SXSW Film 2014

SXSW 2014: Film Festival Theaters

SXSW marquee at Stateside

Here we are again with another edition of Slackerwood's popular SXSW Film venue guide. Over the years, we've included some of the theaters in every edition, but new venues turn up annually for us to explore. Some of the previous venues have a few changes too.

This guide to SXSW Film theaters will be updated before and during the fest as we get more useful information to add to it, especially relating to the newer venues. Don't hesitate to contact us with tips.

Here are some of the SXSW venue changes for 2014:

  • A new SXSatellite venue has been added: the Marchesa, known to locals as the home of Austin Film Society screenings for the past 9 months-ish. Unlike the other two satellite venues -- Alamo Drafthouse Village and Alamo Slaughter -- SXSW will be screening movies at the Marchesa for the entire duration of the film festival. The Marchesa will be the home for the free/public SXSW Community Screenings, including the AFS ShortCase on Saturday. Check out a photo from the lobby below.

Topfer Theatre at ZACH

202 South Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704
(512) 476-0541

Zach Topfer Theater - Austin, Texas

The Topfer Theatre is a fairly new theater, having opened in September 2012. It's designed for live stage performances, but is also used as a movie-theater venue for some film festivals like SXSW.

Pros: It's the second-biggest venue at SXSW, so it shouldn't be difficult to get a seat at most screenings.

Cons: It's not in the middle of downtown, so allow yourself some extra time for the shuttle. During the Music fest, the shuttle route to/from downtown can often slow to a walk, so plan accordingly.

Screens and capacity: Topfer seats 420.

Parking: Very limited. You can't use the parking lots reserved for Zach Theatre. Most street parking is residential permit only. This is not a good location to park for a full fest day -- plan to park downtown or near another venue (like the Long Center) and take the shuttle.

Distance: You can walk to just about any non-satellite venue from here if you're a good walker.

On-site food and beverages: Topfer has a good bar setup inside, with some snacks available too.

Nearby dining options: If you're in a hurry, there's a Scholtzsky's right down the block. Go down to Barton Springs and try the venerable Green Mesquite BBQ if you have a little more time.

[Photo credit: "Zach Topfer Theater" by Peter Tsai of Peter Tsai Photography. Found on Flickr, used with permission, all rights reserved.]

Alamo Drafthouse -- Slaughter

5701 W. Slaughter Lane, Austin TX 78739
(512) 476-1320


Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane, known as Alamo Slaughter, has 8 screens of varying sizes, and an adjacent tequila bar, 400 Rabbits.

Pros: Like other Alamo Drafthouses: pre-show clips, food and beer. The theater chain has a serious "no talking/texting" policy during screenings. This is a relatively new theater with some very comfy seats and spiffy new projection and audio equipment.

Cons: If you don't live in the neighborhood, the far-south location can be a bit of a drive. The table-for-two layout takes some getting used to -- you might like the back row, where the tables are on the sides rather than in front. The seats aren't on risers so the waitstaff are at your level when they walk down the rows.

Screens and capacity: Eight theaters with stadium seating varying in size from 32 seats to 200-ish, all with Sony 4K digital. The theater does not have 35mm projection equipment.

Parking: Parking can be tight, especially on weekends, especially since NxNW opened nearby. If you haven't been here before, the one entrance is on Slaughter Lane -- be watchful and don't pass it up, because it can be a pain to get back there again.

Bus routes: The theater is well out of range of any Cap Metro route at this time, we're sorry to note.

Distance: Alamo Slaughter is nearly 12 miles from the center of downtown Austin. If you're zipping between venues and events during a film festival, allow a minimum of 20 minutes to get here from downtown, not allowing for traffic.

On-site dining options: Full menu including wine, beer and cocktails (we're told we should try the Paloma and the Dark & Stormy). You can view the Alamo Slaughter menu, which also includes helpful hints on the ordering process, and information on gluten-free and vegetarian items. Try the veggie burger, with a locally made veggie patty. In addition, 400 Rabbits has a full bar and a half-dozen snack options (many with magical pork).

Nearby dining options: North by Northwest shares a parking lot with Alamo Slaughter so you can walk right over there before/after a movie. You can drive over to William Cannon (one stop up Mopac) for more places to eat.

