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DVDTalk attends South by Southwest

DVDTalk attends South by Southwest

exclusive coverage by Neil Lumbard


Day One Write-Up:

 To say that I am excited to be at the South by Southwest 2011 Film Festival is an enormous understatement of gigantic proportions. Yes, that sentence runs a bit awkwardly, perhaps intentionally (perhaps not?), but being here is literally the experience of a lifetime. I have long desired to attend this famous film festival, and at last I have arrived at the glorious event with my arms open, my mind wide, and a newfound willingness to experience the best the festival has to offer. This is just all so brand new and exciting to me.

Yesterday was a huge test in arranging my schedule to best fits the needs of my film coverage for this year's festival. There are so many interesting, unique, and challenging film projects premiering that it can become a bit difficult to pinpoint exactly which screenings to attend. What are the most important events to try and see? How should I fit in panels or workshops at the Austin Convention Center? It left me in a panic when I also realized how hard it can be to navigate between the different events as they are frequently occurring simultaneously. To try and attend the largest number of events possible is no easy task and it becomes even more difficult when one try to determine how to cover the best material that will fit the interest of this site's readership.

As someone who is not an Austin resident, at least not in this stage of life (I have often wondered if I should move to this community of film and art lovers), I checked in a bit later than I had hoped at my hotel, and with my somewhat scattershot schedule in place I headed for downtown. The first place I went to was the Austin Convention Center. The place is a mammoth undertaking to even behold visually. The amount of effort that must have been invested towards creating this convention center, and also planning events for it would be substantial -- to say the least of it. Navigating it is another challenge, with four floors to go between and explore for the various panels, shops, rest centers, eateries, and other interesting sights. The convention center even has it's own built in screening theater. How cool is that? I explored and then I continued to explore. It's like entering a exciting maze that demands you inquire into every crevice of the center.

When it came to preparing for the evening events, I knew that the film that would perhaps be in highest demand for a review on this site would be the Duncan Jones directed Source Code, which was going to have it's world premiere as a headlining film for the festival's opening night. Jones has found great success with Moon, and for many audience members expectations were heading through the roof and reaching towards the skies of the moon itself. Pun intended. I was curious about receiving some film-badge tickets to the screening but those apparently went quickly (should one desire them they apparently disappear before 8:30 AM. Good Grief.) I had to stand in line for about an hour to get into the film, but it was worth it: even if simply for the fact I was able to attend such an exciting event and cover the film with an early look at this upcoming Summit Entertainment release.

Source Code was premiering at the Paramount Theater venue and so was blacktino which had it's world premiere afterwards. I was lucky enough to attend both screenings for this first evening. It was a bit frustrating to be forced into leaving the theater and then to go stand in line for another 40 or so minutes just to get back in. Oh well… what's a film critic to do in that kind of situation anyway. Go back in time for eight minutes and re-arrange a way to not leave the theater and stand in line? No real life Source Code opportunities exist (yet).

As silly as it might sound, I ended up being pretty happy about having to stand in line. I met an art director who gave me his business card. He seemed to be an interesting character, and a friendly one at that. As an aspiring film-maker it seemed like I had made at least one good connection through that chance encounter. I also met a cute girl who was friendly enough to talk to me about some of the films playing at SXSW, and I ended up giving her my e-mail (for whatever that's worth). As a certified geek I felt lucky to have even done that much. I doubt anyone reading this cares too much, yet it won't stop me from sharing that information. Because -- 1) I have the power. 2) The power of the long waiting lines at SXSW will not be denied their due recognition!

Both opening night film premieres I attended were followed by enjoyable Q&A sessions afterwards with the film-makers and casts. It was truly a joy to experience this. It felt like I was being given an open invitation to a genuine film experience for the memory books. These moments will be cherished.

