Awards Shows Eyeing Rules Changes as Coronavirus Wreaks Havoc on Movie Business

“This is a situation no one could have imagined,” Film Independent President Josh Welsh says as Spirit Awards allow films to qualify from canceled festivals

Spirit Award and Academy Award
Film Independent/AMPAS

As film festivals are canceled, movie theaters close and some films lose their chance at theatrical release, awards bodies are enacting, or at least considering, changes to their rules to accommodate the new landscape caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Film Independent Spirit Awards, for example, is now allowing films that were selected by the South by Southwest Film Festival, which was canceled, and the Tribeca and New Directors/New Films festivals, which were postponed, to qualify for the Spirit Awards just as if those festivals had taken place.

“This is a situation no one could have imagined,” Film Independent President Josh Welsh told TheWrap. “It’s having unparalleled impacts on filmmakers, festivals and our community as a whole. We want the filmmaking community to know we are here alongside everyone trying to figure things out day by day and of course any festival that is currently a qualifying festival for the 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards will remain so, whether or not that festival actually happens.

“We’ve been in touch with SXSW, Tribeca and New Directors/New Films and will continue to connect with them and the other qualifying festivals, as we adapt to the new realities ahead, to face them united.”

SXSW, Tribeca and New Directors/New Films are three of seven festivals whose feature-film selections automatically qualify for the Spirit Awards. The others are Sundance, which has already taken place, and the Telluride Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival, which are scheduled to take place in the fall.

More than 130 feature films qualified for the Spirit Awards by being chosen for world, North American or U.S. premieres at SXSW, with more than 100 more qualifying via Tribeca. Films that will be eligible regardless of whether they have theatrical screenings include Judd Apatow’s “The King of Staten Island,” Eleanor Coppola’s “Love Is Love,” David Lowery’s “The Green Knight,” Spike Jonze’s “Beastie Boys Story,” Bonni Cohen and John Shenk’s “Athlete A” and Amy Seimetz’s “She Dies Tomorrow.”

According to SXSW Director of Film Janet Pierson, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made a similar accommodation in its short-film categories. SXSW is one of 113 festivals whose shorts winners in select categories automatically qualify for the Academy Awards – and although the festival is not taking place, its juries are still viewing the films and will announce winners on Tuesday, March 24.

Pierson said that SXSW jury winners in the Animated Shorts, Narrative Shorts and Documentary Shorts categories will still qualify for the Oscars in the animated, live-action and doc shorts categories even though the festival itself is not being held.

A spokesperson for the Academy would not confirm that the qualifying rules had been changed for the festival, but a SXSW rep reiterated that AMPAS had assured the festival that its short-film winners would indeed be eligible.

Typically, the Academy does not announce rule changes until after its Board of Governors meets in April to discuss those changes. The spokesperson gave the following statement to TheWrap:

“The Academy is focused on helping our staff, our members, and the industry safely navigate through this global health and economic crisis. We are in the process of evaluating all aspects of this uncertain landscape and what changes may need to be made. We are committed to being nimble and forward-thinking as we discuss what is best for the future of the industry and will make further announcements in the coming days.”

Joey Berlin, the president of the Critics Choice Association, said that organization has held “lots of discussions” but has made “no decisions” about whether it will change eligibility rules for next January’s Critics’ Choice Awards.

Berlin added that submissions are running ahead of last year’s for the Critics Choice Real TV Awards, which are scheduled to take place on June 7 but which could have its ceremony postponed if events make it necessary.

UPDATE: This story was updated with the Academy’s statement after its initial publication.