[Photo credit: "Alamo Slaughter lobby" by Jodi Bart of Tasty Touring. Found on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.]

Violet Crown Cinema

434 W 2nd Street, Austin, TX 78701
(512) 495-9600


Violet Crown Cinema opened in downtown Austin in the summer of 2011. The movie theater has four screens, all with digital projection -- the largest one seats 50. The programming is primarily independent, arthouse and foreign-language films. Your ticket gets you a reserved seat and four hours of free parking in a garage adjacent to the theater. This is an excellent venue for a movie-and-dinner evening downtown, but you can also have drinks, snacks or a light meal at the theater.

Although Violet Crown serves food, it's a different system than Alamo Drafthouse. You arrive at the theater early, sit at the bar or in one of the lounge areas, and place your order there. You can bring your food and drinks into the theater -- the seats have little pull-out tables that might remind you of school desks.

Pros: Seats are reserved. There's no extra charge for buying tickets online, either. And that four-hour validated parking downtown is a blessing. If you are here for a film festival, many of these amenities don't apply; however, you still can order food here and enjoy the very comfortable seats. The first row of each theater has big lounge chairs that make up for sitting so close to the screen.

Cons: The theaters are small, so order your tickets online well in advance, or get here early if you're seeing a festival film.

Screens and Capacity: Six screens of varying sizes, none of which seats more than 50. The capacity of all four screens combined is about 180, and SXSW 2015 uses all four screens for each screening time at ths venue.

Parking: Park in the AMLI garage on San Antonio, around the corner from the front of the theater. Get your parking ticket validated, and you can enjoy four hours of parking. Please note that the parking deal does not apply for SXSW filmgoers.

Distance: Violet Crown is in the Second Street district of downtown Austin. It's a little further from Austin Convention Center than Paramount or Ritz. However, you can walk to Rollins/Long Center and Topfer Theater/Zach Scott from here much more easily than any downtown venue.

For SXSW 2015, the Film Fest Flyer shuttle stops a few blocks away, on Second Street at Congress Ave.

On-site dining options: Violet Crown has two types of food/beverage options. At the snack bar, you can walk up and buy popcorn, soft drinks, cake balls and other treats. The bar and cafe, where you can order from the lounge areas, offers a full cocktail bar and menu items such as a cheese plate, salad, pizza and hot dogs.

Nearby dining options: The Second Street area of downtown is known mostly for its upscale bars and restaurants, but there are some affordable options. Jo's Hot Coffee, a couple of blocks down Second Street toward Congress, has sandwiches and salads (and some good vegetarian options). Lambert's, across the street, has a very affordable weekday happy-hour menu (Jette recommends the chickpea appetizer.)

[Photo credit: "Violet Crown Cinema" by Jodi Bart of Tasty Touring. Found on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.]

Stateside at the Paramount

719 Congress Ave., Austin TX 78701

State TheaterStateside at the Paramount, formerly known as the State Theatre, is next to the Paramount on Congress Ave. downtown. The theater, which dates back to 1935, was previously used for live performances, and in 2006, was seriously damaged by flooding. It is fully equipped to show movies or host live performances.

Pros: The theater is right in the middle of downtown film-fest action. The theater seats are extremely comfortable and spacious, with good legroom.

Cons: It's downtown, so parking can be challenging. You are not supposed to shoot video in the State Theatre at any time, and depending on the event, you may not be allowed to take still photos either. Hide your water bottles in your bag or purse before you get to the entrance, because ushers are on the lookout for external food/drinks.

Screens and Capacity: The theater seats 298.

Parking: No theater-specific parking. You can park in nearby garages or on the street in metered spots (watch the maximum time, though). Parking at St. David's garage (E. 7th) is reasonably priced if you want to avoid the hassle of finding a spot on the street, although their rates often increase during special events (like SXSW, or some weekend nights).

Distance: You can walk to Alamo Ritz, Austin Convention Center, Violet Crown and many downtown hotels, bars and restaurants. Alamo on South Lamar is too far for a walk; grab a cab or find a ride. A cab stand is located on the southbound side of Congress and Sixth, a couple of blocks away.

