tim mosenfelder/getty images
tim mosenfelder/getty images
South by Southwest, the little festival that could, is proving, once again, to be a thoroughly original lineup with its three-pronged approach to Film, Interactive Arts and Music. The latter, of course, constitutes the core of a festival which grew around what this musical capital of the Southwest is known for, showcasing over 1000 bands from all over the world. The Digital Interactive section has also grown by leaps and bounds and today it attracts digerati from the world over with a program of panels which positions it squarely at the center of the current digital culture, as well as the political zeitgeist, as witnessed by the keynote which this year was delivered by Bernie Sanders.
The Film section meantime, while still comparatively small, has also grown into an important showcase for independent and specialty films with a mix of world premieres as well as titles previously seen in Toronto, Berlin and Sundance and the occasional hidden gem.
mark winkelmeyer, michael loccisano/getty images
The festival kicked off with A Quiet Place, a post-apocalyptic horror starring Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe (Wonder), Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck) and John Krasinski, who also co-wrote and directed it. The first film for the husband and wife as a creative team featured a family which has survived the invasion of alien monsters who roam the Earth stalking the few remaining holdouts. The fearsome beasts are blind but possess prodigious hearing so the only way to stay alive is to make absolutely no noise - a premise that sets up any number of terrifying scenarios for the family holed up in an old farmhouse. The fact that the family includes a deaf daughter (Simmonds, also hearing impaired in real life) ironically provides them with an advantage since they already are proficient in sign language.
In Austin, HFPA journalists met Krasinski, who explained: “When I read the script, we had just had our second daughter (…), I was still in that twilight of total new parenthood terror and nervousness and truly thinking and staying up at night, wondering if I can keep my child alive and whether I can keep her safe. And so then I get this spec script at the exact moment I am feeling these things and I couldn’t have been a better audience. And what I said to the producers was, I will be in it if you let me write some things, because all these experiences that I was having in my real life, I wanted to put on paper. And the spec was great and the idea was great, but I wanted to make it even a stronger metaphor of an allegory for parenthood.”
Other titles featured this year include Sorry To Bother You, a low budget zany political comedy and lo-fi sci-fi by Oakland rapper Boots Riley about race and class which promises to up Get Out as next year’s buzz-worthy satire. Galveston features Elle Fanning and Ben Foster in the film adaptation of Nic Pizzolato’s ( creator of the Golden Globe-nominated True Detective) neo-noir crime and road movie, aptly set in a steamy East Texas locale. The Legacy of a White Tail Deer Hunter stars Danny McBride and Josh Brolin in a send-up of a hunting reality show star and his teenage son on a bonding expedition with their cameraman in tow. Other prestige indie titles (both with a Western theme) include the runaway drama Lean on Pete (it premiered in Venice) and Chloe Zhao’s affecting The Rider (seen in Cannes last year) about a Native American family of rodeo riders.
r.diamond, michael loccisano/getty images; luca celada/hfpa
As usual, SXSW is strong on documentaries and fittingly has a strong selection of ones that are music related including Elvis Presley: The Searcher, If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd and Darryll Hannah’s Paradox featuring her partner Neil Young.
All this in what is truly becoming the biggest small town in Texas (although Austin’s day’s as a sleepy town truly appear to be over) and one which is becoming more relevant to films as well as to music. That is in no small part due to local filmmakers who have stayed fiercely loyal to their hometown, such as Golden Globe winner Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, the indie child prodigy, Tarantino associate and founder of his own film studios here. Troublemaker Studios were created on the site of the old municipal airport to film Spy Kids (2001) and have blossomed into a full-service production facility. Rodriguez personally treated HFPA journalists to a tour of the sets built there for Alita Battle Angel the highly anticipated big-budget anime adaptation directed by Rodriguez and produced by James Cameron’s Lightstorm entertainment due out next Christmas. The studios and Rodriguez also hosted the SXSW opening party.