In the spirit of “the show must go on!” the creative and technical minds running South by Southwest in a year of a global pandemic have found a way to screen their lineup of films to the public. Rather than packing large groups of people into theaters when social distancing is urgently required, they’ve partnered with Amazon’s Prime Video to launch a “virtual film festival” in the U.S. for a period of ten days. The online festival is available to the public free of charge through Prime Video. Even if interested viewers don’t have an Amazon Prime membership, they can access the collection of films with a free Amazon account. The festival is set to run from April 27 through May 6.

SXSW is among the first to major film festivals to present their collection of films online in response to COVID-19.

“SXSW has always championed creators forging their own paths to success, often with just the right mix of passion, vision, and radical experimentation to make their dreams happen,” stated Janet Pierson, Director of Film at SXSW. “There is no one-size-fits-all, especially in these uncertain times, and we knew this opportunity would be of interest to those filmmakers who wanted to be in front of a large audience now. We believe people will be captivated by this selection of intriguing work that would have been shown at our 2020 event.”

SXSW is an annual conglomeration of three festivals: film, interactive media, and musical festivals. The film festival specifically celebrates raw innovation and emerging talents related to all aspects of the filmmaking process. The event is based in Austin, Texas, and it was set to run for ten days in mid-March of this year.

But in 2020, the festival was forced to shut its doors due to health concerns. Keep in mind, in 2019, the total attendance for all SXSW events amounted to approximately 280,000. Hosting such a large crowd over consecutive days during the spread of a highly contagious virus became an impossibility. 

However, the festival organizers put up a fight initially. After they refused to shut the event down amid calls to close up shop, many companies that were set to be featured canceled their appearances such as Twitter, Facebook, Intel, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Netflix, Apple, and WarnerMedia—along with countless other attendees and keynote speakers. Soon, SXSW received an order by the city of Austin to halt, and the city’s mayor Steve Adler declared a local state of emergency. 

Upon closing, Pierson recalled, “The whole community had reached out in terms of how could we be helpful, what can we do together, what’s the new reality?” While exploring different possibilities, Amazon reached out to offer their well-established, highly accessible Prime Video platform to the filmmakers. “What a great opportunity for the films that wanted to opt in to get to a greater audience,” Pierson said. It should be noted that not all the filmmakers chose the Amazon option, as some were exploring other distribution avenues for their films.

The SXSW lineup includes 39 films including both narrative and documentary features as well as short films and three episodic premieres. Pierson continued, “It’s an experiment too. We kind of can’t wait to see who tunes in, who watches, who’s affected by films.” 

The virtual festival’s narrative features include the comedy-drama Cat in the Wall,  a Guatemala-based story Gunpowder Heart, a musical tale Le Choc du Futur, and Selfie which explores the ways modern technology affects people’s lives.

Documentary features include I’m Gonna Make You Love Me and the story of Vivian Liberto, Johnny Cash’s first wife, My Darling Vivian.

Interested individuals can also tune into narrative shorts, documentary shorts, and episodic shows like the five-part documentary series Cursed Films as well as Tales from the Loop which explores the mysteries of the universe.

It will be interesting to see which other upcoming film festivals will follow in this format.

But if you’ve never had a chance to attend the SXSW film festival, here’s your chance—from the comfort of your own home.