On-site food and beverages: Standard movie-theater concessions, like candy and soft drinks.

Nearby dining options: Roaring Fork in the Stephen F. Austin hotel a few doors down offers weekday happy-hour food specials at the bar. Thai Passion has quick lunch specials and good service all day long.

If you're looking for a pre-movie cocktail, try the second floor of the Stephen F. Austin and sit out on the balcony, which is perfect for people-watching.

[Photo credit: "State Theater" by define23 (Rebecca) on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.]

Austin Convention Center (ACC) Vimeo Theater at SXSW

500 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin, TX 78701

Austin Convention Center

The Vimeo Theater in the Austin Convention Center (ACC) is a temporary setup on the ground floor of the convention center during the SXSW Film Festival. It's in ACC Exhibit Hall 2. During the film conference, this is the most convenient theater of the festival. During the music festival, I sometimes feel weirdly out of place here, but it's even easier to find a seat at most screenings.

Pros: ACC may be the best downtown venue for passholders or individual ticket buyers to see SXSW films. The location is unbeatable during the film conference -- you're right in the heart of the festival. The seats are on a good incline and short people should have no problem viewing the screen. And it's right on the SXSW Film Flyer shuttle route.

Cons: You don't get the movie-theater vibe that you would with other venues. Also, once the music festival starts, the area outside the theater gets even more crowded than usual, although the theater itself almost always has seats.

Screens and capacity: The Vimeo Theater holds 645, making it the second-largest SXSW film venue (after the Paramount). Lines are always indoors, which is nice on a wet day.

Parking: If you get downtown super-early, you can pay to park in the garage next to the convention center. If not, try the ACC secondary garage at Brazos and 2nd Street. Honestly, I'd recommend the Long Center and take the shuttle or walk across the bridge. (Free parking? No such animal during SXSW anymore.)

Distance: You can walk without much effort to the Paramount, Alamo Ritz and Violet Crown. and you're smack in the middle of the film conference.

Food and Beverages: Skip the convention center itself unless you're dying of hunger or in need of (not-so-terrific) coffee. Outside, you'll find affordable spots like Iron Works, PF Chang's and Mongolian BBQ. These places will be super-swamped at lunchtime, so walk a few blocks more and explore Austin's many downtown lunch options. Or you can walk over to Rainey Street and try the SouthBites food-trailer setup, which has some tasty options. (I've had people stop and give me free ice cream on that walk, so you might get lucky.)

Marchesa Hall and Theatre

6226 Middle Fiskville Road, Austin TX 78752
(512) 454-2000

Marchesa exterior and marquee

The Marchesa, near Highland Mall in central Austin, is a single-screen theater where Austin Film Society hosts most of their screenings. There's also space for other events, so you can still catch movies here while Blue Genie is going on, for example. Old-school Austinites will recognize the location as the old Lincoln Village theater. The theater shows both digital and 35mm prints. AFS has done a superb job of decorating the lobby area with movie posters and sleeves from soundtrack albums.

Pros: The location is fairly central and not difficult for most Austinites to reach. It's a nice theater experience -- not plushy and fancy, but fairly comfortable and intimate. The lobby is spacious and terrific for socializing before and after, with drinks and snacks available (fairly affordable by theater standards).

Cons: For film festivals, the one difficulty is that it's not downtown, and hard to get to without a car/taxi. The seats aren't on much of a rise so short people may want to favor the aisles (it's better than the Paramount, though, in terms of rise). You may get annoyed by the parking lot.

Screens and capacity: This single-screen theater seats 278.

Parking: Parking is free. There's a parking lot around the theater with plenty of parking, but be warned that it's tightly set up and, well, weird. Park off to the side near adjacent buildings for a little less stress.

Distance: It's about 5 miles away from downtown Austin. If you've got a bicycle, you could take MetroRail from ACC to the Highland Mall station and cycle over to the theater, but it's too far for a walk.

On-site food options: Concessions are available, including a full bar.

Nearby dining options: The best restaurant nearby may be Quality Seafood on Airport just south of Koenig. Another good nearby option is the Arpeggio Grill on Airport going toward N. Lamar.

[Photo courtesy of Austin Film Society.]

