SXSW Film Pro Tips

What to see, where to be, and how to relax

Let’s start with some math: SXSW throws more than 150 feature films at you over 10 days’ time. You’re never gonna get to them all. Now take a breath and start strategizing.

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We’ve eyeballed a lot of SXSW films leading up to the festival kickoff, and we’ll be singling out some of our favorites in our special SXSW supplement on stands March 12. Once the festival starts, we’ll be posting daily reviews and Film conference panel recaps, plus loads of red carpet pictures of famous people looking pretty. You can find our daily coverage on our Screens blog, or just follow @ACScreens and @ChronSXSW for a no-muss, no-fuss shortcut to our latest posts.

Now ignore everything we tell you and do your own thing. First step: Know what kind of festivalgoer you are. Do you want to be the first person to see the movie that’s opening in theatres in six months so you can nyah-nyah your friends for being so behind the times? Stick with the Headliners. Are you a betting man? Steep yourself in the Competition films; maybe you’ll guess which ones will win the big prizes. Looking for next-gen talent? The eclectic Visions selections should be your go-to. If music’s your jam, there’s 24 Beats Per Second. Want to look back on the fest and remember that once-in-a-lifetime moment that can never be recreated? Special Events. And please, please give some love to the shorts programs – not just because the short film is an essential yet underloved art form, but also because this year’s shorts filmmakers are liable to be next year’s feature filmmakers to watch, and then you can be all, I knew them when. Never underestimate the pleasure in being a blowhard.

Know Where You’re Going and What to Expect

There are 10 film venues this year, and each venue has its own charms and its eccentricities. It’s helpful to understand both as you’re planning your schedule.

Paramount Theatre (713 Congress)
The Paramount is a century-old theatre right smack in Downtown Austin, and you really can't beat the feeling of old-school moviehouse glam you'll get at this place. Most of the Headliner screenings happen here, and if you’re just in it to star-gawk, your best bet is to lurk around its Congress Avenue environs and the round-the-corner balcony bar at the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin. (But be a friendly lurker. This is Austin; we don’t get stupid about celebrities.) This is a big theatre, so if you’re not in possession of a badge, you still have a good shot getting in with a single-admission ticket. Don’t be daunted by a round-the-block queue – a lot of bodies can fit in this building. Also, bring a sweater: The Paramount is notoriously chilly. Capacity = 1,100. Best bet for single-ticket buyers.

Stateside at The Paramount (719 Congress)
The Paramount’s smaller sib. It doesn’t have the same old-world charm, but it’s been recently renovated and the seats are very plush. Capacity = 298.

Vimeo Theater @ ACC (Second & Trinity)
Conveniently located at SXSW ground zero, the Austin Convention Center, this is the second largest Film venue and the perfect place to bounce between panels and screenings. Capacity = 645.

Rollins @ The Long Center (701 W. Riverside)
The Long Center grounds provide a gorgeous view of Downtown Austin and some nice stretches of grass for a quick lie-down. (Note: We did not say “pass out.”) Capacity = 210.

Topfer Theatre at Zach (1510 Toomey)
One of our city’s great performance art venues moonlights as a film venue throughout the fest. It’s a short hike from Downtown, so do yourself a favor and hop on the shuttle (free for badge holders). Capacity = 420.

Violet Crown Cinema (434 W. Second)
Downtown’s arthouse jewel. They're linking all four screens here to quadruple capacity. The in-house kitchen and bar is an added bonus. Capacity = 183.

Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz (320 E. Sixth)
Small, but classic, and it couldn't be more centrally located. As in years past, SXSW is linking the Alamo’s two screens, which means one film will be simultaneously projected in both theatres. That also means one theatre will enjoy the post-film Q&A in-person, while the other theatre experiences it via live feed. Ergo: Get there extra early if you want to breathe the same air as the cast & crew. Full menu available for in-theatre dining. Capacity = 241.

Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar (1120 S Lamar Blvd.)
After a long renovation, the Alamo South Lamar is back and better than ever. The theatres are dine-in; the lobby, modeled after The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, offers a one of a kind photo op (you can sit in a trike!); and attached is The Highball bar, which boasts themed rooms for karaoke. (Check out our photo gallery of the remodel.) Capacity = 198 (Screen A), 198 (Screen B), 126 (Screen C).

Alamo South Lamar lobby (Photo by John Anderson)

SXsatellite: Alamo Slaughter Lane (5701 W. Slaughter Lane)
SXsatellite venues are intended for locals who don't want to go anywhere near the throngs Downtown, but all are welcome. Slaughter Lane is about a 15-minute drive from the Convention Center. Attached is 400 Rabbits, a swanky, Alamo-owned cocktail lounge with bar snacks. Capacity = 130.

SXsatellite: Marchesa Theatre (6406 N I-35 #3100)
This is the home for the Austin Film Society’s year-round programming and the host for SXSW Film’s free community screenings, like the Austin Film Society ShortCase and Austin School of Film showcases. Added value: The lobby is decorated with classic movie posters on loan from AFS founder Richard Linklater’s personal collection. About a 15-minute drive from the Convention Center and a short walk from the Highland MetroRail station. Capacity = 278.

Demystifying the Lines

Platinum, Gold, and Film badges get you priority entry to all screenings, followed by SXSW Film wristbands, then general admission. Wristbands can be purchased in advance at Waterloo Records, the Marchesa Theatre, Alamo at the Ritz, Alamo Slaughter Lane, Alamo South Lamar, and the Violet Crown.

Additionally, SXXpress (South by Express) Passes allow Platinum, Gold, and Film badgeholders the ability to pick up two passes per day that bump you to the front of the line. A limited number of passes are available the day of the screening only and must be used in combination with a badge.

The SXXpress pass doesn’t guarantee you a seat, though, so you should still plan on arriving to the theatre no later than 30 minutes before showtime. SXXpress passes are available day of screening on the upper level of the Austin Convention Center, next to panel room 15.

Single tickets are available for purchase ($10 each, cash-only, on sale 10 minutes before showtime), but are hard-to-impossible to acquire at the smaller theatres; your best bets are the Paramount, Vimeo, Topfer, and less-trafficked satellite venues.

To reduce the pants-wetting potential of long lines, numbered “queue cards” will be handed out at smaller venues to badge holders; it’s essentially a way to run to the bathroom and still reclaim your spot in line. Once queue cards are all distributed, “buffer cards” will be handed out; they don’t guarantee entry, but they do ensure any unclaimed tickets go to you first.

Want to know the state of the line before you trek over to a theatre? Download the SXSW Go app and check venue status boards on your phone here.

Need to run through that again? No problem.

2015 SXSW Film Access Video from SXSW on Vimeo.

Making the Most of Your Badge

In addition to all the SXSW Film festival and conference has to offer, your Film badge gains you admittance to SXComedy and SXSports programming. There are also free events like the Auditorium Shores concerts and SXSW Gaming Expo at the Palmer Events Center (900 Barton Springs Rd.), which runs Friday-Sunday (3/13-3/15), noon-8pm. Do note: Free events require wristbands, which you can get on-site or at select venues ahead of time. Find out more here.

SXSW Gaming Expo 2014 (Photo by Devaki Knowles)

Getting Around

Most of the SXSW Film venues are concentrated in the Downtown area, so you can probably just hoof it. Not a walker? The SXSW Film Festival Shuttle is free for all Platinum, Gold, and Film badge holders and runs throughout the Fest.

Other options include: pedicabs, taxi cabs, Capital Metro buses and light rail, Austin B-cycle (bikeshare), Car2Go, and various ride-share options. Find out more in our SXSW transpo guide.

What you don’t want to do is try to drive (or, even worse, attempt to park) anywhere. It’s a nightmare. Trust us.