Director, Writer, and Cast of Source Code

Source Code Q&A Note:

Duncan Jones was a charming and laid-back guy with a clear passion for film-making when he spoke to the audience and tackled questions about the making of the film. The cast attendees included Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, and Vera Farmiga. Screenwriter Ben Ripley was also in attendance and answered some questions about the concepts behind the film, but as these comments veered into spoiler territory I won't bother reciting that information here. Cutesy comments were made by several individuals regarding the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Monaghan. Farmiga answered one question about her primarily stationary role by explaining how she figured out a number of ways to swivel her chair in different directions, and Duncan elaborated that her character was mostly stationary -- so much so -- to the point that he worked with the screenwriter to give her character more time to move around the set. It was mostly a fun, lighthearted session and an entertaining way to close the premiere.

Papparazi-lookin' shot of Source Code star Jake Gyllenhall walking around the Paramount theater

Source Code Director Duncan Jones (Moon)

blacktino Q&A Note:

Writer/Director Aaron Burns is a film-maker to truly follow in the future. This was his debut feature length production. He has experience working on many Robert Rodriguez productions, and it show's with a well-polished production that clearly took a lot of effort on his part with many creative and exciting decisions. In the Q&A he elaborated on a lot of the process of making the film -- from it's idea, to it's original screenplay title, and to what may lay ahead for the film and it's actors (the four leads were in attendance and also spoke). The biggest highlight of this panel to me was how he explained the decision to only use lower-case letters for the film's title. Why did he do that? To emphasize how unimportant labeling someone is. The overriding point the film wants to make is to judge someone based on who they are as an individual, and not as a result of someone's race or attributes that they can't control and shouldn't ultimately matter to anyone. Judge personal character. It was an impressive and entertaining session that had me exciting to see where this young film-maker will go with any future film projects.

blacktino writer/director Aaron Burns

Writer/Director (Aaron Burns) and Cast of blacktino

Look for my reviews of Source Code and the crowd-pleasing Blacktino to arrive shortly.

I will keep everyone updated on my experience with the festival over the next few days. Keep reading! There's some fun stuff coming up, and I may even have a few surprises up my sleeve too.

Day Two Write-Up:

I know, I know. It's been a while since I updated with more information on my SXSW coverage. It's been one hell of a ride to be participating in this festival. Seriously, dudes (and dudettes), this is one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had and to say that I have been heavily stimulated or on sensory overload is a vast understatement. Anyway, the radical fun continued beyond day one. My coverage didn't just up and die a slow miserable death either. Believe me, I was busy attending a bunch of events (or certainly trying to -- sometimes I failed with a sad and miserable attempt to get into a screening).

The second day was taken a little bit slower in the morning. I think I was literally exhausted by the first day. In the future, it may be easier to jump through one event or film to another but as a first time attendee it really was quite overwhelming to be surrounded by the non-stop antics of everything going on around me. I grabbed some breakfast at a local resteraunt and headed over to the convetion center earlier in the morning. After I arrived at the covention center I explored the place even more than I did the first day and actually tried to check out some of the press rooms/areas. This was a definite highlight of attending the entire event. I was able to network with a number of individuals. I even met some writers working for some other websites I admire (though I won't mention those sites here -- they wont get free advertising from me, sorry). This was just an excellent way to explore the depths to which other writers were also covering the event. I met a really fantastic guy in particular by the name Niall McKay, a gentleman who is a documentary film-maker also running the San Francisco Irish Film Festival (www.sfirishfilm.com -- Hey, I'll advertise that site for free). He seemed to know a lot more about the documentaries playing at the festival than I did. My overall impression of him was that those were the kinds of films he was primarily covering for whatever source he was writing for during SXSW. The cool thing about meeting this guy was that he wanted some advice on what films were getting the most buzz or were supposed to be from some of the most impressive film-makers, and to the best of my ability I tried to give him a rundown of some of the films playing at the festival I thought might be interesting to him. Getting to do something like that served as a huge reminder to me that it's impossible to literally know or cover every aspect of an event like SXSW which gave me a spectacular wave of relief just by providing myself with the knowledge that I wasn't alone in trying to figure out everything noteworthy going on at SXSW.
I saw a few films on the second day as well, including the super-indie Green (by writer/director Sophia Takal), about a relationship that starts to break apart slowly and rather painfully. This movie was litterally a chore for me to sit through though. The theater I saw it in was showcasing the premiere of the film and the audience (which was already quite small) had a number of walk-outs throughout and a lot of people got up to leave really fast once the Q&A session with the writer/director and actors began. I learned that the film was essentially made by a crew of less than 10 people and that it was made in less than two months from the beginning of the idea to the conclusion of all aspects of the production. I heard someone in the audience compliment the cinematography as being a strong point, and could see the cringing expression creep onto the face of Sophia Takal. It's not really a secret that if someone asks a question at a premiere event of a film and one of the main aspects they compliment is the cinematography or music it means a lot of people may not have enjoyed the film and someone was grasping for areas to actually compliment.