Rollins Studio Theatre, Long Center for the Performing Arts

701 West Riverside Drive, Austin TX 78704
(512) 474-5664

Long Center 7 by codexterity on Flickr

The Debra and Kevin Rollins Studio Theatre is part of the Long Center for the Performing Arts complex, and occasionally is used as a venue for special screenings and film festivals. The theater can be configured to seat from 80 to 229 people. You enter the theater from a side door right near the Long Center box office.

For film festivals, chairs are placed on risers, much like the ACC theater configuration at SXSW. The seats are fairly comfortable and have pretty good legroom. The screen is a little small, but picture and sound quality are usually good.

Pros: Close to other downtown venues and restaurants, but at enough of a distance that this venue usually has space for passholders and even ticketholders.

Cons: There are often no concessions, so if you're walking from a free parking lot or from downtown on a warm day, bring a water bottle. The Long Center parking garage is expensive for movie parking ... but reasonable for SXSW. If other events are going on at Long Center or Auditorium Shores, your free parking possibilities dwindle considerably.

Screens and Capacity: The theater usually seats about 200 people for film festivals.

Parking: You can pay to park in the Long Center garage, but alternative parking nearby isn't usually hard to find on evenings and weekends. After business hours and on weekends, the surface lot at One Texas Center (505 Barton Springs) has free parking, which is a short walk from Rollins. If you prefer a walk across the park part of the complex, there's a small free parking lot by Dougherty Arts Center (Barton Springs and Dawson), but it fills up quickly.

Distance: It's a long but manageable walk to the downtown area, which you might not want to try if you're in a hurry (stopping halfway at 2nd Street for a drink and snack is recommended). If you've got a car, this venue is pretty convenient to downtown nightlife; and if you don't, a cab shouldn't be too pricey. It's not difficult to find a cab downtown to get to Rollins, but getting a cab at Rollins is sometimes challenging.

Food and Beverages: A kiosk in the lobby sometimes offers coffee, bar drinks and a few snacks, but it's not reliably open. However, when it's closed, no one seems to notice if you sneak your own water bottle in there. If you want to stay on this side of the lake, you can have a hearty "home-cooking" meal at Threadgill's, or grab a bite at Sandy's Hamburgers, an old-fashioned burger stand that also offers delicious frozen treats. Or you can cross the river and return to downtown Austin for a wealth of restaurants, cafes and coffeeshops.

[Photo credit: "Long Center 7" by codexterity. Found on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.]

Alamo Drafthouse -- Ritz

320 East Sixth Street, Austin TX 78701

SXSW 2008: Alamo Ritz

Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, aka Alamo Ritz, is a renovation of the old Ritz Theater in downtown Austin, built in 1929. The theater has two screens and shows a combination of first-run movies, arthouse films and the interestingly obscure. The Ritz often shows movies in 35mm and the larger theater is capable of screening in 70mm.

Pros: The location is ideal for downtown-based film festivals. The seats are comfy, and there are really no "bad seats" in either theater anymore. Most (non-fest) Alamo Ritz screenings now have reserved seating.

Cons: We wish both theaters were larger, especially during film fests when all the visitors want to hang out at an Alamo. If you're seeing a film-fest movie in the smaller theater, get there especially early ... it often fills up quickly. When you sit down at an Alamo theater, don't try to put an empty seat between yourself and the people next to you -- the waitstaff will ask you to move so seats can be consolidated if (when) the theater fills up.

Alamo Ritz tends to draw a somewhat rowdier crowd than the other Drafthouse locations -- don't be shy about raising a flag if your neighbors get too drinky and bothersome.

Screens and Capacity: The smaller theater seats 69 people; the larger one, 172. For film fests, the balconies in the larger theater are usually reserved for filmmakers or VIPs.

Parking: No Alamo Ritz-specific parking; park on the street or find a downtown lot/garage. St. David's parking garage is usually a good bet. If you're seeing a midnight movie and parking in a garage, make sure it will still be open after the movie ends.

Bus routes: All downtown routes.

Distance: Only three blocks from Congress Ave. You can easily walk to the Paramount, Austin Convention Center, Violet Crown, and many downtown hotels and restaurants. A cab stand is located on the southbound side of Congress and Sixth, a couple of blocks from the Paramount.

