Festival cancellations could spiral after SXSW nixed due to COVID-19 fears

From films to festivals, the entertainment world is seeing a growing list of event cancellations due to the spread of COVID-19 — and it's also affecting the spread of Canadian content.

Austin declared 'local disaster' order, forcing SXSW to cancel; upcoming festivals in limbo

Other events like California's popular Coachella music festival, pictured here, have big decisions to make after SXSW cancelled its annual conference due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

From films to festivals, the entertainment world is seeing a growing list of cancellations due to the spread of COVID-19 — and that's also affecting the spread of Canadian content.

The hugely popular music, film and tech conference South by Southwest is the latest event to get nixed after a "local disaster" was declared on Friday in the host city of Austin, Texas, by its mayor.

Multiple works by homegrown filmmakers were set to premiere at the prestigious festival, including the directorial debut of L.A.-based Canadian writer Kelly Oxford. Oxford's Pink Skies Ahead, based on a personal essay from her bestselling book When You Find Out The World Is Against You, was slated for opening night.

"While I'm devastated at losing this world premiere at a festival I love, I'm happy that the health of others is still more valuable than anything and we are protecting each other," said Oxford in an Instagram post Friday.

The long-running festival was supposed to take place March 13 to 22.

Last year, it attracted more than 400,000 attendees and was estimated to pump more than $300 million US into the local economy. But as coronovirus fears loomed, the festival saw a steady withdrawal of appearances by big stars and major companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Netflix and Apple, before deciding to officially call it off.

"SXSW would have been a very large boost for our company," said Andrew McCann Smith, a producer at Toronto's First Love Films whose documentary series Cursed Films was also selected to showcase at SXSW on opening night.

"The loss is, we don't have that exposure and may not be able to meet some of the connections we may have met which could have turned into other TV shows."

WATCH | After SXSW cancellation, will other festivals follow:

South by Southwest festival cancelled to prevent COVID-19 spread

3 years ago
Duration 2:01
After Austin, Texas cancels the arts and tech festival South by Southwest, the greater impact the coronavirus will have on music festival season and the entertainment industry is brought into question.

France's ban forces another festival closure

Smith was among the Canadians scheduled to attend MipTV, an annual international television conference in Cannes, France, at the end of the month. It's a leading marketplace for content creators to exhibit their work and find funding for future projects.

It was cancelled after the French government banned mass gatherings of 5,000 people or more in confined spaces as a health precaution.

Animation producer Renaud Sylvain, CEO of Quebec City-based Happy Camper Media, was also planning to attend MipTV, saying it's helped his company make successful deals in the past by pitching ideas face-to-face.

"It's always sad because it doesn't allow us to meet in person, which is still the best kind of meeting you can get, even with technology nowadays," said Sylvain.

Animation producer Renaud Sylvain, CEO of Quebec City-based Happy Camper Media, was set to attend MipTV in France before it was cancelled. (Radio-Canada/CBC)

007, Mission Impossible on hold

Even James Bond is at the mercy of the global health emergency.

The upcoming 007 film No Time To Die is one of several major productions being affected by coronavirus fears. Its highly-anticipated April release date has now been pushed to November after "thorough evaluation of the global theatrical marketplace," said producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson Wednesday.

The movie had already cancelled its Beijing premiere and press tour. Thousands of theatres remain closed in China in an effort to limit the spread of the virus and there were fears that fans would stay home in other parts of the world.

The upcoming James Bond film No Time To Die, starring Daniel Craig as 007, has postponed its premiere to November due to the effects of coronavirus fears. (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

Mission Impossible 7, starring Tom Cruise, was forced to put its European filming on hold, as was the popular reality TV series Amazing Race.

What's next?

With SXSW cancelling on the recommendation of a medical advisory panel formed in the wake of virus concerns, other major events on the horizon have some big decisions to make.

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is supposed to take place over two weekends in April in Indio, Calif. The annual desert fest, which caters to millennials, celebrities, trend-setters and social media influencers, attracts hundreds of thousands of people. According to its website, passes are sold out and ticket-seekers are being directed to a wait list. Frank Ocean, Travis Scott and Rage Against the Machine are this year's headliners.

Coachella attracts hundreds of thousands of people, including celebrities and influencers, for live concerts over two April weekends in Indio, Calif. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

But a two-hour drive away, Los Angeles County has declared a local state of emergency because of coronavirus, as has San Francisco. According to the Centers for Disease Control, California has among the highest reported cases of COVID-19 among U.S. states, with one known death.

CBC News has reached out to representatives of Coachella about whether contingency plans are in the works, but has not yet heard back.

Junos going ahead as planned

This weekend, organizers of Canada's Juno Awards said they are proceeding as planned with this year's festivities, which begin in Saskatoon on Monday and lead up to Sunday night's broadcast gala.

"We have been closely monitoring the position of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and other experts within our federal, provincial and municipal governing bodies," the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences said in a statement.

"Based on the numerous consultations of relevant authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the risks associated with COVID-19 remain low for Canada and Canadian travellers. ... We will continue to monitor developments and will act accordingly and advise if the situation changes."

France's famed Cannes Film Festival — a glitzy 12 days of global A-listers, fashion and cinema — could also be jeopardy.

The country's government recently extended its ban on public gatherings of more than 5,000 people in confined spaces until the end of May. The festival is scheduled for May 12 to 23.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Quentin Tarantino, and Brad Pitt were among the major stars at last year's Cannes Film Festival, which is now in jeopardy due to the French government's ban on mass gatherings of more than 5,000 people to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

Still, the festival, which last year awarded Parasite its prestigious Palme d'Or award before the South Korean film went on to win the 2020 best picture Oscar, said last week in a statement it's moving ahead and will reveal its "official selection" in April.

If Cannes and others like it are cancelled or significantly scaled back in an effort to prevent the further spread of coronavirus, Sylvain says it's a necessary and understandable step. But it's also a significant blow to independent creators, whose work can have a limited shelf life and who rely on these types of events for their livelihood.

"I think it's going to be a challenge to get all that content from this year back in the market and to get the exposure they were hoping to have," said Sylvain.


Zulekha Nathoo

Digital/Broadcast reporter, L.A.

Zulekha Nathoo is a breaking news and entertainment reporter based in Los Angeles. From the Oscars to the Grammys, she's interviewed some of the biggest names in showbiz including Celine Dion and Denzel Washington. She also works on-air covering news events and spent more than a decade at CBC stations across Canada, including Toronto and Calgary. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram: @zulekhanathoo.