Longtime SXSW Film & TV Festival Head, Indie Film Icon Janet Pierson Transitions to New Role

Pierson's deputy, Claudette Godfrey, assumes leadership

Daniels, Claudette Godfrey, Janet Pierson (far right) and a coveted hot dog hand at the opening night world premiere of Everything Everywhere All at Once (Courtesy of SXSW)

Mid-summer, SXSW Film Festival became SXSW Film & TV Festival, a mostly ceremonial name change cementing its already well-established expanded mission. Today, SXSW Film & TV Festival announced a far more consequential changeover.

After 15 years at the helm, VP, Director of the SXSW Film & TV Festival Janet Pierson is transitioning into a “Director Emeritus” role, with protégé Claudette Godfrey assuming leadership of the film and television festival.

And what a festival. What a career. Prior to taking over the top job at SXSW Film in 2008, Pierson’s place in the pantheon of independent cinema – as an exhibitor, producer’s rep, creative force on IFC-Criterion’s seminal Split Screen (hosted by husband John Pierson), and Austin Film Society board member, among other roles – was already well-established. For her second act (third? fourth? eighth?), Pierson launched a decade and a half run as head of SXSW Film Festival, transforming the event into a launch pad for young talent (Lena Dunham, Joe Cornish, Cooper Raiff, Halina Reijn) and major motion pictures (Bridesmaids, Ready Player One, Ex Machina, Neighbors), and an essential fest destination for film and TV fans.

Pierson accomplished much of that with Godfrey at her side; the native Austinite and longtime programmer started at the organization in 2008 and is credited with championing emerging artists like Daniels (aka Everything Everywhere All At Once’s filmmaking duo, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Sceinert), Janicza Bravo (Lemon, Zola), and Trey Edward Shults (Krisha).

In a Wednesday statement released to press, Pierson reflected on her time running SXSW: “Leading SXSW Film (now SXSW Film & TV) starting in 2008 at the age of 50 was a wonderful, and quite unexpected, adventure. It’s been glorious to present so much great work at our unique event, yielding so many transformative experiences for creators and audience alike.”

She continued, “I’m intensely proud of the work our small and very mighty team has accomplished. Now, 15 years and 14 events later, it feels right to hand the reins to the new Director, Film & TV, Claudette Godfrey. Claudette and I began working together in 2008 and she has been a significant collaborator and leader every step of the way. I’m excited to remain on the programming team to continue to support and elevate creators in this new capacity as Director Emeritus. It’s been a true privilege and I’m filled with gratitude.”

Incoming director Godfrey had similarly heartfelt words for her longtime boss: “Janet is an incredible leader and mentor, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to watch and learn from her example. Our bold community of filmmakers, our enthusiastic audiences, and our gifted team that makes it all happen perpetually inspire me,” said Godfrey. “I’m a hype woman at heart, and it’s a great joy in my life to discover and elevate new talent by curating and evolving an event that celebrates film, TV, and creativity. I started from the bottom and the journey has been exceptional – it’s an immense honor to continue to build on the legacy of SXSW Film & TV and take it into the future.”

SXSW 2023 takes place in Austin March 10–19. Follow the Chronicle’s ongoing coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.

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