On-site food and beverages: Alamo Ritz offers a full menu for lunch and dinner, including an extensive beer menu and full bar. In addition, you can get standard movie-theater fare like popcorn and candy. (Please don't forget to tip if you order anything.) The coffee is exclusively French-press now (no drip).

Nearby dining options: Iron Cactus next door has pretty fair Tex-Mex. The Driskill Hotel's 1886 Cafe is fine for lunch, but not speedy. Jackalope across the street has great burgers. Or walk a little further to Easy Tiger, which has a ground-floor bakery where you can pick up a quick treat (get the pretzel), and a downstairs cafe/patio for tasty sausages and sandwiches. If price is not a primary consideration (or if it's happy hour), splurge on small plates or even a full meal at Parkside, about a block away.

Wireless: The Ritz has wireless in the lobby but the theater walls are so thick that it doesn't penetrate there very well. Sixth Street tends to have bars rather than coffeehouses -- walk to The Hideout on Congress, or try Halcyon on Fourth Street.

[Photo credit: Jette Kernion. All rights reserved (but if you ask and promise to credit, I'll probably let you use it).]

Alamo Drafthouse -- Village

2700 W. Anderson Lane, Austin TX 78757

At the newly renovated Alamo @drafthouse Village to see A Christmas Story

Alamo Drafthouse -- Village, aka Alamo Village, focuses on first-run movies with the occasional arthouse feature or special event. Alamo Village has 4K digital projection for all four screens, but can also show movies in 35mm. This is more of a "neighborhood theater" than the Alamo Drafthouses at Ritz or South Lamar.

Pros: Since it's an Alamo Drafthouse, you don't have to suffer through commercials before your movie. Parking is nearby. Like other Alamo Drafthouses, the theater has a serious "no talking/texting" policy during screenings. It's a good venue for film festivals if you're a local, because it almost never sells out.

Cons: This neighborhood theater gets very popular, especially nights/weekends. Buy your tickets in advance. All (non-fest) seating is reserved, so you can pick your seats online.

Screens and Capacity: Four theaters varying in size, all with Sony 4K digital but still capable of showing 35mm films. Lines for the movies may be inside the lobby or outside depending on the size of the crowds and the weather.

Parking: Alamo Village is part of a small strip mall with a parking lot. The lot gets crowded on nights and weekends (we used to tell you to drive around to the back, but the Goodnight has taken over that parking now).

Bus routes: The #5 and #19 have stops not far from the theater. You can also take a #3, but you'll have a little walk from Burnet Road.

Distance: Alamo Village is near Anderson Lane and Burnet Road, a good area for dining and shopping. It's at least 8 miles from downtown, so as a film festival venue, you can't get to downtown theaters easily -- it'll take you 15-45 minutes depending on traffic.

On-site dining options: All Alamo Drafthouses in Austin have a full menu including wine and beer. You can view the menu and current specials on the website, which also includes helpful hints on the ordering process, and information on gluten-free and vegetarian items. Don't hesitate to ask the waitstaff if you have special allergies or dietary needs.

Nearby dining options: This part of town has added lots of good dining options in the past few years. The strip mall that houses Village also includes Madam Mam's, a great Thai restaurant, Cover 3, an upscale sports bar with a fancy-ish menu, and Chen Z, where you can get house-made noodles and hot pot. Pho Thaison, in the strip mall adjacent to Village (closer to Burnet), is an inexpensive option for Vietnamese food. During the day, don't forget San Francisco Bakery, catty-corner to the theater, which has wonderful baked goods and a very tasty quiche. (It was also a location in the movie Artois the Goat.) Across the street, the Northcross shopping center offers Tarka, Elevation Burger, Phonatic and more.

And of course you can drive south on Burnet a few blocks and get a really cinematic meal at Top Notch.

Wireless: Free wireless is available in the lobby and theaters. San Francisco Bakery has wireless, and you'll find a Starbucks nearby, too, on Anderson a little closer to Mopac.

[Photo credit: "At the newly renovated Alamo Drafthouse Village" by Mike Prosser. Found on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.]

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