Feature by: Rumsey Taylor
Posted on: 03 March 2008
South by Southwest enters its 21st year in 2008, and its lineup promises the requisite Sundance highlights, world premieres, nonfiction features, a healthy selection of midnight movies, and the “24 Beats per Second” mini-program that segues accordingly into the music festival. What I find most fascinating about the festival is its tone of community; filmmakers will wait in line with press and public alike, frothy beer glasses clap together (between strangers, even) during a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse, and filmmakers and actors from last year make their ways into each other’s films this year. It is, in my mind, one of the most enchanting circumstances in which to experience new films.
The festival commences this Friday, March 7th, with Robert Luketic’s 21, and leads to reappearances by Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig (from last year’s Hannah Takes the Stairs, the pair now co-directs and co-stars in Nights and Weekends), the Duplass brothers (Baghead), and Mary Bronstein, featured in her husband’s Frownland last year, acting in and directing Yeast. In addition, the festival welcomes Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely, Morgan Spurlock’s Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, and Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.
To more properly lead in to what South by Southwest is, has become, or attempts to be, its producer, Matt Dentler (who I imagine may be found introducing many of the films screening at the Paramount in downtown Austin), has been kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
What other film festivals do you attend?
Every year, without fail, I attend Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, the IFP Market, and the AFI Fest/American Film Market. But then, every year there are new festivals thrown in the equation, both overseas (BritDoc, IDFA) or here in the States (LA Film Festival, IFFBoston).
Do you instill or dismiss anything you see or learn at them?
I strongly believe that no two festivals are alike, nor should they be. So, whatever differences separate our festival from others is probably a very healthy and real thing. I’m a pretty optimistic guy, especially at festivals, so I try to look at the half of the glass that’s full every time. I’ve learned a lot, especially from attending the big three: Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto. That doesn’t mean all the aspects I like about those festivals are things we should inject into SXSW. Most of what keeps SXSW, as well as other festivals, special is what we do that other festivals don’t.
You’ve mentioned in another interview how this year some great films were turned down because they didn’t “fit” into the program. Can you describe how you may define a program for a particular year? And how does this year’s program differ from last year’s?
It changes with every year and with every film. There’s no easy or scientific way to describe it. But here’s an example: let’s say we’re already playing four really great feature films about hamsters. Well, if you made a pretty good feature about hamsters, then odds are we’ve had our fill of those films for the year, and so will our audience. So, it just might not work for the festival that year because we can only play so many films about hamsters. Unfortunately.
Both this year and last year there is a sort of centerpiece in the form of a comedic studio picture—Knocked Up in 2007 and Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay this year. These are distinct alongside the generally super-independent fare that makes up much of the program. How do you feel these suit the festival in general?
I think these films make perfect sense, next to the “super-independent” stuff. Because, essentially, these are studio comedies with an “independent spirit.” These are not some retread or horrible ideas, these are films offering very unique and individual stories. Plus, people would probably be very surprised to hear which of the “super-independent” filmmakers and industry are really excited to see Harold & Kumar 2. SXSW is not necessarily about the film snob. We’re all about the film geek. We try to program a lot of very important and very artistic films each year, but everyone needs a break to relax once in a while.
One of the things that best distinguishes SXSW is a sense of community—the press and public attend the same screenings, and there is much crossover in talent between some of the films that screen. Do you knowingly endeavor to foster this community, or is it something that develops independently?
We don’t try to force it, but we certainly don’t try to discourage it. We’re fans of quality first and foremost, and if two entities of quality want to collaborate and combine forces, that’s just good for the world.
As per last year, my coverage will be varied and certainly incomprehensive. Of the 114 films in the lineup, 65 are world premieres, and although I’ll be focusing on the latter (specifically those in the narrative and documentary feature competitions), my schedule will permit no more than 30 of these—add beers at the Drafthouse to that equation, and that number reduces further. Nonetheless, my intention is to encapsulate, however unencapsulateable, the spirit of South by Southwest.
The 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival runs from March 7th to 15th, 2008. Please refer to this page for reviews of select festival films.
|The Toe Tactic||13 March|
|The Order of Myths||17 March|
|Beautiful Losers||20 March|
|Paper Covers Rock||24 March|
|The Lost Coast||25 March|
|Explicit Ills||01 April|
|Natural Causes||03 April|
|A Necessary Death||10 April|
|Nights and Weekends||11 April|
The Toe Tactic2008
The Order of Myths2008
Paper Covers Rock2008
The Lost Coast2008
A Necessary Death2008
Nights and Weekends2008