2016 SXSW Film Venue Guide
Where to go, how to get there, and what that line’s going to be like
11:25AM, Mon. Mar. 7, 2016
Knowledge is power, and the only way to survive the circus of SXSW is with some serious know-how. We’ve got the Austin insider’s guide to film venues, the queue system, and tips to get you from here to there to your best fest ever.
Alamo South Lamar (1120 South Lamar Blvd.)
It’s not the original Alamo Drafthouse (that honor goes to the now-lost site on Colorado) but it’s known as the mothership for a reason. World famous as the home of Fantastic Fest, its nine screens hold a total of 975 guests, with the traditional Drafthouse in-screen food and beverage service. Fresh from a 2014 overhaul that saw the complex around it shift from a rundown strip mall to upscale condos and restaurants, all screens are fitted with Sony 4K projectors, and there's still a 35mm set up available. There’s also the full service Highball Bar next door, featuring seven bizarrely (awesomely) themed karaoke rooms, and a Shake Shack a short walk away.
Alamo Lamar A: 191 seats
Alamo Lamar B: 126 seats
Alamo Lamar C: 126 seats
Alamo Lamar D: 191 seats
Alamo Ritz (320 E. Sixth)
Built in Downtown Austin in 1929, the Ritz Theatre has flirted with many identities over the years: music venue, pool hall, adult theatre, punk rock club. But in 2007, the Alamo Drafthouse renovated the space and returned the Ritz to its former glory and original purpose: a movie theatre. With two screens, the Alamo Ritz plays first-run films, as well as original programming and unique events that have made the Alamo Drafthouse so popular. The Ritz is also one of the few theatres in town with 70mm projection. The theatre has a full bar and a robust menu, making it a convenient option for dinner and a movie.
Alamo Ritz 1: 172 seats
Alamo Ritz 2: 69 seats
Paramount Theatre (713 Congress Ave.)
The grande dame of Austin theatres celebrated her centennial in 2015 with the replacement and illumination of a re-creation of the original light blade, a fitting beacon for this opulent but unpretentious soul of Austin arts. Somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 artists have performed here, including Harry Houdini spitting needles in 1916, and the stage now hosts some 250 performances annually. The palatial décor encases a surprisingly intimate 1,300-seat venue where top hats long ago gave way to jeans as appropriate attire. Fancy film premieres, musical concerts that include annual traditions like the Kelly Willis/Bruce Robison Christmas concert, comics, literary giants, theatre for youth, and the beloved summer classic film series comprise the programming that sooner or later welcomes all of Austin into this gilded and groovy treasure.
Rollins Theatre at the Long Center (701 W. Riverside Dr.)
The Long Center intended this small, black box-style theatre to be a flexible venue for diverse types of performances, and in that it’s succeeded. From just its resident companies, patrons can enjoy classic drama (Austin Shakespeare), contemporary tap dance (Tapestry Dance), theatre for young audiences (Pollyanna Theatre Company), and musicals old and new performed by high school and college students (Summer Stock Austin); during SXSW it transforms into a bustling film venue. Plan for a few extra minutes to enjoy the breathtaking view of Downtown Austin from the Long Center’s patio – and a few more minutes if you need a quick cat nap on its lovely, grassy grounds. A bit of a hike from the Austin Convention Center, badge holders will want to take advantage of the SXSW Film Shuttle.
Long Center Terrace (701 W. Riverside Dr.)
A new addition to the SXSW Film slate this year, three nights of free outdoor screenings (March 12-14) will take place on the verdant grounds of the Long Center for Performing Arts. On-site food trucks and a bar mean you don’t even have to pack a picnic basket. Open to the public, but you’ll need a SXSW guest pass.
Stateside Theatre (719 Congress Ave.)
The vertical marquee with its candy-colored neon recall the earlier life of this Congress Avenue facility as a showplace for movies. These days, this impressively renovated little sister to the next-door Paramount Theatre is largely used as a home for live performance, but during SXSW it gets to tap back into its first love – introducing audiences to great cinema.
