Every year in March, creative minds gather in Austin, Texas to share their ideas and inspire future filmmakers and creators. The SXSW Film Conference and Festival gives thinkers and innovators the opportunity to present their ideas to the entertainment and media culture, and pave the way for the future of film and entertainment. I attended the festival over the weekend on behalf of YouPlusDallas and covered the film portion of SXSW to present you with a description of the major events.
On Friday, March 8th, I attended the premiere of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, featuring Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandolfini, and Alan Arkin. This film sets Carell and Buscemi as aging Las Vegas magicians, Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, respectively, who soon have to dig deep for a better act once Carrey’s character (Steve Gray) begins to steal the spotlight as a fresh street magician. From a critics standpoint, this film is very unimpressive, being described by some as “instantly forgettable” and “yawn-inspiring”, while others describe it as “periodically chuckle-worthy” and “just amusing enough to pass the time”. Only time will tell if this film becomes a hit, but I’m not counting on it. Some of the cast was also in attendance for this film.
Saturday, March 9th, marked the first full day at the festival with lots to offer for all audiences. The first event I attended was the debut of Joss Whedon‘s (The Avengers) new film, Much Ado About Nothing. This film stars Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, and Fran Kranz, to name a few, all of whom have previous experience working with Whedon. Much Ado About Nothing is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words, using modern day clothes, setting, and props, while featuring Shakespearean language throughout. This film is in black and white, was created in just twelve days inside the director’s (Whedon) house, and offers much to see for fans of this genre. Sharing greatly about the movie and their future in the entertainment business, Joss Whedon and major cast members were in attendance for the Q&A session following the film.
Later that day, I attended the premiere of Drinking Buddies at the Paramount Theater. The film stars Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston, and tells the story of Luke (Johnson) and Kate (Wilde), who are co-workers at a Chicago brewing company, where they spend most of their days drinking and flirting. Both characters are perfect for each other, except for their significant others. Luke is in talks with his girlfriend (Kendrick) to get married, while Kate is taking it easy with her boyfriend Chris (Livingston). Without ruining the outcome, check the movie out for yourself to see if these two ever get together. Drinking Buddies starts a bit awkward and dry, but quickly begins to make the audience eager to see more. Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde’s great chemistry in the film is what makes it a classic comedy. The director, Joe Swanberg, and main cast were in attendance for the showing as well as a Q&A to follow, where they discussed working together on the film, and what it meant to them.
To begin Sunday, March 10th, I attended the premiere of Mud, a film starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Sarah Paulson, Sam Shepard, Tye Sheridan. From director Jeff Nichols, this film is about two teenage boys who encounter a fugitive named Mud (McConaughey), who is living alone on an island in Arkansas. They soon form a friendship and make a pact to help Mud evade bounty hunters and law enforcement that are on his trail in an attempt to reunite with his true love (Witherspoon). Mud was definitely one of the best films at SXSW this year. This film is emotional and extremely funny. McConaughey gives a decent performance as a country bum, while the kids provide fresh, raw talent and comedy. McConaughey and the director of the film were in attendance for the screening, as well as a Q&A. They discussed what it was like to make a film like this and the great effort given by everyone involved.
To mix it up a bit, I attended a special session entitled “JASH: A Comedy Platform with Full Creative Autonomy”, featuring the comedic and creative minds of Sarah Silverman, Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Michael Cera, Reggie Watts, and Daniel Kellison. This comedy mix-up session explored the intimacy and evolution of a comedian’s creative process when limitations are involved, as well as the thriving world of digital media in entertainment. The above mentioned comedians were in attendance and discussed a variety of topics from how they formed this “JASH” group to what they were working on presently and in the future. To say there were a few laughs from the audience would be large understatement.
Sunday evening, I attended one of the larger and more anticipated events, the premiere of director/creator Harmony Korine‘s Spring Breakers. This film stars Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, and James Franco in a story about four girls (mentioned above) who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation and soon find themselves bailed out by a drug and arms dealer (Franco) who just wants to party. Spring Breakers is a vulgar, insane, cover your eyes party film that will entertain some while possibly causing others to leave the theater. This film uses a unique mix of real spring break party footage with traditional Hollywood filming and offers multiple “wow” moments throughout. The director and main cast were in attendance for this film, along with several other Hollywood figures (Tony Danza, Rami Malek, and Abigail Spencer to name a few). The cast and director talked about what it was like to film something like this, working together, and what a wild ride it had been.
Monday, March 11th began with a trip to the SXSW Trade Show, the heart of the converging industries experienced at the festival. The four-day shows celebrated the organizations that define the ever-evolving relationship between media, technology, creators, and consumers. Those in attendance included representatives from Amazon Web Services, IBM, the Screen Actors Guild, Spotify, Broadcast Interactive Media, Consumer Electronics Association, The New York Times, Getty Images, Austin Chamber of Commerce, and much more.
After the Trade Show, I got a chance to take a sneak peak at Anthony Cipriano‘s Bates Motel, a TV series from A&E and a contemporary prequel to the film, Psycho. The series promises to give viewers an intimate portrayal of how Norman Bates psyche unravels through his teenage years, giving fans access to the dark, twisted backstory and firsthand account of how deeply intricate Norman’s relationship is with his mother, Norma, and how she helped create the most famous serial killer in entertainment history. The creator was in attendance to shed light on where the idea came from, how the series got started, interesting details about filming, and what he hoped the audience would see from his perspective.
In the afternoon following the TV series pilot of Bates Motel, I got another chance to take a look at Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, with the cast again in attendance for an interactive discussion panel. Hosted by Eric Kohn, Chief Film Critic & Sr Editor of Indiewire.com, attendees were given a chance to see some of Korine’s original film work, clips from his Spring Breakers film, and a chance to ask questions to the cast/director. Most of the questions revolved around what it was like to work with one another, and how different it was for teen stars like Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Benson to get dirty and provocative for this film. The audience was also given a chance to reveal their own spring break experiences in a contest to win a signed movie poster.
To close out my trip to SXSW 2013, I got a chance to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s directorial film debut, Don Jon, a film about the journey of a contemporary, porn-addicted Don Juan-type as he attempts to become less selfish. After Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt) earns the nickname “Don Jon” for his ability to charm women and realizes he is unable to forge a meaningful relationship, Jon struggles to free himself from the realm of virtual debauchery while connecting with two desperate women (Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore), who teach him the true value of intimacy. Another critic put it best by saying; this film is a “truly original piece, hilariously funny and poignant, with enough humor and heart than more people will be able to relate to the characters than they’ll care to admit.” In my words, Don Jon shows the multiple skills of director Gordon-Levitt, who creates a story that is easily communicated to his audience in a sexy and hilarious way. Hopefully this will be the beginning of Gordon-Levitt’s further talents and only add to his already respectable career as an entertainer. Gordon-Levitt and some cast were in attendance for the film as well as a Q&A to follow.
All and all, SXSW can be a very overwhelming experience, but I had a great time. To see that many creative and innovative minds come together in one place to celebrate their passion for film is just incredible. The feeling you get when a celebrity or your favorite Hollywood actor/actress walks down the aisle like nothing out of the ordinary and sits next to you in a screening is very surreal and can be a life or career changing event. I was very fortunate to get access to SXSW and hope to attend again next year. Congratulations to all that participated in the festival and I look forward to continuing covering film.
Check back soon for pictures and video from SXSW on YouPlusDallas.com!
By: Hayden Pittman, Film Critic for YouPlusDallas
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