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SXSW Film Head Explains Decision to Maintain Festival Competition Despite Cancellation

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As the first major festival impacted by the coronavirus, SXSW provides a case study for other festivals to consider. Janet Pierson breaks it down.

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In the moment, the cancellation of the 2020 SXSW Film Festival was a shock to the system; now, we know it was a harbinger of things to come. When Austin mayor Steve Adler announced “a local disaster” due to the coronavirus outbreak, the sprawling impact on every facet of SXSW — from film to music and interactive events — created what was then an unprecedented crisis. Since then, other major festivals have been “postponed,” including Coachella, Tribeca and Cannes, and it remains unclear how the strategies for those events will evolve.

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For the time being, SXSW has become the first case study in how to maintain some aspect of a canceled film festival through online resources. Shortly after NewsLagoon determined that it would proceed with coverage of SXSW films, the festival announced that it would maintain its competition sections. This week, SXSW announced those winners, which included Grand Jury Prizes for narrative entry “Shithouse” (one of the films featured in NewsLagoon’s original reporting on the cancellation) and the documentary “Elephant in the Room.” With that process now over, Pierson spoke to NewsLagoon about how the decision came together, and what other festivals might learn from the experience.

Broadly speaking, how did the experience of a virtual SXSW differ from business as usual?

Well, we haven’t experienced SXSW as a virtual experience. As our event was canceled, we were devastated for the filmmakers and wondered how we could help them. Immediately, there was a sense that when the event was canceled, what could we do to help the filmmakers who have put years of work into this? As programmers, we knew how wonderful the films were. It’s a very selective process. We were still invested in how great it would be to share them with our audience. When that wasn’t possible, it became more about what we could do.

How did the conversation turn to the competitions?

Most of our competitions require our juries to watch the first public screenings. That’s a big part of it. We had to take a step back and consider how to continue that. The juried competitions are defined, the jurors had been announced, so we knew we could get everybody in place if it was in their best interests. We weren’t sure. We had to ask them to decide if it was in their best interests to go forward. We thought there was a scenario where these films could remain forever official SXSW 2020 selections and they could win awards, and still world premiere somewhere else. We were the first festival to get canceled, and now everything’s been canceled, so who knows what opportunities come for these filmmakers. We wanted to help shine a light on them.

What was different about the deliberation process?

Jurors are very particular. They deliberated by Zoom. It was a different experience because they couldn’t hang with each other over five days or experience the audiences. Usually there’s this wonderful bonding that happens year over year. But they took the deliberations really seriously. We were thrilled we could go forward with it.

“Shithouse” was a very SXSW sort of movie, so it’s no surprise it won the Narrative Competition. What stood out to you about that one?

“Shithouse”

Rachel Klein

What’s notable to me about “Shithouse” is that when it first starts, you think you’ve seen this movie before, and then it delights and surprises. That makes it even more surprising, because you think you’ve seen this movie, but you care more about it. This has come up with films like “Weekend” and “Medicine for Melancholy.” It’s a similar formula — two people talk through the night — and “Before Sunrise” is the grandaddy of that. When a filmmaker can imbue a known premise with originality and vitality, it’s really exciting.

“Elephant in the Room” won the Documentary Competition. Usually, the documentaries that break out at SXSW are more personal ones.

It’s just an incredible film, very hard to make well. I give the highest props to the filmmakers for making a tough subject into a beautiful experience. It speaks to how we deal with grief. Everyone who sees it is knocked out by how deep and important [it is]. There’s nothing patronizing about it. It tackles grief from a child’s point of view that I haven’t seen before. It’s even more timely now than when we saw it. We all agreed as programmers that it had to take a really high level of talent for this film to work the way it does.

Take us behind the scenes a bit. What were your conversations like within the rest of the company about these plans?

There weren’t a lot of conversations. We have tremendous independence within the company. They have a lot of confidence in our curation. We just said this was important to us and they said no problem. There’s so much work involved in not going forward with the event. We discovered it was harder not to put an event on. It’s happening in real time on a day-to-day basis as everything keeps changing for everyone. Everyone agreed this was great when we had the plan intact.

