Delayed Not Diminished: Latinx Filmmakers Grapple with the Impact of the SXSW Cancellation
By: Carlos Aguilar
A heartbreaking reminder of the fragility of the independent film ecosystem, the cancellation of Austin’s banner festival South By Southwest (SXSW), due to COVID-19 concerns, has left hundreds of artists with heightened uncertainty about the future of their projects that were set to debut there or amplify their exposure.
A number of works from Latinx filmmakers are among them, including Ángel Manuel Soto’s Baltimore-set “Charm City Kings” to John Leguizamo’s “Critical Thinking, many of which were counting on SXSW as a pathway to distribution.
Ángel Manuel Soto, Michael Arcos, and Cristina Costantini at Sundance 2020
“We depend on film festivals and press reviews to be the ‘for sale’ sign to the world,” said David Alvarado, the director behind “We Are As Gods” whose production company Structure Films doesn’t sell their features until they are completed to retain creative independence. “This SXSW implosion certainly unraveled the first steps to distribution in a profound way,” he added.
Repercussions of this prolonged disruption of the industry, with several others events cancelled and release dates move, can’t quantified in full yet, but the instant consequences include a bottleneck of films crowding whatever festivals do take place later in the year with some having to reconsider if a prestigious world premiere remains in the cards.
“One of the problems we have is the concentration of power in a very small number of festivals, so if you’re looking for distribution your options are very narrow,” noted Brazilian director Mario Furloni, whose feature “Freeland” was headed to Austin. ““This affects smaller budget films that don’t have distribution partners much more than bigger films,” continued Furloni.
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Lin Manuel’s Big Bet is here to Change the Numbers
Historically, representation of the Latinx community has been almost non-existent within the entertainment industry, and looking at the current data today there has been very little progress. The National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) and USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative recently collaborated on a study called Latinos in Film: Erasure On Screen & Behind the Camera Across 1,200 Popular Movies, breaking the top-grossing films of 2007-2018. The study revealed that only three percent of those films featured Latinx leads/co-leads within the 12-year span. Two upcoming films are set to make a revolutionary shift to those numbers and the current status quo.
The musical phenomenon, “Hamilton”, written and composed by Lin Manuel Miranda, will be in theaters on October 15th, 2021. Miranda has brought the story of Alexander Hamilton and his untimely death to life by reimagining the founding fathers as brown and black faces and by using catchy hip-hop tracks to help the story along. The theatrical release of “Hamilton” will be unique, as it isn’t an adaptation of the musical, but rather a “live capture” of the musical featuring the original cast. According to Variety, Disney has purchased the rights to the stage film for a whopping 75 million dollars, and per Deadline this is the most expensive single film acquisition in industry history.
Disney paid a notable price tag for the rights to the stage film, but they didn't just purchase a stage film: the industry powerhouse purchased a potential franchise that could continue to give them revenue for years to come. Disney also plans to put the film on its streaming platform, Disney+, in the future. It is critical to note that having the rights to the stage film will provide an upper hand if the musical were to be adapted into a motion picture, thus opening the door for revenue to skyrocket.
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