Outside of the Paramount Theater

Later that evening, I attended Ti West's (The House of the Devil)  premiere of The Innkeepers over at the Paramount -- which was quickly become my favorite venue of the festival, both in terms of it's high-class atmosphere (with a balcony and sides) and even because of the cool fact that a lot of the films premiering at the festival that most interested me were being presented over there. This new feature film by Ti West was obviously one of the most anticipated films of the entire festival for horror junkies due to the cult-like nature of the writer/director's previous effort, The House of the Devil, which had a surprising amount of acclaim and fandom. I wasn't really sure what to expect from West's newest effort but I knew it would be a good idea to attend because I'm fully aware a lot of DVDTalk readers love this director's work and that many of you folks would be excited to hear any verdict whatsoever on his newest creation.

The Writer/Director, Cast, and other key production players for The Innkeepers

Ti West (right) talks The Innkeepers

(PS: I apologize for it looking low-res, folks.)
The Innkeepers Q&A Note:

To be blunt, the Q&A session following The Innkeepers made me like Ti West a whole lot less than I thought I did. He may have simpy had a case of nervousness that was jumping out in awkward ways but one audience member questioned him about his influences -- essentially what film-makers or films have influenced him. West essentially said that he has no influences other than his own life, and that his films reflect himself personally and that's where you can see influences take shape. The guy in the audience said something to the effect of 'you didn't answer my question', which is also pretty dang rude to be honest, but West's response seemed like something from a politician -- and not a film-maker starting to find his audience. He basically retorted with 'I thought I did answer your question. What are you asking me? Do I watch horror movies? Yes, I watch movies". That's not a direct quote but it's pretty dead on to his reaction. For a film-maker who specializes in a slow-burn method developed by others and who features a Tarantino-esque breakdown of chapters throughout his films (even the designs of these 'chapter titles' remind me of Tarantino) I was a bit surprised by his reluctance to share his thoughts on influences. This is always one of my favorite questions asked frequently to directors and while I'm sure some of the audience members in attendance won't agree with my assessment of his reaction, it rubbed me the wrong way. 

Two other notable moments in the session: 1) a man stood up to ask Ti West why he chose a hotel for the film that looks no different than the types of hotels many people stay at while traveling. The audience member basically said it removed a lot of scare-moment possibilities many films have. I don't even recall the answer nows (sorry everyone!) but I was a little shellshocked by the question. I had thought the setting was creepy and one of the effective aspects of the film. 2) The composer (Jeff Grace) was complimented on his work while on the stage and was asked to speak about his involvement in the film. The composer's response? To be nervous and not really know what to say other than to mumble a few words. He acted like a deer in headlights. However, that reaction was really kinda amusing to me. He truly did contribute a lot to the effectiveness of the film.

The next film I watched at the festival was Super. Unfortunately, I didn't stay for the Q&A to this film so I don't really have anything cool to report in that regard. Woah! I'm surprised by that myself. Super is the hotly anticipated James Gunn (Slither) written/directed effort starring Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page as crime-fighting wannabee self-made heroes. I would have stayed for that session but I rushed over to the Ritz for the midnight showing of Attack The Block, the feature film debut from writer/director Joe Cornish (who worked with Edgar Wright on the script for the upcoming Ant-Man and the script for Spielberg's Tintin) . Unfortunately, I didn't manage to make it inside the screening. It was a full crowd and I was one of those unlucky individuals turned away. Thus ending the evening film fun.

NOTE: Check back soon for more updates on the rest of my time spent with SXSW, and for my reviews on the films I have been seeing at the festival, which will be arriving shortly too!


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