SXSW 2013 – Raves, Reviews and Rants (Recap Pt. 1)

Screen Shot 2013-03-16 at 11.03.01 AM

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.


Loves Her Gun Q&A
Director, Geoff Marslett and his actors Trieste Kelly Dunn and Francisco Barreiro

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?

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 12.56.37 PMOf 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.

Milo by Jacob Vaughan starring Ken Marino who is plagued by a demon in his colon was the best movie to close out my festival Thurs night. So outrageous, hilarious and quite heartwarming.


(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.

Dennis Creamer, Ty Martin and Robert the “Mouth” pic the three souls of Before You Know It – pic courtesy of FB page

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.

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.

Studio vs Indie Producers Panel with Lisa Muskat (Prince Avalanche, All the Real Girls George Washington), and Adele (pronounced A-dey-la) Romanski (Milo, Black Rock, Freebie)

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.

Pt. 2, parties, shenanigans and deep thoughts

La Bamba Rebelde by Las Cafeteras

I’m going to miss them at Los Globos next Wednesday but I will for sure be checking out their show at SXSW. If you are around in LA, get your $5 tickets here.
Love the refashioned La Bamba lyrics.

The Sweet Success of SXSW

It seems like only yesterday I stepped off the train after a grueling 29 hour Amtrak from LA and arrived in Austin for my very first SXSW.  In reality it’s been over a week ago and I feel like Geoff Marslett in that How Not Be Lame @ SXSW bumper trailer, where he transforms over the course of the Festival from entitled hollywood suit outsider pretentious douche into an entitled keep-it-wierd converted local douche.  My attempt of recapping the ruckus that has led up to my current dazed and confused state has proven a bit tricky.  Luckily the remnants of fliers, postcards, and business cards in my swagbag, plus scrolling through the week’s sloppy texts,  tweets and photos have helped jog my muggy memory of what was an Epic first South By.

mi pelicula favorita!

The Films – Hard and edgy on the outside, sweet and tender on the inside.

All in, I averaged about 3 films a day.  I feel bad for not having seen more, but the nonstop lounges, panels, parties and street grub posed serious detours on my way to see films. The first movie I saw here was the divisive satire comedy, Los Chidos, by Omar Rodriguez Lopez.  Having seen a rough cut before, I knew exactly what Janet Pierson, Festival Director who introduced the film, meant when she said with a smirk  “ I can’t wait to get your reactions to this”.   Los Chidos is by far one of my favorite films so far in 2012.  I’m thrilled that SXSW had the balls to put it in competition. The progressive music prodigy and son of a psychiatrist, Rodriguez Lopez has a fierce voice and much to say.  At the Q&A he was asked why he chose to portray Mexicans like the mysogynist, homophobic sloths.  I wish everyone who saw the film had the opportunity to hear his A because he really provides rich context to the swirling grotesque images that shock your senses, all of which are well thought out subversive analogies about the male psyche.

I also loved Bob Byington’s third feature, Somebody Up There Likes Me in the Narrative Spotlight section.  Anyone who knows Bob knows he’s an odd egg and a cynical yet charming singularity infuses his romantic comedies.   The film inhabits this non sequitur, pseudo reality yet for all the quirky fancy, the actual moments and feelings of bitterness, regret, heart, and self-deprecating humor couldn’t be more genuine and relatable.  I like filmmakers who defy film conventions for story effect.  Much like Omar plays with Los Chidos with the obvious dubbing dialogue effect as a throwback tribute to shlocky Mexican 70s movies, here Bob forgoes the phoniness of putting on makeup to show his characters age throughout the thirty years span of the movie.  Everyone pretty much looks the same at the end.   Because really who likes to see themselves age.

The multi-hypenate w/d/p beauty Adele Romansky

Leave me Like You Found Me, Ms. Adele Romanski’s directing debut really affected me and is also one of my faves. A perceptive, earnestly written and well acted film about when to call a relationship quits and how the nostalgia of a lost love washes over the ugliness of how it actually went down.  David Nordstrom (Sawdust City) and Megan Boone give some awesome naturalistic performances.  (How many times have you asked or been asked in a relationship, Why do you love me?).  I thanked Adele for making the film, and she said many others have, because its one of those films where one gets to entertain the illusion of trying to get back together with the ex and what that might look like.  Also worth mentioning and not just for diversity sake is Wolf, a first feature by Ya’Ke Smith.  An all black cast film about a teen who protects the preacher with whom he had an illicit relationship.  It’s a nuanced storyline that was just shy of gripping because the script and acting were a tad uneven.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Crazy Eyes by Adam Sherman which Strand picked up for a summer release.  I tend to be culturally sensitive to the myriad of American films about rich white people’s problems (who cares) but once in a while the filmmaker successfully makes its rich white character relative and poignant, and I would be guilty of dismissing it just because (The Comedy for instance, which I also found tragic brilliant and premiered at Sundance and also played here).   That girl from Californication, Madeline Zima and Lukas Haas who plays a Hollywood millionaire have a year long drunken relationship where she refuses to have sex with him.  They smoke, do drugs, drink and fight like decadent zealots.   She accuses him of not having real problems, when ultimately we find run he is way more dysfunctional than she. Thanks to the Tugg Buzz screenings, where the festival adds a screening of films with the most buzz, I caught King Kelly by Andrew Neel about a self-centered internet sex star brat who does not live a second of her life not filming her navel and drama on her iPhone.  Titillating social commentary about our fucked up millenial generation.

