A Decade Under the Influence
Ten Years of SXSW Film
The plan always was to start a film festival. We started the Chronicle (1981) because there wasn't a paper like it, and we wanted one to read, especially film pieces, interviews, and reviews. Some friends pitched the idea of a music fest, and it sounded good, so we ended up as part of the team that produces the South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival, the first one in March 1987. We love publications, and we love music, don't get me wrong, but the idea was always film. Originally, most of our core group met as UT film students, and almost everybody we ended up doing creative stuff with early on loved film.
When SXSW Music was firmly established and the Chronicle finally solvent, we decided it was time. The First SXSW Film Conference and Festival was held March 11-19, 1994, headquarted at the Hyatt (Music had moved from there to the Convention Center).
What we didn't know in 1994 was that Austin would end up being one of the major film and filmmaking centers in the country. The most important event was Rick Linklater's decision to stay in Austin after the critical success of Slacker in 1991. There was the Austin Film Society (Rick was one of the founders), the Dobie (run by Scott Dinger), the RTF Department at UT, filmmakers like Héctor Galan, screenwriters like Bill Wittliff and Bud Shrake, and there was the Chronicle (obsessed with film). Elizabeth Avellán and Robert Rodriguez came back, Mike Judge moved down, Harry Knowles started Ain't It Cool News, Paul Stekler turned up at UT (where he revitalized the production program and cultivated a family of impressive documentary filmmakers). Matthew McConaughey became a star, and director/writer Tim McCanlies is set to become one. The Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival was already one of the country's most important, the Austin Film Festival was up next, Cinematexas and Cine Las Americas right behind. We were joining a parade and had no idea.
There were so many people who helped out SXSW Film. The locals who participated included not just those mentioned but many others. John Sayles, Kevin Smith, Maggie Renzi, Atom Egoyan, Nancy Savoca, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Jonathan Demme, Michael Moore, D.A. Pennebaker, Penelope Spheeris, Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Hopper, Gregg Araki, Rana Joy Glickman, Billy Bob Thornton, and Ron Mann were among the many visiting filmmakers. Industry folks who came down included John Pierson, John Sloss, Michael Barker, Bob Berney, Chris Gore, Tom Bernard, and Jeff Dowd, not to mention writers like Elvis Mitchell and Leah Rozen. I'm leaving out far more people than I'm including.
I won't even start on the films: There are too many, and too many good ones. The SXSW 10th anniversary is offering a handful of works previously shown. There was no way to be comprehensive. The very blood pounding through SXSW. We're very proud of the titles chosen and just as proud of the hundreds not reprised. This year another 150 are being shown, as strong a Film Festival as SXSW has ever hosted.
Ten years later, SXSW Film is better known and more respected than we would have ever expected. Still, the central idea is the same as it was in the beginning. Films driven by creative vision, whether independent or Hollywood, are what it is all about. Not films made from formulas, by committee, based on hits or processed through focus groups, but films made by people who are passionate about ideas and about filmmaking. Ten years later the technology, market, and atmosphere have changed -- digital emerging, more festivals, more cable channels, more DVD than video -- but the best films are still those driven by filmmakers. SXSW Film has always championed and never forgotten this; those are the films we're here to celebrate and to show. -- Louis Black
Swimming with Sharks (1994)"George Huang's dark comedy about studio executives featuring Frank Whaley and Kevin Spacey ... demonstrates the archetypal Hollywood cutthroat attitude, how much punishment the human psyche can take, and how literally killing the ones you love can be your ticket to the top." -- Eli Kooris (11/13/98)
Swimming With Sharks screens Monday, March 10, 9pm at the Alamo; Wednesday, March 12, 9:30pm at Millennium; and Thursday, March 13, 10pm at Millennium.
Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 (1998)"A winsome sweetness marks writer/director Tim McCanlies' debut feature Dancer, Texas Pop. 81, a sweetness made all the more dear for the film's agile sidestepping of any tendency toward cloying sentimentality or trite homilies. Dancer, Texas bursts with fresh attitude and a genuine love of its characters and location. ... Modern life in a small Texas town hasn't been depicted with this much soulful passion since The Last Picture Show." -- Marjorie Baumgarten (3/27/98)
Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 screens Saturday, March 8, 7:15pm at the Alamo; Thursday, March 13, 2:45pm, at the Alamo; and Saturday, March 15, 11:30am, at Westgate.
The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1999)"In this truly terrific documentary, Kempner shows us from every conceivable angle both what it was like for Hank Greenberg to be a Jewish baseball star and, for American Jews, to have, in Greenberg, their own baseball hero. The film's popular SXSW response shows that you obviously don't have to be either Jewish or a baseball fan to be swept away by Kempner's fun, quick-paced, film -- but it helps." -- Anne S. Lewis (3/19/99)
The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg screens Friday, March 7, 7pm at the Alamo; Tuesday, March 11, 12:15pm at the Alamo; and Thursday, March 13, 3pm at the Paramount.
The Target Shoots First (2000)"Columbia House must have thought they were getting the deal of the century when they signed up eager young Nirvana fan Chris Wilcha for their marketing team. They should have read the fine print. Wilcha showed up for his first day of work armed with a Hi-8 video camera. Honed from more than 200 hours of tape, The Target Shoots First cuts past the hidden conditions to answer those elusive questions we all have about Columbia House (How can they afford to give away so many CDs for a penny?) while suggesting other injustices that might have previously defied our imagination, for example: What kind of music do they play at company picnics? (Answer: Kenny G)." -- Peter Debruge (3/10/00)
The Target Shoots First screens Sunday, March 9, 9:30pm, at the Alamo; Wednesday, March 12, 2:30pm, at the Convention Center; and Saturday, March 15, 2:15pm, at the Convention Center.
The Journey (2001)"'Why did I buy The Journey?' asks a harried Udy Epstein, president of Seventh Art Releasing, regarding his company's purchase of Eric Saperston's doc, a peripatetic tale of his time spent searching for the Truth on the back roads and byways of America. 'Simple: It's a good movie. It's funny, it's positive, it's original, it doesn't take itself too seriously, and it drives home a point that people can relate to.'" -- Marc Savlov (4/20/01)
The Journey screens Saturday, March 8, 7pm at the Convention Center; Thursday, March 13, noon, at the Alamo; and Saturday, March 15, 5:45pm at the Convention Center.
Made-Up (2002)"For all the weighty issues it tackles, or at least skirts -- the relative natures of beauty, power, art, authorship, familial loyalty, narrative, meta-narrative, and authenticity -- Made-Up is a lot of fun. ... Actor Tony Shalhoub's directorial debut is a well-crafted, black romantic comedy, full of wit and life." -- Cindy Widner (3/15/02)
Made-Up screens Monday, March 10, 6:30pm at the Alamo; Wednesday, March 12, 5:30pm at Millennium; and Friday, March 14, 10pm at Millennium.