Roger Ebert has said that it is unprofessional for film critics to have their photos taken with celebrities. I've decided this means "human celebrities" and not Muppets, so I caved in and posed with Elmo (and Kevin Clash) after the first SXSW screening of Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey. See the movie if you like Muppets, it's very nice. (And if you miss it at SXSW, it's just been announced that Being Elmo is the opening-night film at next month's Dallas International Film Festival.)
Anyway, here are some of my observations from the fest so far, as well as bits of news.
- SXSW has now become a fest where distribution deals are made. So far, several deals have been announced: Conan O'Brien Can't Stop in a multi-platform release deal involving AT&T; food doc A Matter of Taste to HBO; and Kill List (from the Down Terrace director) to IFC Midnighters. No word yet on any Austin films, but we'll keep you posted.
- Parking in pay garages was no problem for me on the weekend, but I heard yesterday that once afternoon started, it was challenging even to find a pay lot or garage that wasn't full. (I was at Alamo Lamar on Monday and can't say for myself.) Anyone have any info on this? I'm heading down there early today and hope that won't be an issue.
- I caught Wuss at Westgate on Sunday, and enjoyed it very much. Westgate is a nice SXSW venue if you have a car. Plenty of parking, and the theater is quite spacious, with comfy stadium seating. The projection and sound quality were both good.
I just realized I haven't brought up the bumpers this year yet. Absolutely love them, from (Super) "Mario" re-conceived as a live-action thriller, to "The Line" mocking festival lines. Kudos to SXSW and Austin filmmaker Joe Nicolosi for the fun bumpers (as well as not taking it too seriously). If you need to see examples of "Knitta" just look around when you're in line at the Alamo South Lamar. I don't know the title of the one featuring John "Zach Galifianakis looks like me" Merriman, but I wasn't the only one giggling.
Despite my plan to not have a plan this year, I managed to catch a lot of films today, including Where Soldiers Come From, Last Days Here, A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt and Natural Selection. Let me say today was an A+ day for films. I really liked them all, and the only downside was Cap Metro's #484 Night Owl that should have left 6th and Congress at 1:40 am not making its way down South Lamar.
My experience this year at SXSW has been fairly relaxed as I decided to take time off from the red-carpet frenzy for a more unstructured approach. Being without a firm schedule was a little unnerving at first, but I've discovered that it's a great way to let SXSW serendipity lend a hand to great experiences.
One of those moments happened yesterday when I skipped the AFF Hair of the Dog Brunch to attend an early screening of Natural Selection at the newly renovated State Theatre. Despite the time change, a good crowd turned out for this narrative competition film. I was not disappointed, as I was thoroughly entertained and touched by the story and characters of Natural Selection -- check back this week for my review.
After the screening, I was invited to the premiere party for Natural Selection, which included a modest gathering of the cast and crew with family, friends and supporters. We were pleasantly surprised when actor/musician John Corbett (Sex and the City, Serendipity) showed up with a couple of his bandmates -- turns out that he and Natural Selection supporting actor Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite, Men in Black) -- seen above with Corbett and Tara Novick -- are longtime friends. Check out more photos after the jump:
Little Deaths is playing SXSW as part of its SXFantastic genre film series. It's a UK anthology of three stories connected by themes of sex (often kinky) and death (often disturbing).
In "House and Home," a couple with the enthusiasm of religious missionaries and an inability to find sexual satisfaction in each other do find that satisfaction by preying on society's unfortunates. They may have bitten off too much, however, with their latest victim. This story felt a bit simplisitic, and lacked the foreshadowing necessary to deliver satisfying payoff from the turns. Caution: while the entire film is infused with sex and horror, this particular short had scenes of sexual violence that might be difficult for some.
I was fortunate to have a few minutes with Djo Tunda Wa Munga, the writer/director of Viva Riva!, to discuss the movie after I saw it at SXSW on Friday night. Read my review first, to get an idea of what Viva Riva! is about and why I enjoyed it so much.
MS: Would you consider this something of a blaxploitation film?
Djo: I actually have to be honest with you, because people ask me that question thinking that maybe I did it in that sense. Not really, OK, and because that was not the source of inspiration, even if I like blaxploitation, but I didn't think about it when I was developing the movie. But what I can see is probably in terms of, like expression, in violence and the social tensions that we had were maybe similar to what you had in the 70s and 60s in the black community, that there is a parallel.
MS: I loved everything, I loved that it was very gritty, very visceral. There were some people in the audience who were shocked at the violence, and I'm coming from a background of Quentin Tarantino films, etc. Were you surprised to get that reception, do you think maybe that this was the wrong audience?
Djo: I'm really surprised that people say the film is so violent, because you expect that, I mean, the idea we have of American movies are quite violent. Maybe that has changed these last years, but I am surprised by that reaction. But, maybe the audience should be younger and maybe that's like maybe that's their fear, they would relate to it more easily.