There have been reports that since SXSW didn’t have disaster insurance, its financial losses are so significant that future editions are in doubt. What needs to happen to change that?

I can’t really speak to that.

What are your next steps then?

We were happy to be able to continue the awards. Now it’s a matter of engaging with the rest of the company in creative and practical ways to figure out everything. If we had gone through a normal year, we would have finished up Sunday, come in this week, and immediately took notes to figure out what we felt worked or needed improvement for next year. We’d be brainstorming and thanking people. We’re missing the event, but there is still this process of figuring what this means going forward.

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Having been the first festival to go through this process, what advice would you give to other festivals considering some kind of virtual presence?

I felt like there was a real rallying from the independent film community. This is the kind of field you’re only in when you really care about good work. You’re not in it because it’s easy or lucrative or because the hours are short. You’re in it because you really care about supporting vision and talent you think is worthwhile to help them be in the world. I imagine this will be a moment for a lot of conversations and people learning from each other to figure stuff out. My advice is this: The only way I got through this was to take it day by day, not give into the panic, try to be present. I like that Mister Rogers quote going around: “Look for the helpers.”

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Jennifer Aniston and Jimmy Kimmel Surprise Nurse Who Contracted COVID-19 With $10,000 Gift

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The ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ host also shared that the delivery service was giving gift cards to all of the nurses that work on Kimball Fairbanks’ floor at her Utah-based hospital.

Jennifer Aniston and Jimmy Kimmel teamed up to help a nurse that tested positive for COVID-19 during Thursday’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!

The segment opened with Kimmel talking to Kimball Fairbanks, a cardiovascular nurse from St. George, Utah, about her experience with the coronavirus.

Fairbanks explained that she tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week. In response to the diagnosis, she was furloughed from work and must self-isolate for two weeks.

She admitted that she wasn’t sure how she contracted the virus, but likely got it while at work.

“I kind of felt like I got hit by a train, but I think I just have really mild symptoms,” she said, noting that it felt like she had a head cold combined with the flu. Fairbanks added that her symptoms feel “decently manageable.”

Kimmel said that he wanted to cheer her up and brought Aniston into the video chat. “I just have to say God bless you and all of you that are out there, doing what you’re doing,” Aniston told Fairbanks. “I don’t even know how to express my gratitude to everything that you guys are doing and putting your health at risk and all of that. You’re just phenomenal.”

Fairbanks later told Aniston and Kimmel that she has not been able to cook while distancing herself from her family, so she has been relying on delivery services to provide her food.

“That’s good cause you know what Jimmy cooked up?” said Aniston. “You’re gonna be getting a $10,000 gift certificate from Postmates.”

Fairbanks was initially speechless and Kimmel joked, “But you have to use it all in one shot.” The host also shared that Postmates was giving gift cards to all of the nurses that work on her floor at the hospital.

“Oh behalf of all of us, I think Jen said it very well, we are very, very grateful to what you and all these health care workers are doing,” said Kimmel. “It’s so far above and beyond. It really is unbelievable.”

Aniston later told Kimmel how she herself is handling being quarantined.

After noting that she hasn’t left her house in three weeks, the actress revealed that she doesn’t mind being stuck at home. “I’m an agoraphobe,” she said. “It’s a nightmare, but me personally, it’s not been that much of a challenge.”

She said that the “most challenging thing is watching news,” though she limits catching up on current events to once in the morning and again in the evening.

Aniston is passing the time by cleaning and organizing. She revealed that she found “a couple treasures” while cleaning, including a Betamax of her first audition for the soap opera Search for Tomorrow when she was 13 years old. Her father, John Aniston, starred on the show.

“I’m dying to see it, but I was 13 years old and I thought I lost it forever, but I was sort of just cleaning out tons of old boxes,” she said. Aniston then shared her plans to get the Betamax transferred so that she can watch it.