Topfer Theatre at Zach (202 South Lamar)
With the debut of this 430-seat, state-of-the-art venue in 2012, Zach Theatre opened a mainstage worthy of its status as a professional theatre with a national reputation. The 21-foot proscenium, 70-foot fly tower, and roomy wings give this company named for Austin native son Zachary Scott space to stage shows as large and complex as those in Broadway houses and regional theatres. Major musicals are Zach's bread and butter (Mary Poppins, Sophisticated Ladies, Ragtime), though it also stages notable plays such as the Tony-winning LBJ drama All the Way and has hosted a taping of The Daily Show, cabaret performances by Sandra Bernhard and Molly Ringwald, and film world premieres for SXSW and the Austin Film Festival. This playhouse backs up to South Lamar and shares a campus on Lady Bird Lake's southern shore with Zach's 230-seat Kleberg Stage and 130-seat Whisenhunt Stage.
Vimeo Theater (500 Cesar Chavez)
This Austin Convention Center-situated venue moves to a different room this year – Ballroom A, accessible via the Cesar Chavez & Red River entrance – but it remains a convenient option for conference attendees who don’t want to travel far to see a festival film. (Film Keynote sessions will also take place here.) The second largest film venue, Vimeo also has a bar and snacks for purchase.
Satellite Venue: Alamo Slaughter (5701 W. Slaughter Lane)
This eight-screen movie theatre – with one screen equipped for 35mm reel-to-reel – is about a 15-minute drive from Downtown Austin and a good option for locals who want to experience festival films away from the throng. A full menu of meals, snacks, and boozy beverages is brought to your table before and during films by roving waitstaff. All Alamo theatres strictly enforce a ban on talking, texting, and late arrivals – but at least with the large surface lot, you’ll have never have to circle for parking again.
Satellite Venue: Marchesa (6226 Middle Fiskville Rd.)
This is the home for the Austin Film Society’s year-round programming and about a 15-minute drive from the Convention Center or a short walk from the Highland MetroRail station. Added value: The lobby is decorated with classic movie posters on loan from AFS founder Richard Linklater’s personal collection. Snacks available for purchase.
Lines: The Rundown
The lines can be quite daunting, so go in informed. Nab a SXXpress pass if you can (more on that in a sec), arrive early, know the capacity of the theatre to gauge your chances of getting in, and check the Venue Status Boards – in the SXSW GO app, online, or monitors at select venues – to know how close to full a screening is according to the VSB’s traffic-light inspired system.
SXXpress passes are a great way to get a better spot in the queue. All Film, Gold, and Platinum badgeholders can request up to two SXXpress passes a day to that day’s screenings. While they don’t guarantee entry, they do bump you up to the front of the badge holder line. SXXpress (like express, right?) passes can be picked up March 11-19 from 9am-4pm, in Exhibit Hall 5 in the Austin Convention Center near the Hilton entrance. SXSW allocates approximately 20% of each venue’s capacity to these passes, so if you’re desperate to see a movie, hustle over (and early!) to get a pass.
When you show up on site, there’s a hierarchy of who gets in first. Here’s how SXSW describes it:
1) Filmmakers and Their Guests
Filmmakers are given tickets that allow them priority entry. These tickets are good for up to 30 minutes before showtime.
2) SXSW Badges with SXXpress Passes
Next, Film, Gold, and Platinum badgeholders with SXXpress passes will enter the theater.
3) SXSW Badges
The remaining badgeholders will enter the theater.
4) SXSW Film Wristbands
If seats still remain, Film Wristbands will enter the theater.
5) Single Admission Tickets
If seats still remain, single admission tickets will be sold for $12 starting 15 minutes before showtime. We sell tickets most often at our larger venues: The Paramount Theatre, Vimeo Theater at the Austin Convention Center and the Topfer Theatre at ZACH.
Free to all SXSW badges and Wristband holders, the SXSW Festival Shuttle runs between the Austin Convention Center and most SXSW Film Venues. Shuttles leave the Austin Convention Center approximately every 7-10 minutes during conference hours, but run late into the night at a reduced frequency. Find operating hours here. You can track their progress on the SXSW GO app.
Looking for alternate means to get around? Wearing out the tread in your new festival sneaks is always the best option, but our SXSW Transportation Guide has some other ideas to get you from point A to point B, C, and D.
Want to know more about the movies themselves? Check out our SXSW Week One Preview in print and online on Thursday, March 10; find our SXSW Daily Editions online at austinchronicle.com/sxsw for previews of the day’s events, plus reviews + recaps + photo galleries from the day before; follow us on Twitter at @AustinChronicle and @ChronSXSW, Facebook, and Instagram; and while you’re at it, why not sign up for our newsletters to track the latest news on SXSW and Austin at large? Happy fest-ing, y’all!