Austin’s SXSW Film Festival Going Online After Event Canceled Due To Coronavirus

AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – The City of Austin has cancelled the March dates for South by Southwest arts and technology festival.

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Mayor Steve Adler announced a local disaster as a precaution because of the threat of the novel coronavirus, effectively cancelling the annual event.

The announcement comes days after several high-profile companies, including Netflix, tech news outlet Mashable, video-based social media platform TikTok and U.S. chip maker Intel, pulled out of the festival.

More than 50,000 people had signed a petition seeking to get the festival cancelled.

SXSW issued the following statement Friday afternoon:

“We are devastated to share this news with you. The show must go on is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation. As recently as Wednesday, Austin Public Health stated that ‘there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer!’ However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision. We are committed to do our part to help protect our staff, attendees, and fellow Austinites.”

SXSW said they are looking into rescheduling the event and are working to provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible for 2020 participants, starting with SXSW EDU.

“For our registrants, clients, and participants we will be in touch as soon as possible and will publish an FAQ. We understand the gravity of the situation for all the creatives who utilize SXSW to accelerate their careers; for the global businesses; and for Austin and the hundreds of small businesses – venues, theatres, vendors, production companies, service industry staff, and other partners that rely so heavily on the increased business that SXSW attracts,” SXSW said. “We will continue to work hard to bring you the unique events you love. Though it’s true that our March 2020 event will no longer take place in the way that we intended, we continue to strive toward our purpose – helping creative people achieve their goals.”

The festival drew 73,716 attendees last year, 19,166 of whom came from outside the U.S.

Combined with SXSW’s gaming expo and education conference, the 2019 event drew 417,400 attendees, organizers said.

An economic impact report found it contributed $355.9 million to the local economy.

Actor Kumail Nanjiani, who had been scheduled to attend the festival to promote “The Lovebirds,” said on Twitter that he was disappointed but that he understood.

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“Sxsw is one of my favorite festivals,” he tweeted. “Canceling it was the responsible thing to go. I know this sucks for many people for whom this was a massive opportunity. But we’re kind of in an unprecedented situation here and caution is key. Thank you for the making the right decision.”

Media producer Stephen Stuart, 35, from New York City said he bought a $1,200 pass but that he’s glad the event has been cancelled.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people who come from all around the planet. They’re all traveling, they all go to this one place, and then they’re all pushed into these rooms confined with one another. It’s not really conducive to not spreading a disease.”

Stuart said he doesn’t know if his ticket will be refunded.

Meantime, with the city of Austins declaration of a local state of disaster, UT has decided to cancel Saturday’s Explore UT event out of an abundance of caution.

UT released the following statement on the matter:

With the city’s declaration of a local state of disaster, The University of Texas has decided to cancel Saturday’s Explore UT event out of an abundance of caution.

This event is unique in that it brings thousands of out-of-town residents — including many young children — to campus, where they participate in high-touch, interactive, hands-on programs for hours at a time. It is distinct from other programs held on campus, including sporting events, which are shorter and are not hands-on or interactive.

In close consultation with local health officials, we plan to maintain all other programs, classes and operations, as we continually monitor the rapidly-changing situation surrounding COVID-19.

The U.S. death toll from coronavirus has climbed to 14, with all but one victim in Washington state, while the number of infections swelled to over 200 scattered across at least 18 states, including at least six cases in the Houston area.

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(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)