The part ultimately went to Jane Krakowski. “The character’s name was TR and she was a 13-year-old runaway and I had been visiting my dad at the set — it was shot in New York back then,” she explained. “On the bulletin board it was an audition for TR, a 13-year-old runaway, and I was like, ‘That’s me.'”

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Despite Aniston’s confidence that she was meant to play the part, her father did not want her to be on the show. “I actually went around his back and I called his agent,” she recalled. “I know how to make things happen.”

“Then I auditioned. I thought I did great. I was sure that I was gonna get it. And I was also like, ‘My dad’s on the show,'” said the actress.

Aniston said that another treasure she found while cleaning was a film reel of her parents on The Newlywed Game. “That is a jewel for me,” she said, noting that they won. She added that their victory “doesn’t make marriage last.”

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Kim and Kourtney Kardashian come to blows in full “reality”

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The followers of the family Kardashian already aware of the friction between the sisters Kim and Kourtney. This time, however, a discussion came too far. In an episode of his reality, Keeping Up With the Kardashiansboth were involved in a discussions that were climbing up to come to blows.

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The relationship between the Kardashians started to deteriorate some months ago, when Kourtney decided to leave the reality that takes 18 seasons, but as the wife of Kanye West did not like anything. For that reason, Kourtney, who now says that he wants to dedicate himself to his family life, and Kim, who wants to continue with the program, staged one of the most critical periods since the beginning of the program.

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In the uncomfortable scene in the united States was last night in your program, the sisters, in the presence of Kendall and Khloé, they start pushing and end to the strikes.

“Do you think that I want to be in this negative environment all the days of my life?”, he told Kourtney all her sisters. “It’s torture”.

After the discussion, Khloé was very surprised with what happened. “Kim and I are really anodadas for how things escalated so fast. We don’t know where it comes from all of this. We know that there has been friction recently, but I don’t think any of us know that it was so strong. It is truly amazing that you have gone so far,” he said.

After you get to know the images of the fight, Kourtney Kardashian released a press statement where he sought to make it clear that they will no longer be part of the reality. “It is hard for me to see these first two episodes, but it is in these darkest moments where it reaches the overcoming. I finally had the courage to change what no longer was bringing me happiness and put my time and energy on what is. So choose happiness!”, he wrote in his account of Instagram.

For his part, Kim was invited to the program virtual of Jimmy Fallon, and explained that the level of violence surprised everyone, especially his mother Kris Jenner. He explained that what sparked the anger was the lack of clarity of his sister, who had not expressed his decision to leave and was on the set of reluctantly.

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Josh Horowitz Launches Digital Interview Series ‘Stir Crazy’ (Exclusive)

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The first episode features Will Arnett, with upcoming guests including Ricky Gervais, Ed Helms, Dan Levy and Ben Schwartz.

Inspired by this unusual time of social distancing and home isolation amid the coronavirus pandemic, Josh Horowitz is launching a digital interview series aptly titled Stir Crazy.

The show will offer lively and humorous chats between Horowitz — who is holed up in his New York apartment — and various entertainers who join him via a remote video connection. Will Arnett kicks off the series as the first guest.

Upcoming stars include Dan Levy, Josh Hutcherson, Ed Helms, Ricky Gervais and Ben Schwartz. To keep his guests from going stir crazy, Horowitz will utilize games like Charades and I Spy. 

Known for his work as an MTV News correspondent, Horowitz also runs the Happy Sad Confused podcast and hosts scripted sketch comedy series After Hours on Comedy Central.

Amid his own quarantine, Horowitz has been vocal on social media about his experience at home, sometimes giving comedic anecdotes. “Quarantine Josh eats grilled cheese. Otherwise I’m pretty much the same,” he tweeted Friday. On other occasions, he has asked his followers to list their favorite comfort movie and to pick the best of two rom-com film options, such as Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail

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Stir Crazy launches Friday at 1 p.m. PT on Comedy Central’s YouTube and Facebook pages. New episodes will post twice weekly Tuesday and Thursday. 

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