Getting Fed

We can’t imagine you’ll have trouble finding somewhere to feed your face during SXSW – throw a rock and somebody’s bound to lob a breakfast taco back at you – but maybe you’re looking for expert advice? Consult our SXSW Film restaurant guide for options close to SXSW Film central and check in to Foursquare for easy links to Chronicle restaurant reviews. If you want to check out the best food the whole city has to offer, you can’t go wrong with our First Plates Food Awards, our annual list of the 100 restaurants that best define Austin food culture right now, searchable by neighborhood, type of cuisine, and price.

Getting Mellow

SXSW is exhausting. Be sure to carve out time to take a break from the fest and just enjoy being in Austin. Our Visitors Guide has quick links to what our city has to offer, including day trips and iconic photo ops. Better yet, why not tour Austin as seen on film and TV?

It’s been almost 15 years since we mapped out the hot spots from Slacker, the film that put Austin on the map, and we’re sorry to report a lot of these places have since undergone major renovations or flat out went out of business. But it’s still fun (painful?) to remember Austin before all the construction cranes moved in.

Since then, Richard Linklater has continued to keep Austin landmarks in regular employment, starting with Slacker followup Dazed and Confused. Make like Wooderson and hit the drive-thru window at Top Notch Burgers (7525 Burnet Rd.) and keep your eye on the sky for our beloved Moon Towers, which the New York Times checked in on last year. Or maybe you’ve heard about a little something called Boyhood? Linklater and co. shot around in Austin for 12 years, and that included a couple trips common to locals – catching a show at South Congress’ Continental Club (1315 S. Congress Ave.) and a late-night queso gorge down the street at Magnolia Cafe (1920 S. Congress Ave.).

Same environs: The sidewalk-seating area at Güero’s (1412 S. Congress) doubled for the bar in Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse half, “Death Proof," while the interiors were shot at the historic Texas Chili Parlor (1409 Lavaca).

Not too far from the South Congress strip, you can take a scenic stroll along (just not on) the grounds of the Texas School for the Deaf (1102 S Congress Ave.); that’s where Robert Rodriguez – another Austin-proud filmmaker – shot much of The Faculty. Rodriguez has brought a ton of film action to Austin, including, most recently, the From Dusk Till Dawn TV series on the El Rey Network. The now-defunct Stallion Grill became the show's Big Kahuna Burger, which has now found new life as Sala & Betty ( 5201 Airport Blvd.).

The old Alligator Grill on South Lamar, where Mike Judge set Office Space‘s chain restaurant from hell Chotchkie’s, closed in 2011, but Baker St. Pub & Grill (3003 S. Lamar Blvd.) has since taken over the building – you might still be able to smell some flair in the air. As for the nightmare traffic depicted in the film, well, you can re-create that yourself in under a minute on I-35.

Wanna get meta? Some local movie theatres – conveniently, all SXSW venues – got their closeup, too: in Waking Life (the Paramount), Open Windows (Alamo South Lamar), and Whip It! and Love & Air Sex (Alamo Ritz).

Wanna get out of the city and pay homage to the original chiller, Texas Chain Saw Massacre? The Chainsaw house and Last Chance Gas Station are both worthy road trips. (Read our October 2014 TX Chainsaw at 40 piece.)

FNL's Landry at the Landing Strip (courtesy

We loved having the Friday Night Lights gang here for its (too short! Texas Forever!) duration. Some notable landmarks – beloved dance hall Broken Spoke (3201 S. Lamar Blvd.), mega church PromiseLand (1504 E. 51st St.), a Dairy Queen (5900 Manor Rd.), playing the Alamo Freeze, and the Landing Strip (745 US-183), which you probably passed on your way in from the airport. And if you’re going to be around later in the week, consider buying a ticket to the Austin Chronicle’s annual Austin Music Awards on March 18, where you can see the terrific singer/songwriter Shakey Graves perform; once upon a time, he played Julie’s lifeguard crush, the Swede.

Got questions? Maybe we’ve got answers! Email

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