Jay Duplass Stars in Outside In at SXSW Film
Homegrown filmmaker on mumblecore, friends, and his first South By break
Out in sunny L.A., Jay Duplass is looking forward to coming back to Austin for a few days, back to the city where his filmmaking career first flourished. He even misses the swampy heat. He said, "I hated it when I was there, and then I left, and now I'm like, 'Oh, I could use a little humidity today.'"
Few filmmaker names are as synonymous with SXSW as Duplass. Jay and his brother Mark (alongside the Zellners, Austin's most famous movie siblings) helped shape the tone of indie cinema when they became part of the class of 2005. That was the year mumblecore blew the doors off the festival, with Andrew Bujalksi's Mutual Appreciation, Joe Swanberg's Kissing on the Mouth, future mumblegore pioneer Ti West's The Roost, and of course the Duplass' lo-fi road trip, the audience award-winning The Puffy Chair. Duplass said, "10- and 15-thousand-dollar movies were being written up in The New York Times, and that's because of that quote-unquote movement."
Thirteen years later, and Jay Duplass continues his run at the festival with two performances – the first in the world premiere of US/Canadian sci-fi survival thriller Prospect, and the other in the North American debut of post-incarceration rehabilitation drama Outside In. But Duplass' connection to the festival predates his professional moviemaking days, all the way back to 1994, when he was a student at UT-Austin, and SXSW (which to that point had been solely a music event) added the Film and Media Conference. "My first memories were, 'There's a film festival?" he said. "I was a broke college student, and I literally could not afford to get tickets or a pass. Every once in a while, you would try to go see a movie, and wait in line all day, and not get in the movie. It was a very mysterious thing."
When he'd arrived in Austin in 1991, it was just as Richard Linklater was reinvigorating indie cinema with Slacker, and Robert Rodriguez turned $7,000 into the start of a blockbuster career during Duplass' sophomore year with El Mariachi. But the idea of becoming a full-time filmmaker seemed alien to him. "I didn't think that normal people could just make movies. I was always making video projects with my brother, but it was always, well, I'm going to get a job, and do normal, responsible things, and maybe I'll just keep playing around with video cameras."
Even with an MFA in film from UT, South By success was not instantaneous for Duplass. While he snuck in through the back door, such as through editing UT professor Mitko Panov's 2001 documentary Comrades, his own films never made the cut. "I spent a lot of my 20s trying to get my movies into SXSW, and failing to do so. Not because of their fault, but because my movies sucked, and I hadn't worked out what I uniquely had to offer the world." It was only with 2003's short "This Is John" (coincidentally edited by David Zellner) that, not only did he get those laurels as a director, "but I accidentally made a movie that would essentially define Mark's and my style. ... It was just, oh my God, we're a part of this world now. This is insane."
And while mumblecore (Duplass recalled that the creatives stuck with the label preferred the term Slackervetes) took an unfair pummeling in the film press, history has arguably proved those filmmakers right. Swanberg is an indie institution. Lena Dunham's Girls became must-see TV. The Zellners are making movies with Robert Pattinson. Greta Gerwig has her first Oscar nomination. The Duplasses have two shows at HBO: the animated Animals. and the anthology Room 104. "We did OK," said Duplass. "It's really mind-blowing that these people that we were just hanging with at film festivals, and being in each other's movies, and mailing pieces of equipment to each other ... in retrospect, it was really sweet."
VISIONSSaturday, March 10, 12:45pm, Alamo South Lamar
Sunday, March 11, 9:15pm, Alamo South Lamar
Wednesday, March 14, 10pm, Stateside
NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHTSaturday, March 10, 4:15pm, Zach Theatre
Tuesday, March 13, 2pm, Alamo Ritz
Wednesday, March 14, 5:45pm, Alamo South Lamar