Growing Pains: Inside the SXSW Film Awards

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 12:08 am
Tonight's SXSW Film Awards began with a speech, apparently conceived at the last minute, by SXSW co-founder and <em>Austin Chronicle</em> editor Louis Black. With negative buzz building against the festival's overcrowded screenings (lines routinely circled blocks, and at some highly-anticipated screenings in small venues, reportedly only a small number of paying customers made it in the door after press and VIPs snagged their seats), Black gave some much-needed perspective on SXSW's history, both distant and recent.

Founded as a "little regional music event" in the hopes that it might draw bands from a handful of neighboring states, Black said, "by the third year, we were international." With the music festival a success,  "after seven years we decided to start this cute little film festival." But the SXSW team again thought too small.

"We weren't paying attention, but suddenly Austin had a nationally known film community," Black said, citing big, local names like Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge as members. "In the old days, we used to all have parties together. Now, we're too busy to even <em>have</em> parties."

According to Black, when overcrowding emerged as the major issue of SXSW 2010 during its first weekend, the festival was once again unprepared for thier growth spurt, and though they couldn't immediately solve the problem of too much demand for a limited supply of seats, they took instant steps to stop the bleeding. "When we sold out the Paramount Theater on badges alone, we immediately took film badges off sale. And started to worry."

It remains to be seen whether or not SXSW Film will be able to solve their scaling problem by next year's festival. And in this distribution climate, it's by no means guaranteed that even the most in-demand films screened here will ever be seen by a mass audience. But tonight's the grand prize winners sure as hell deserve to be.

Macgruber: Late 80s Nostalgia For Boys Born in the 90s.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 12:25 pm

"It's good to be back home in Austin, Texas,' said Jorma Taccone, Saturday Night Live writer and director of Macgruber, the sketch-to-film starring Will Forte and Kristen Wiig that debuted at SXSW last night. He paused for applause. "Actually, I was born and raised in Berkeley, but you guys make it feel like a home here."

It was the final pause for reaction of the evening. Macgruber, which Taccone said screened not-entirely finished, is an 80s action film spoof played straight, so much so that at last night's packed Paramount screening a good half of the dialogue was inaudible thanks to laughs carrying over from the deadpan joke just before.

Which is not to say that Macgruber is necessarily any good, but as dumbass comedies go, it was an effective palate cleanser after a weekend of uneven indies. The film was given the late-inning, big theater festival time slot that SXSW often accords to studio comedies expected to skew nerdy. The question is: will Macgruber break out like previous SXSW premiere Knocked Up? Or will it go the way of last year's entry Observe and Report--loved by a few, hated by some, and by the vast majority completely dismissed?

James Franco's Saturday Night Live Doc: Unintentionally Fascinating

Monday, March 15, 2010 at 10:32 am


James Franco was a no show on Sunday night for the SXSW world premiere of his feature-documentary directorial debut, Saturday Night, a behind-the-scenes look at the week-long production of a December 2008 episode of Saturday Night Live. In his absence, Franco sent an introductory video, shot from a hotel room in Salt Lake City, where he's apparently shooting Danny Boyle's 127 Hours. Oddly fractured and cheerfully winky (as if to offer evidence as to how much he's suffering by not being in Austin, Franco complains of Utah, "I can't even watch porn on the internet, because it's blocked!"), Franco's video embodied the spontaneous, non-sequitur spirit that fuels so much hip, successful contemporary comedy. Ironically, the intro made the process documented within the feature seem that much more stodgy and solipsistic.

Pulp Fiction: Aaron Katz's Cold Weather

Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 11:59 am

The first unqualified hit of 2010 SXSW Film Festival premiered last night to a packed crowd (including recent Oscar snubbee Jason Reitman) at Austin's Alamo Ritz. Cold Weather, directed by two-time SXSW alum Aaron Katz (his Dance Party USA and Quiet City premiered here in 2006 and 2007, and are now available together on DVD), follows the bumbling adventures of Doug (Cris Lankenau), a former forensic science major who drops out of school in Chicago, moves in with his sister (Trieste Kelly Dunn) in Portland, gets a graveyard shift factory job and wastes away his days reading Sherlock Holmes novels and hanging out ... until his ex-girlfriend (Robyn Rikoon) shows up and touches off some shady business that requires Doug to put his vague detective skills to work.