claimed thousands of lives, cratered global economies and closed international borders, Deadline’s Coping With COVID-19 Crisis series is a forum for those in the entertainment space grappling with myriad consequences of seeing a great industry screech to a halt. The hope is for an exchange of ideas and experiences, and suggestions on how businesses and individuals can best ride out a crisis that doesn’t look like it will abate any time soon. If you have a story, email [email protected]

When Amazon Prime Video and SXSW announced they were partnering to provide an online screening platform to rescue the festival’s content following its cancellation, not every filmmaker felt confident. Amazon Prime Video would, for a 10-day period, allow its entire audience to view (behind the Prime paywall) these films previously privy only to those who gained SXSW festival entry. Some filmmakers wondered if they wanted to allow broad online viewing of their as-yet unreleased films. How would they market them if they’d been seen already? But one filmmaker who has opted in to this new “virtual festival” plan, the lineup of which will be unveiled Tuesday, is Alex Lee Moyer. Bringing her film TFW NO GF to SXSW Prime Video is a gift, she points out, and this time of uncertainty and change could bring increased connectivity and positivity for independent filmmakers. Here, in her own op-ed, she explains her decision to embrace the virtual festival.

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In a recent interview, my fellow filmmaker Maureen Bharoocha bemoaned the cancellation of SWSW, along with her film’s premiere. “That night never happened,” she was quoted as saying. “Instead, the world was hit with a pandemic and life was canceled.”

But really Maureen, was it?

I’m posing this question sincerely, because I went through the same experience. I felt the loss, the uncertainty, but I arrived at a very different conclusion. I was recently considering the hope that we’ll expand our connections and creativity as a group, and that hope was bolstered when SXSW and Amazon announced that they were partnering to provide a virtual festival instead of SXSW. I was being given an opportunity to screen my first film as a director, TFW NO GF—a tiny, but I think important, film about a subculture of alienated youth that was made on a shoestring budget, a wing and a prayer—on the world’s largest media platform to an untold, huge audience. To me, it was simply exciting. But many others responded with worry: Why would a big studio or platform or distributor then invest in a film that’s already been glimpsed by the masses in this virtual festival format? Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

But in this case, that metaphor is flawed. I’m not selling milk, I’m sharing stories. And while real-life, non-virtual festivals are a vital, important component of keeping cinema alive— incubating creativity and nurturing its participants—we as filmmakers ought to keep in mind the true spirit of this venture. We talk about the value of storytelling, but who are we making these stories for? Other filmmakers? The industry? No, we’re making them for audiences.

And most of us are not making giant blockbusters that need to be rolled out as quickly as possible, with the most marketing, to the most screens, to reach the most people, before that tiny window of mainstream public attention passes, and before people discover that film maybe wasn’t even good. Our films are small seeds, that, if we are lucky, can grow with the nourishment of exposure and word of mouth. For independent filmmakers, we need to be seen to exist.

What has happened has been unprecedented and requires unprecedented solutions. For those fearful they will be rejected by the Hollywood establishment for taking a chance and showing your work directly to the public at large for a limited time—especially under these extraordinary circumstances—I implore you to envision a different model. Everything is different now. We don’t know what will happen. And as independent filmmakers, we’re the ones who can take risks. It is the responsibility of the film community to challenge the status quo in order to support our filmmakers and our audiences. Our real audiences. The ones we’ll never meet.

Lastly, there has never been a more opportune moment than this one. We are all confined to our homes, desperate for optimism, creativity and connection, and ultimately, that is what my film TFW NO GF was about—the ways we are turning to the modern miracle of the Internet as a surrogate for lost connection. Content creators have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to answer a calling. So I applaud SXSW for recognizing that opportunity, taking a risk, and making good on their promise to support the filmmakers. After all, that’s what festivals are for.

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