South by Southwest (SXSW) is a staple of Austin, Texas that has been around for 30 years and has gotten bigger every year since its inception. For the first time ever, the 2020 SXSW Conference & Festivals were canceled due to coronavirus concerns, but some of its films are currently available for a limited time through Amazon Prime.
Beginning in 1987 as a music festival, SXSW soon developed into something beyond that and is now home to the SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Festivals.
The festivals have been credited as the start of many careers in comedy, film and music, including attention for “The Hurt Locker” and artists like John Mayer and James Blunt. The festival features all types of movies, from smaller films like “Chef” (2014) to big-budget blockbusters like “Furious 7” (2015), and includes documentaries, student films and beyond.
Festivals like SXSW are important in giving a voice to those who might normally be excluded by big production companies.
As someone who loves watching movies and enjoys more niche productions, it was heartbreaking for me to hear that the 2020 SXSW Film Festival was canceled. My friends and I had actually planned to visit the festival to watch David Lowery’s “The Green Knight” at its premiere during our spring break in my hometown of Austin.
According to the Dallas Morning News, COVID-19 concerns led to Austin city leaders canceling SXSW on March 6, a week before it was scheduled to be, on March 13-21. Beyond the loss of artistic opportunity, this also represents a major financial loss, as the 2019 SXSW conference had an economic impact of $355.9 million for Austin.
However, despite these issues, there is still a bright side for movie lovers, as SXSW is partnering with Amazon Prime to offer a virtual film festival. From April 27 to May 6, anyone with access to an Amazon account can watch 39 films, including documentaries, short films and a few feature-length films for a limited time for free.
Because these films can be accessed in front of the Prime paywall, they are able to reach a wider audience for two reasons. The first is simply that they are free. SXSW is notorious for being expensive to attend, as a regular ticket for the festival can cost around $1,000. Secondly, the distance from the couch to the TV is much closer than a trip to Austin. Through Amazon, it has never been easier to watch these small filmmakers put themselves out in the world to be appreciated.
The Amazon film festival primarily offers short films and documentaries, highlighting unique perspectives to broaden our understanding of the world beyond our everyday lives.
After watching a few of the films, a short documentary called “Broken Orchestra” particularly impacted me. This documentary, which is about a program in Philadelphia restoring broken instruments and returning them to public schools, is different from any other documentary that I have seen. The story is told by the camera walking through the halls of an empty school, with old TVs on carts showing interviews with music teachers, students and musicians talking about a show they played with these broken instruments. The documentary demonstrates the importance of functioning musical instruments for their schools.
Another significant documentary, “Lions in the Corner,” features Scarface, a former convict turned community leader. After being stabbed in a street fight following a disagreement in a bar, Scarface decided to combat street violence in his hometown through amateur boxing matches. His organization, StreetBeefs, is built on the philosophy that two people can step into the ring together and fight it out until the disagreement is resolved. Scarface believes that if he can save even two lives through the community and his organization, he has done good in his life.
Both “Broken Orchestra” and “Lions in the Corner” are excellent options for anyone with access.
As someone who grew up in the Austin area, SXSW has always been near to my heart. SXSW is an annual spring break tradition for many people, including myself, and it attracts tens of thousands of people from over 100 different countries.
However, despite the loss of this in-person Austin festival, the virtual film festival offers an opportunity for a wider audience who could not normally access these films. I highly recommend watching these films through Amazon Prime under the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection.