THE SCENE AND PEEPS
Starting with their signature pre-screening violent yet comical threats to the audience to shut the hell up and power down during the movies, the hilarious, non-sequitur trailer bumpers (to celebrate 20 years, a slew of previous years’ bumpers were shown), the invaluable taco graphic map resource (thanks Taco Journalism!) to the climactic progression of the downtown block party vibe as Interactive and Film gets tossed aside to make way for the festival’s explosive origin: Music, SXSW inhabits a radical American cultural vortex among international festivals. Needless to say, I had a blast this year, even if I didn’t stick around to get destroyed by the Music.
What I love here is the real and casual film junkie vibe (without the Telluride Film Festival pretense). It’s easier to have meaningful conversations with filmmakers over free libations in a crowded happening party. I’m so happy I got that chance to do just that with David Wilson about his excellent Branson doc, We Always Lie to Strangers, and Lauren Modery and Geoff Marslett about their Brooklyn-Austin odyssey, Loves Her Gun. Both films took home jury honors at the end of the week; Special Jury Prize for Directing to AJ Schnack and David Wilson, and the Lone Star Award, named after Louis Black, Austin’s stalwart king of the Arts – editor of Austin Chronicle and SXSW co-founder. It was awesome to catch up with the multi-media artist/advocate/revolutionary Ondi Timoner (Dig!, We Live in Public) who was there on the jury, doing her awesome doc interview show, BYOD and promoting A Total Disruption, a wildly innovative and online community to guide young startups and inventors. Does this woman sleep?
Of the cool new people I met and connected with was Emily Best, the enthusiastic no nonsense founder of crowdsourcing/building/distribution platform Seed & Spark. Taking it one step further in capitalizing the public’s desire to be part of the filmmaking process, Emily has found a way for potential funders to take away ‘stories’ from their contributions. Like a wedding registry, you can donate for certain items. We both agreed the concept of ‘windows’ should be killed, or at least restructured (referring to the confined first theatrical, then dvd then online life of a film). Indeed, for all the social media buzz and rave reviews that will whet the public’s appetite and craving to see the films that premiered at SXSW last week, the public won’t be able to see them for at least another six months. You can argue this essentially squashes that high awareness apex and momentum in its tracks. Why wouldn’t a filmmaker slap their film online after a great festival premiere? Because as the archaic model stands, it means no more exhibition or traditional print publicity opportunities – no more festivals, theatrical distribution, forget about that pipeline dream of Oscar qualifying run. I certainly don’t have the background or numbers to make the grand argument of which scenario would bring the filmmaker more money in the end – but I would venture to say that monetizing immediate online access of your film post- a high profile festival like SXSW is certainly a viable way to sustain your filmmaking. Vision = brand.
The stimulation overload at South By is perhaps akin to stumbling wasted into the Circus Circus casino in Vegas, but instead of sucking your mojo dry, here it seeps and fuses into your brain igniting new tech and film (and life) ideas. I certainly came away with lots of new opportunities and ideas I’m excited to put into action. This kind of festival is well worth the full 10 days-if you can handle it. I did 8 days and had to take one of them off. I had hoped to do more Interactive stuff but I have to admit Interactive intimidates me. I step onto the trade show floor and half expect to walk into a Teleporting Beta simulation gone wrong. But as evidence I tried, my very first happy hour I went to after getting my badge was Startup Village at the Hilton. There I ran into Todd Berger who was giddy at having his SXSW virginity popped. He co-stars in the Narrative Spotlight SXSW selection Good Night with Alex Karpovsky and Jonny Mars, directed by Sean H. A. Gallagher. Berger is also representing 99 Tigers, a creative commercial outfit. But most importantly, he is peddling his delightful relationship comedy/ Apocalypse Sunday brunch film, It’s a Disaster, currently available on iTunes. Starring America Ferrara, David Cross, Julia Stiles, it’s to die for. Recommend.
MOTION PICTURE RECAP – SXSW IS THE NEW HOT DOCS
(Click on hyperlinked films for my thoughts/reviews). It was a pretty damn good program so it is hard to single out a top five. Out of the 20 new movies I saw at the Festival, the ones that stood out the most for me were rockabilly music label documentary, Los Wild Ones directed by Elise Solomon, We Always Lie to Strangers, Loves Her Gun, the Harry Dean Stanton documentary, Partly Fiction and Short Term 12 set in a mental juvy home about troubled adolescents and the troubled adults that care for them. Destin Daniel Cretton’s second feature ended up winning both Jury and Audience Awards. I’m not including anything from Sundance or the handful of films I saw in consideration for Sundance which premiered at SXSW. And I’m not done covering SXSW either. Thanks to Festival Scope, I’ll get a chance to see more of the films I missed. For 70 euros/year (I think thats about 100 bucks) you can sign up – if you are some kind of film professional – and watch a selection of movies from most of the big international film festivals. It’s an invaluable resource for film programmers.
I had not previously thought of SXSW as a strong doc kind of space, outside the typical music docs of course which are plentiful. However I found myself being pulled into more documentary screenings and looking at my list, I loved more of the docs than fiction features. For instance, PJ Raval’s sensitive doc, Before you Know It, which follows three main elderly gay characters who you can’t help become utterly endeared to, moved me to tears and joy in witnessing their unconquerable spirit. The Act of Killing, a film about Indonesian paramilitary killers reenacting their crimes as Hollywood films which I’ve wanted to see since its Toronto International Film Festival debut. It was as disturbing as the hype that precedes it. Los Wild Ones, We Always Lie to Strangers and Partly Fiction I already mentioned – all speak to how the Festival has applied their edgy, offbeat artist sensibility to the makeup of the doc program. I couldn’t help notice however that two fantastic upcoming docs did NOT make their world premieres here. They are the highly anticipated performance protest punk band profile of Devo, Are We Not Men, and the cinephile’s wet dream of the almost glorious consummation of the heralded 1965 sci-fi novel, Dune and cult auteur Chilean director, Alejandro Jodorowsky (Santa Sangre is my all time favorite movie EVER). Take a look at the trailer and background on Jodorowsky’s Dune here on Geeks of Doom. I gave this heads up tip to Martijn te Pas, the IDFA programmer I met in the panelist green room. IDFA, the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam is THE most colossal and important festival for documentaries. This kind of info is currency and credibility in my network. Another sign that SXSW’s doc star is rising was the fact that my lovely friend and longtime programmer at Morelia Film Festival, Mara Fortes was there scouting docs for Ambulante, the traveling documentary film festival in Mexico founded by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal (Mara’s twin sister Elena Fortes is the Executive Director). We went to a few screenings together and she gave me the latest Ambulante Program catalog – the first one in which I’m officially credited as Programming Correspondent (yay!). A couple films I am sad to have missed because I heard great things from trusted sources were Baltimore biking gang doc, 12 0’Clock Boys, and The Punk Singer – about Bikini Kill and Le Tigre’s Kathleen Hanna. For much more insightful and broader coverage of the festival’s documentaries go to my dear colleague Basil Tsiokos’s website, What not to Doc.
PANELS AND CONVOS
One of my panel highlights was actually a panel I was asked to participate in. Joe Beyer, Director, Digital Initiatives at Sundance asked me to join him in speaking to the class of Carnegie Mellon’s Master of Entertainment Industry Management, a very intrepid two year intensive class and field program geared towards aspiring producers and engineers in the film industry. Part of their curriculum includes ‘field trips’ to Sundance, SXSW and even Cannes. It was so exhilerating to see such ambitious and smart young men and women. I was particularly pleased to see a balanced group of women and men of color in the room (what the hell happens later in the workforce!!?). I encouraged folks to carve themselves out a specialty, giving as an example my own work as Latino film expert. Both Joe and I evoked our old boss Geoff Gilmore’s philosophy of articulating the POSITIVE merits of a film. Anyone can talk shit about a movie’s logline, characters and production value. Maybe they think its cooler to do so. It’s definitely a unique trait I’ve learned at Sundance; to always identify and celebrate the positive aspects of a filmmaker’s vision. Everywhere else seems to start with the negative first.
I went to Studio + Independent Producing panel in which Lisa Muskat, Adele Romanski and Scott Mosier exchanged horrible and hilarious situations faced while working with and outside the studio system. 50% of being a producer is about the relationships, Adele said. Mosier, who has produced most if not all of Kevin Smith’s movies pointed out that with studios, you are well aware you have a product, it is coming out, there is a release date, print and advertising but all of that comes at a creative price which influences your creative work. He remembered being shocked that a studio executive told him it’s not just about making movies with your friends (um, yes it is). They all chimed in about the ridiculousness of test screenings which seem as if they are purposely there to get slammed. On the other hand, Adele argued she’s felt that when screening in front of friends her concern is that they might hold back on criticism. I also went to Not So Short Story: panel with Calvin Lee Reeder (Rambler), Hannah Fidell (A Teacher) and initially I did not recognize the guy whose last name was Henry but when he talked about his film as “the gay bathroom gang rape comedy”, I immediately knew that must be Kyle Henry director of the short film trilogy Fourplay. All three had great nuggets of wisdom when it comes to expanding your short into a feature and about playing the Festival circuit.
For my own mentor sessions on Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting with Christina B who with a group of her peers founded and writes for this awesome How to Break into the Film business blog called Indies Unchained. She’s volunteered at Sundance and now SXSW and is getting out there as a filmmaker and working towards a career as film festival programmer. I also met a passionate documentary directing duo, Ahbra Perry and Taylor Higgins who have been working on their film Power of Pearl for the last three years. They had thoughtful questions, I was definitely intrigued by the macro and micro exploration of the world’s only living gem. I felt they were on the right track by taking the time out to watch other docs and taking advantage of the networking and mentor sessions the festival offers. Unfortunately not every meeting or networking introduction sparks a great connect. As a matter of fact, I do have an idea for a panel (or bumper) next year. It’d be geared towards the ‘professionals, filmmakers and panelists who will inevitably get cornered by a bright (crazy) eyed enthusiastic newbie ____ who wants to know if you would ___their ____ or if it has a shot of ___. Oh, by the way, the ___ in question has absolutely no rhyme or reason, and next to no potential. How do you not come off like a jerk? Start with the positive kids. We like weird. But it’s gotta be calibrated effectively.