The Panels – All you can panel buffet

Nearly as giant as DFW airport, the Austin Convention center and hub of SXSW Film/Interactive/Music

The number of panels, speakers, and sessions is overwhelming and diverse.  And most of them come with cute brand title names.  No doubt its due to their panel picker process in which you can vote on what panels you want to see.  Yours truly participated in a Mentor session about reaching international audiences.  It’s a speed dating style format where registrants sign up and get 15 minutes with you.   I took it a bit personal and was disappointed that there was not a line of people waiting to see me (ego anyone?)but I heard from other much more established industry players that overall this was the case perhaps because of the competing multitude of events.   In a crazy twist of events and much to my surprise one of the four registrants that met me was a cousin I never met!   She had recognized my name and surprised the heck out of me when she said “Hi, I’m Myrna.  I’m your cousin”.  We had an impromptu reunion and started to piece together our estranged family – most of whom I found out are in Texas or Oklahoma.  I caught a little bit of the Have Latin American Media become Social, where the main takeaway is that there is not much overall internet penetration in Mexico and even less in Central America.  The big broadcasters like Azteca and Univision are dominating with interactive sports and telenovelas forums. But that said, there’s lots of room growth.  I sat through “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love VOD, moderated by Orly Ravid and included, Nolan Gallagher/Gravitas,  Eamon Bowles/Magnolia, Dylan Marchetti/Variance films and Matt Harlok who shared his successful case study of his documentary, American: The Bill Hicks Story.  Read the PDF presentation here. The last few pages offer some good takeaways by the experts.  What I mostly absorbed was that every film needs a ‘specialist’ or a savvy business producer filmmaker to exploit the  wild west and not yet tested opportunities out there as its all on a very case to case basis. Second is “Know your windows”. My last panel of the fest was Indiewire’s Eric Kohn asking some very straight to the point questions to Caveh Zahedi, filmmaker of SXSW doc, The Sheik And I, which has some controversy surrounding the filmmaker’s take on Islamic Society and what constitutes as a mockumentary.  I think – as I did not see it but I wonder if its as duplicitously brilliant like a Mads Brugger film (Red Chapel, The Ambassador).  I also caught the final Indiewire panel  in which Dana Harris and Eric talked with a gruffy voiced Festival Director, Janet Pierson and Senior Programmer/Operations Manager Jared Neece about this year’s festival.  Its hard to recap an event that is still going but I applaud their programming, spirit, and most of all knowing their audiences.

The Music – where it all began and where it all goes to hell

There was a noticeable shift of crowds – larger and rowdier when the Music portion of

Biggest Music Discovery for me! Must check out Filastine

SXSW began on Tuesday.  Suddenly it was green badges galore.  6th street blew up with armies of transient musicians, marketing hulu hoop ploys, and impromptu drum circles. I happened across one of the Music pocket guides which lists each venue and the 2000+ bands and got excited at the prospects.  Plus there had to have been at least another another hundred of performers in the unofficial and so called “anti-sxsw” vein.  If it was difficult to adhere to a screening schedule, it was nearly impossible to try to keep a music schedule. After Wednesday, it was very go with the flow, but I got to see a lot more movies since most film folks had left.   Wednesday night I had the pleasure of experiencing Filastine, an international world-like dubstep hard to categorize explosion of sound whose maestro is Greg Filastine an Oklahoma native now living in Barcelona who drums everything including a shopping cart.  And right next door at the Speakeasy were the fine firecracker ladies, Lila Downs and Cucu Diamantes who had a documentary, called Amor Cronico in the festival.  I also danced my ass off to electro cumbia mixer DJ Mr. Pauer.

The Parties – Messin’ with Texas

Pro-skater Kenny Anderson. Hot. and taken.

I missed the first couple days of parties since I felt the need to see the Midnight flicks but I got up to speed pretty quickly on Monday night with the Gayby/Wholphin party at Cheer Up Charlies.  A great Texas joint where I was happy to see all my LA and NY friends.  The Film Awards ceremony on Tuesday was thankfully brief and I found a seat next to my homey Trevor Anderson, short filmmaker of High Level Bridge and The Man That Got Away and Sundance pal, David Courier. I also met Louis Black the founder of this here shindig, an old G who was praising Janet Pierson’s helming.  Before the actual party at Stage opened, I grabbed a slice and hung out with the Los Chidos posse.  By Thursday, I turned into a film zombie fueled by Doritos and Tito’s vodka. I would get downtown by 1030am just in time to go to the lounge for some breakfast tacos to-go and start my day off with an 11am screening.   My new Russian friend Selena from St. Petersburg and I became fest buddies this way; we’d go see a movie then go back then to the lounge for drinks.  Repeat.  After four films on Friday I skipped the downtown melee and went over to the East side, to this rustic but mod spot called Hillside Pharmacy, then later to a rowdy place called Yellow Jacket also on the East side where there was no badge in sight.  I seriously thought I was done for by Saturday.  That is, until I heard there was a Converse Thrasher party at Scoot Inn where there’d be hot skaters. We rolled up and met up with pro-skaters and derelicts, plus got to see Kreayshawn do her Gucci Gucci, and trip-hop, The Cool Kids from my hometown Chicago perform.    I have never seen so many dirty skaters and hot girls in one place.  500 Pabst Blue Ribbons later we went to The Grackle where we heard a pretty cool all girl punk Japanese band, ZZZs and where thanks to the East Side Kings food truck had the best damn pork ribs I’ve ever had in my life.  Afterwards a pedi-cab to the car sealed my last night of brouhaha.

Like the 120,000+ SXSW participants that stormed Austin this week, I’m slowly stepping back into ho-drum reality.  Now that I got my first SXSW taste I am hooked!  Big besos and thanks to Claudette Godfrey, Fest Coordinator and Programmer who is the reason I took on this gonzo-esque journey.

Jury winners here

Audience winners here

How I feel right now here