Erasing David

Thompson on Hollywood

#SXSW Wrap, Hits and Misses

Continuing to build its rep as a balmy spring destination for genre fans and cinephiles alike, the 17th South by Southwest Film Festival saw a strong turnout at films and panels appealing to young males and indie filmgoers, from opener Kick-Ass and stoner-comedy Leaves of Grass to the more finely calibrated critics’ faves Tiny Furniture (which won the dramatic jury prize) and Cold Weather. Clearly, the fest hasn’t lost its indie cred, although a hardcore midnight screening of A Serbian Film tested the limits of many filmgoers.

On the commercial side, Lionsgate opener Kick-Ass, Universal’s ensemble comedy MacGruber and Apparition’s rock biopic The Runaways built up some launch momentum, while two college pics, frat thriller Brotherhood (which won the narrative audience prize) and randy coming-of-age fantasy Cherry (starring breakout Kyle Gallner) piqued some buyer interest. Also likely to find a distrib is New York writer-director Lena Denham’s witty post-college drama Tiny Furniture, while IFC was circling the gorgeously crafted, genre-tinged Cold Weather.

Among those who scored at the fest, Rhys Ifans carried the meandering comedy biopic Mr. Nice with his sexy portrait of dope-smuggler Howard Marks, aging from teens to 40s without makeup (Ifans is also the best thing in Greenberg). Fresh from Cargo‘s SXSW world premiere, CAA is setting meetings for young Swiss director Ivan Engler, who delivered the eye-popping sci-fi thriller on a miniscule budget. How did he pull it off? Once committed to his VFX plans, he had no wriggle-room to change his mind. And he worked seven years for virtually no pay.

The worst things to befall SXSW 2010 were far from disastrous. An exhausted Quentin Tarantino showed up for the pre-SXSW festivities at the Texas Film Hall of Fame, coming through for his Austin chums Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, only to skip town before the much-anticipated SXSW genre panel (Rodriguez, who also showed early footage from Predators, filled in).

One night the Elektra Luxx projection died mid-screening, never to come back—requiring rescheduling. James Franco couldn’t make the premiere of his ecstatically received behind-the-scenes SNL doc Saturday Night, because he was filming Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. And while Joan Jett eschewed her planned SXSW Runaways gig in favor of a David Letterman taping Monday, fans ate up the sight of Kristen Stewart in red leather. (Music attendees were lured by such attractions as Smokey Robinson, Courtney Love and Hole, The Whigs, Efterklang and the Stone Temple Pilots.)

Yes, Austin got very crowded. According to Daily Finance, six years ago only 35 reporters and 3,000 people attended SXSW. In 2010, the WSJ reports that the music fest counted more than 400 press and 13,000 registrants, up 11%, while the film fest marked 9500 and the interactive side 14,200 registrants, each up by 33 %.

The SXSW screenings were bursting at the seams, partly due to fewer available screens at the Alamo Drafthouse on Lamar (which was selling out 3-D showings of Alice in Wonderland). Many folks weren’t getting into screenings, even when they lined up an hour early. (I tracked down film contacts to help me get into smaller venues.) Time and again, film fest producer Janet Pierson gently apologized in her pre-screening intros for people being turned away from films, suggesting they schedule alternatives. “A good problem to have,” she added. SXSW believes strongly in staying democratic: everyone stands in line, badge or no badge, no press and industry screenings.

The crossover among different groups makes SXSW a heady mix. I hung out with interactive attendees at the bustling IFC House, over meat skewers at Fogo de Chao, and at an impromptu twitter-meet at the Hotel Driskill bar via the NYT’s Dave Carr, who tracks SXSW goings-on here. We talked about privacy (the topic of Danah Boyd‘s consciousness-raising opening keynote), Twitter, @anywhere, Foursquare, the future of journalism, criticism, online distribution, social networking and mobile apps. Just like everyone else. (Stay tuned for more pieces informed by the panels I attended.)

Great Buzz:
And Everything is Going Fine (doc biopic, Steven Soderbergh, USA, Magnolia)
Erasing David (doc, David Bond, UK, Cinetic Rights Management: Filmbuff VOD)
Four Lions (terrorist comedy, Christopher Morris, UK)
Micmacs (action fantasy, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France, SPC)
Monsters (quasi-doc alien romance, Gareth Edwards, UK, Magnet Releasing)
The People vs. George Lucas (doc, Alexandre O. Philippe, USA)
The Red Chapel (doc comedy, Madds Bruger, Denmark)
Saturday Night (SNL doc, James Franco, USA)
The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights (concert doc, Emmet Malloy, USA, IFC VOD)
Waking Sleeping Beauty (doc, Don Hahn, USA, Disney)
World’s Largest (doc, Amy C. Elliott and Elizabeth Donius, USA)

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