Awards Season Braces for Omicron: AFI Luncheon, Palm Springs Gala Among Events Called Off So Far

With still over two weeks before the events were set to take place, organizers of the Palm Springs Film Awards Gala and BAFTA Tea Party canceled their events on Monday. The American Film Institute, meanwhile, postponed its annual AFI Awards luncheon to a later date. The cancelations, coupled with others over the last week, raise concerns about whether the pandemic surge will take down other events scheduled in the coming weeks.

For months, the industry seemed to be marching toward a version of normal not seen since the start of the pandemic. But that’s changed in just the last week, as the spread of the Omicron variant and a rising number of overall cases led to the postponement of the LA premiere of “Cyrano,” while the producers of “Saturday Night Live” pivoted at the last minute to a pared-down show with no audience (and sans musical guest Charli XCX, who also bowed out). Meantime, CNN, Lionsgate, and Starz closed their offices, and Broadway shows including “Hamilton” have gone dark until after Christmas.

It comes as New York state on Sunday saw the highest number of daily cases since the pandemic started, marking the third consecutive day for such a record. In LA County, the number of daily cases on Sunday doubled compared to just a few days before.

Much of the rise in cases across the country is attributed to the Delta variant, but the Omicron variant has been identified in 45 states so far. Early data suggests that variant may be more infectious than earlier strains and is on its way to becoming the most common variant in the U.S.

President Joe Biden plans to address the country on Tuesday about the virus, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday, noting that it’s “not a speech about shutting the country down” and that the virus “is not the same threat to fully vaccinated individuals that it was in March 2020.”

However, the recent trend of calling off events that include large gatherings of people is reminiscent of those early days of the pandemic. There will be no live audience for the New Year’s Eve celebration in downtown LA, which organizers announced on Monday will pivot to streaming-only. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he’ll have an update this week about the Times Square celebration.

The Palm Springs gala draws A-listers and thousands more each year and is closely watched thanks to its track record of predicting Oscar nominees. While the ceremony has been called off for the second year in a row, the awards will be presented in a partnership with Entertainment Tonight, with details to follow, the Palm Springs International Film Society said in a statement.

The AFI Awards luncheon set for January 7 will be rescheduled for another date, while the BAFTA Tea Party set for January 8 has been canceled. Both are LA events.

The three events were set to occur just days before the January 9 Critics Choice Awards ceremony. The Critics Choice Association hasn’t announced any changes to the planned event. A rep for the group did not respond to a request for comment.

The largest event that stands to be impacted by rising cases is the Sundance Film Festival, which is planning a hybrid in-person and online festival beginning January 20.

Last year’s festival was largely online-only and widely deemed a success: It boasted Sundance’s largest-ever audience, saw the record-breaking sale of “CODA,” and launched major films like “Flee” and “Summer of Soul.” That said, many industry players have been looking forward to returning to Park City in January for a more full in-person experience.

Sundance hasn’t announced any changes to its plans for the festival, which runs through January 30. But the structure of this year’s festival means organizers are ready for anything. Public ticket packages and press and industry passes all include access to online screenings, and Sundance is bringing back its Satellite Screens program in partnership with arthouses across the country.

“Wherever you are, we can accommodate whatever the next couple of months throws at us and still have the festival,” festival director Tabitha Jackson told IndieWire earlier this month.

As of earlier this month, Sundance planned to require all festival attendees to be fully vaccinated and provide a negative test result within 48 hours prior to checking in. Additionally, employees, filmmakers, and press and industry members will be required to provide a negative test every 48 hours throughout the festival. Masks will be required inside. Sundance did not respond to a request for comment.

Also ahead is the Berlin International Film Festival, which kicks off on February 10. Variety reported that organizers are working on contingency plans in case the pandemic situation requires a change in plans.

For a full view of what’s head this awards season, check out IndieWire’s awards calendar here.

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