Ask Answers: What Will COVID-19 Mean for 2020 Film Fests and Award Shows?

By Trisha LopezLast Updated Sep 16, 2020 1:22:20 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: APU GOMES/AFP/Getty Images

Despite countless months of wearing masks, practicing social distancing and suffering through lockdowns, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread to more people across the world. Although these safety precautions have helped slow the spread of the virus, they have also thrown many businesses for a loop and disrupted entire industries — and the Hollywood entertainment industry is no exception.

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"The 'Rona" first reared its ugly head in Tinseltown back in March when it attacked beloved actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson. Although the couple ultimately managed to overcome the dreaded illness, its nefarious plans for the entertainment world were far from over.

As many major studios continue to postpone what could have been the year's hottest movie releases, film festivals and award shows are scrambling to figure out how to cope with the global pandemic. So, what exactly can film fans expect this year from these annual Hollywood events? Well, things are definitely going to look a lot different, and that new look could even lead to some surprising shifts in cultural perspective.

Festival Frenzy is Flaming Out

The loss of film festivals such as Cannes, Telluride and SXSW may not mean much to the average moviegoer, but those events are a pretty big deal to those in the film industry. Top festivals commonly premiere films that go on to become some of the year's biggest hits, possibly positioning them for major award nominations. Bringing together thousands of celebrities, Hollywood executives and members of the press was always a cause for celebration — before the risk of COVID-19 single-handedly turned it into the worst idea ever. 

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2020 has already seen the cancellation of dozens of film festivals, even those with the legendary prestige of Cannes. Initially, Cannes attempted to postpone its scheduled May run by a few months, only to be forced to throw in the towel when it became obvious that things wouldn't be back to normal anytime soon. Regardless of the disruption, Cannes did finally release its list of 56 official 2020 selections.

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Although the festival couldn't physically screen their selections this year, each film will still be able to boast the official 2020 Cannes selection laurel. Major festivals such as Telluride have also been forced to follow suit and sit it out this year, while others have either tentatively pushed back their dates or attempted online runs.

Award Shows Are Scrambling for New Formats

Given the important role that festivals usually play in thrusting the year's best movies into the spotlight, the future of this year's award season is uncertain, to say the least. The Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and even the Oscars have already been pushed back to later dates to give the world more time to regain its footing. 

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COVID-induced delays for movie releases have also prompted some major changes in eligibility rules for award shows like the Oscars. This year's potential nominees now have until February 28 to officially premiere in order to give more films a chance to qualify. Eligibility usually requires potential films to play in physical theaters for a certain amount of time, but the reasons that could prove problematic this year are as obvious to the Academy as they are to everyone else. That's why films that premiere on streaming platforms and VOD will also be considered for the first time this year. 

Unfortunately, COVID-19 may not ultimately prove to be the biggest problem for some award shows. Throughout the coronavirus crisis, many fans have found themselves not only wondering what will happen with this year's shows but just how much they really care. Award show ratings had already begun to see a steep decline, even before the world was thrust into quarantine. Just last year, both the Oscars and the Emmys hit an all-time low in viewership. Could the change in perspective that comes with living through a worldwide health crisis affect major Hollywood ceremonies even more in the future?

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The Future of Film Fandom May Change Forever

So, all of the usual arguments could be made for the reasons that award ceremonies have been tanking. Some claim that they've gotten too politically polarizing or point to the fact that Gen Z is more into YouTube and TikTok than Hollywood culture. The other side of the COVID-19 crisis, however, may see another important argument crop up. While tabloids and Hollywood gossip may have seemed like juicy, harmless fun in a pre-COVID world, there's nothing quite like a potentially deadly airborne virus to put things into perspective. 

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Photo Courtesy: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

With hundreds of thousands of Americans infected and millions unemployed, watching millionaires present each other with statues suddenly doesn't seem like so much fun. Don't get us wrong, we love movies as much as the next couch potato, but during a period of forced isolation, you just can't help but take a good look at what really matters in life. Does it really make sense to spend millions on an award show, or could that money be better spent elsewhere? 

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Why is it that we feel the need for major studios and Hollywood executives to tell us what kinds of movies we should love instead of deciding for ourselves? While only time will tell whether or not it actually occurs, the potential for a massive shift in viewpoint is unusually ripe at the moment. Perhaps it's time we began to enjoy stories for their substance rather than their star power. Maybe we should be validating heroes for their actions instead of their elite status.

It’s Time Everyday Heroes Get the Trophies

Although the coronavirus has proven to be disastrous on a variety of levels, it has also finally shone a spotlight on the people many of us never noticed before. While many of us remain in quarantine, there are still restaurant, retail and medical workers who are putting their lives on the line daily to keep our country up and running. 

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They may not own a single couture ball gown or ever give an acceptance speech in front of millions of viewers, but they are the people who remind us on a daily basis what heroism should really look like. Their lives may not always be glamorous, but the reality is that true heroism rarely is. 

So the next time you head to the store to pick up groceries, instead of glancing at that tabloid, take the time to thank the grocery clerk cleaning carts at the entrance. Without their contributions, none of us would have the luxury of being able to isolate at home and reflect on the things in life that really matter.

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