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As virus strikes festivals, red carpets happen in living rooms

File photo shows SXSW logo in Austin, Texas. -AFP

Hollywood directors who had their glitzy premieres canceled due to coronavirus are finding inventive ways to build buzz for their films — including bringing the red carpet into their living rooms. Movie festivals such as SXSW in Texas and Tribeca in New York have been scrapped in recent days as the deadly pandemic spreads. This has shorn major titles of the publicity generated by opening night reviews and galas, and left hundreds of unsold indie films without distributors. The makers of “The Carnivores,” a quirky thriller-meets-love story set to debut at SXSW, took matters into their own hands by shifting the “premiere” to the cinematographer’s Austin home.

“We have full catering, we have a red carpet, we have a photographer coming, we have local news,” said director Caleb Michael Johnson. The red carpet will run from the front porch, through the house, and back to a taco stand — which is being catered for free by a local sponsor. The idea emerged from a three-hour bar conversation the day the festival was canceled. “It was crazy because we weren’t even that drunk! The ideas came really fast,” said cinematographer Adam Minnick. “Our world premiere was Saturday 14th and dammit we wanted to still have our screening on Saturday 14th in Austin.”

The same tactic was employed by US actor David Arquette, whose documentary about his controversial forays into pro wrestling shifted from a SXSW premiere to his home near Hollywood within 24 hours. Arquette and his wife flew in the director from the East Coast — and made a dash to wholesale store Costco for drinks — before guests gathered on couches and the living room floor, the Los Angeles Times reported.

‘No substitute’
Johnson said the more intimate nature of these events put guests at ease about the risk of contagion — but others are skipping physical events altogether, turning to technology. David Magdael, a publicist who had four world premieres set for SXSW, looked into screening films at Hollywood agencies’ offices after the festival was canceled — but had to scrap that too after the town shut up shop. Fortunately, trade press including IndieWire still intend to publish reviews on the days that films were due to premiere.

“On our end, on the PR side, we’re still moving forward as if the film festival is happening,” said Magdael. SXSW’s prestigious film competitions will go ahead as planned, with movies available to juries online. “We know it’s no substitute for the live SXSW event with its unique and fantastic audience, but at least it’s some way to get attention for these wonderful films,” said organizer Janet Pierson. Spencer Folmar’s new drama about the opioid crisis, intended to screen at the postponed Beverly Hills Film Festival, will hit streaming platforms on the day it was due in theaters nationwide.

“It’s a shame, you know — this is two years in the making, and everyone loves the theatrical experience,” he said of “Shooting Heroin.” The movie will now rely on online advertising and sending digital “screener” links to critics. “But this is what we have to do for the sake of the film and getting the message out.”

Despite these creative solutions, some damage from festivals closing will be hard to repair. Lindsay Lindenbaum’s documentary “Tomboy,” about four famous female drummers, was relying on SXSW to secure final funding needed to buy expensive music licensing. One of the film’s subjects, Bobbye Hall, played on Marvin Gaye’s soul hit “What’s Going On.” The song “is such an important piece of music in the film to really show what a legend she is,” said the director.

She plans to launch an online fundraiser seeking donations next week. Ashley Eakin, director of short comedy “Single” about two people with disabilities who are set up on a date, fears the momentum that SXSW would have given her fledgling career could be lost. “It’s hard because I’ve never gotten into a big festival, and SXSW can potentially be a once in a lifetime thing,” she said. She added: “It’s kind of scary, especially for us new filmmakers… We’re all on the cusp of things happening and people being interested in us.” We’re worried that it could be a full year, or however long it’s going to take, for them to be wanting to take a risk again. – AFP

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