MS: Have you come to the fest trying to sell the film?
Djo: No, I came to the fest first trying to meet the American audience. That was the first work because the film is being released in the U.S., which means we sold it already. It's being released the 10th of June, by Music Box.
A few facts about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which you may have known as Zaire: It is the third largest country in Africa and the 12th largest in the world, and the 18th most populous. The citizens are some of the poorest in the world, but the country has untapped natural resources estimated at $24 trillion, making it the richest country in the world. It has been for the last 40 years one of the most corrupt, violent, and lawless places on the planet.
Djo Tunda Wa Munga (pronounced "Joe" for short) has written, produced, and directed the first movie ever to come out of the Congo, a country which until now has had no film industry. Viva Riva! is a gorgeously gritty, sexy adventure that, if it were a book, you couldn't put down. An unintentional blaxploitation piece, the core is a plot you might see in a Tarantino film or something like Snatch, but with all the dials turned up to 11. The depth of violence here isn't an attempt to pander to adolescent bloodlust, but rather an expression of the severe circumstances in which people have had to live in that country.
It's only the end of day three, but I'm already having to remind myself SXSW is a marathon. I got up and out the door in time to make a brief appearance at the AFF Hair of the Dog Brunch over at Star Bar, but my stay had to be short, since I had interviews with Apart director Aaron Rottinghaus along with actors Josh Danziger (pictured above) and Joey Lauren Adams. I hope to have those interviews up soon.
I hoofed it over to the ACC film shuttle stop, and just in time to catch the shuttle over to Alamo on South Lamar. Sleep deprivation has really kicked in because as I was walking to the stop and dodging Interactive folks who'd stop in their tracks to read something on their phones, I'd decided to see 96 Minutes and then completely forgot when the guy in front of me said he was one of the films producers. Regardless, I recommend 96 Minutes as an intriguing character study, with very strong leads in Brittany Snow (Harry's Law) and Evan Ross (90210), as well as a strong feature film debut for Aimee Lagos.
There could not have been a more timely documentary to show at SXSW 2011 than Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times. The first three months of 2011 will go down as a major turning point in the worlds of social media, online news reporting and SEO (search engine optimization) and The New York Times seems to be at the center of it all in one way or another.
Page One shines a light on the difficulty of real news reporting in the world of media convergence and content aggregation. We see new media evangelists trumpet the demise of the "old media" while harvesting the old media's content for their own purposes. We see reporters work on pointed and difficult stories. We see how stories are crafted from ideas, carefully researched and turned into stories. We see the triumphs and the stark realities facing news organizations today. We see the reality of The New York Times in 2011.
Arguably the most compelling character in the story is David Carr. David is a well respected writer for The New York Times and former speaker at SXSW. Throughout the movie we see David defending the track record of The New York Times against new media upstarts. This movie takes us into the mind and process of a quality reporter who cares about getting stories right and does not shrink in the face of adversity. If The New York Times ever needed a defender, they definitely have their man in David Carr.
Arguably the invention with the most profound effect on civilization is the light bulb. But along with the advances in technology it heralded, is there a dark side to all the light we have in our lives today? Director Ian Cheney (King Corn) explores the scientific and philosophical side of lighting the night sky in The City Dark.
Cheney explores the history and impact of all the light at night in various chapters, from the history of lighting to light pollution to the impact on nature and humanity. He could easily make a movie on each chapter, but instead includes just enough to make a person consider how much artificial lighting they include in their lives.
The City Dark is not just a romanticized longing for the heavens above. Some of the facts Cheney presents may at first seem like they're not relevant to everyday people, such as light pollution making it difficult for astronomers do their jobs. Urban dwellers may even wave off the impact on other species. But others are much more relevant, such as how light impacts the human body, and how shift work can be deadly to the point the that World Health Organization has made a declaration about it.
Some days even seeing just two films feels like an accomplishment. I only saw two today, but they were both so powerful, it made for a full day. And I have to set my clock's back? It's gonna be a rough morning in a few hours.
I got up too late to get to the first movie I planned on seeing, so I wandered around a bit, picking up a Dublin Dr Pepper at the Royal Blue Grocery on Congress before heading over to the Paramount. If you're an outsider who likes fizzy drinks at all, if you've never had a Dublin Dr Pepper, you have never had a real Dr. Pepper. The bottle may be small, but it's delicious stuff. [Jette's note: Alamo Ritz has Dublin Dr Pepper now, too.]
I was in line early for my film, but I was anticipating a full house, since the subject relates to current events. But everyone else was in line for the State theater's screening of The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway. This year is a great year for free food, and thanks to the food trailer phenomenon, they keep on bringing it right to the lines. This time it was ice cream treats, making for a very happy crowd. And apparently post-screening, Pee-Wee himself was handing out ice cream treats.