The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has had an immense impact on the film industry. Theaters have been forced to close their doors due to government guidelines, resulting in delays across the entire industry. A lot of films that were meant to be released in theaters have been pushed back to open at a later date, such as WONDER WOMAN 1984 (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2021). Some films, like the recent remake of THE INVISIBLE MAN (Universal, 2020), have even opted for a digital release with Video-On-Demand.
Film festivals have been hit just as hard. With travel restrictions being put in place and social distancing becoming the norm, a lot of festivals have been forced to change tactics. Some festivals have completely closed their facilities, such as the Toronto International Film Festival’s Bell Lightbox. Several of them, such as the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, have released some of their films online for audiences to view at home. In a handful of cases, some festivals continued their operations with heavy precautions in place. The True/False Film Fest in Columbia, Missouri, was able to run at the beginning of March before heavy restrictions were put in place, albeit with plenty of sanitary precautions taken. All of these delays and cancelations beg the question: What will happen when The Oscars roll around?
Every year, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has required films to have a theatrical release in order to be considered for an Oscar nomination. The current rules say that a film must play in a commercial theater in Los Angeles for a run of at least seven consecutive days, with a minimum of three showings each day. With so many theaters closed due to COVID-19, this simply isn’t possible.
The new rules that have been temporarily set in place allow for films on streaming sites and VOD to be eligible for Oscar consideration. The Academy states that a film “must be made available on the secure Academy Screening Room member-only streaming site within 60 days of the film’s streaming or VOD release.” So until theaters are able to reopen, films on VOD and streaming services will be eligible for nominations without requiring a theatrical run. When theaters do reopen, The Academy will revert back to its original rules regarding a theatrical release.
Many states in the U.S are currently making plans to reopen their economies, but it’s still mostly on a state-by-state basis. Several small groups of states are working together to open, including California, Oregon, and Washington on the West Coast. California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted that “The West Coast is guided by science. We issued stay at home orders early to keep the public healthy. We’ll open our economy with the same guiding principle.”
Despite the optimism of these states, there’s not necessarily a set timeline for when everything will end. As of April 24, the CDC is reporting a decrease in positive cases that were tested in labs, but it was only a slight decrease from the previous week. This still means that theaters likely won’t open for some time, and it’s not entirely clear when they will. So, until things improve significantly, it seems that the new rules will still be in effect. But audiences should not be discouraged. There are still plenty of opportunities to see the newest films of the year, and to rewatch favorite classics. The times we are in just require a little bit of patience and flexibility.