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Category: South by Southwest

SXSW: '21 Jump St.,' 'Cabin in the Woods' eye 'Bridesmaids' bouquet

March 8, 2012 |  3:41 pm

21 Jump Street

At one point while putting together the program for this year’s South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival, the event’s producer, Janet Pierson, almost had to stop inviting films because she was concerned there wouldn’t be anywhere for the writers, director and actors to stay. Hotel bookings were up in 2011 from the year before, and finding rooms in Austin, Texas, for this year has been even tougher.

One might think becoming too popular is just the kind of problem the organizer of any event would want.

“People say they are good problems to have,” said Pierson during a recent phone call from Austin. “It’s certainly a problem of success, but it’s not a problem you want, to be clear.”

The festival, commonly known as SXSW, starts Friday with the opening night world premiere of the inside-out genre film “The Cabin in the Woods,” the directorial debut of Drew Goddard, who cowrote the film with Joss Whedon. The festival will show 130 features over its nine-day run in 10 venues ranging from the 1,200-seat Paramount Theater to a 39-seat room at the festival’s newest venue, the local arthouse Violet Crown Cinema.

This year’s edition opens to heightened expectations because of its steadily rising profile and attendance, and the success of last year’s festival, which featured the premiere of “Bridesmaids” before it became a cultural talking-point, box-office sensation and double-Oscar nominee. Last year also had “Undefeated,” which became the first film to world premiere at SXSW and go on to win an Oscar, for documentary.

“Those aren’t the markers,” said Pierson of living up to such successes. “For me, while that stuff is great and I’m super happy about it, to me the success of a film like ‘Weekend’” — filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s gay-themed romance that was an unexpected festival hit — “that’s life-changing in a way. That’s the thing you keep in the back of your head when you’re programming: How can we help completely undiscovered, unknown talent connect with the rest of the world?”

Among the films looking to break-out this year are “Jeff,” a hybrid documentary by Chris James Thompson that explores the effect of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer on the people of Milwaukee, and “Tchoupitoulas,” the vivid exploration of nighttime New Orleans by documentarians Bill and Turner Ross.

On the narrative side, there is the freewheeling graffiti-culture comedy “Gimme the Loot,” the first feature from Adam Leon; “Leave Me Like You Found Me,” the directing debut of indie producer Adele Romanski; and Austin-based filmmaker Bob Byington’s oddball fable “Somebody Up There Likes Me.”

Although SXSW may be known for its extremely indie fare, having a key role in launching the micro-budget “mumblecore” movement, organizers also have carefully cultivated a relationship to Hollywood. This year will feature the premiere of the movie adaptation/update of the television show “21 Jump Street,” with the film likely benefiting as much from the imprint of SXSW as the festival does from having stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum on its red carpet.

“It just says there might be more to this than what you expect,” said Chris Miller, codirector with Phil Lord, of premiering their roughhouse comedy at a film festival. “A ‘21 Jump Street’ movie should be met with some healthy skepticism, but I think that we’ve made something that is smarter than what you would expect and funnier than you might expect, and that South by Southwest wanted to incorporate it as part of its festival speaks to that.”

With its mix of outsider indies and smartly chosen studio films, South by Southwest has carved out a unique space in the festival landscape, with a bigger presence than smaller regional fests yet still apart from the industry-driven markets at the film festivals in Cannes, Toronto or even Sundance.

For Arianna Bocco, senior vice president of acquisitions and productions at Sundance Selects/IFC Films, the distributor who has picked up films such as “Tiny Furniture” and “Weekend” out of SXSW, it was losing out on the opportunity to distribute a low-budget genre film to a competitor that made her realize the fest had come into its own.

“I didn’t go for a couple of years,” said Bocco, who first attended more than 15 years ago, “and then I remember the year that Magnolia bought ‘Monsters’ right after the screening and I was like, ‘I can’t not be there.’ It’s reached that point where it’s competitive on all fronts.”


'21 Jump Street,' Bob Marley documentary to premiere at SXSW

Jessica Biel, Nazis top SXSW midnight movies lineup

— Mark Olsen

Photo: Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum in "21 Jump Street" Credit: Scott Garfield/Columbia TriStar

Word of Mouth: SXSW announces its film slate [video]

February 3, 2012 |  2:32 pm

Next month's South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival announced its feature film slate this week. With a lineup that includes the Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum comedy "21 Jump Street" and the Joss Whedon-produced horror film "The Cabin in the Woods," the Austin festival continued its tradition of selecting unconventional genre pictures and R-rated comedies apt to play well with its rowdy young audiences.

Times staff writer Rebecca Keegan discusses the SXSW slate in this story and this video.



SXSW: Texas two-step

'The Cabin in the Woods' to premiere at SXSW

SXSW 2012: Cliff Martinez, Jeffrey Tambor announced

— Rebecca Keegan


'21 Jump Street,' Bob Marley doc to premiere at SXSW

February 1, 2012 | 12:01 pm

Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum in "21 Jump Street"

Next month's South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival in Austin will premiere the Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum comedy "21 Jump Street"; "Marley," a much-anticipated documentary about musician Bob Marley; and "Decoding Deepak," a film about spiritual icon Deepak Chopra directed by his son, Gotham Chopra, organizers announced Wednesday.

The lineup, including the previously announced premiere of the Joss Whedon-produced horror film "The Cabin in the Woods," continues the Texas film festival's historic focus on genre movies, comedies and music documentaries.

"We look for stuff that’s smarter, edgier, raunchier and with a point of view," Film Conference and Festival Producer Janet Pierson said. "If there’s something that makes people uncomfortable and is pushing boundaries, we’re embracing it."

"Marley," which was directed by "Last King of Scotland" filmmaker Kevin MacDonald with the participation of the Marley family, is one of multiple music films SXSW is showcasing: "Under African Skies," about the making of Paul Simon's historic "Graceland" album, will also screen; and "Big Easy Express," which follows the bands Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show on the road, will close the festival.

The SXSW lineup also includes "Killer Joe," William Friedkin's dark comedy starring Matthew McConaughey as a contract killer; "Fat Kid Rules the World," Matthew Lillard's directorial debut about a depressed overweight teen; and "Small Apartments," an urban murder story starring Billy Crystal and Johnny Knoxville.

Multiple documentaries of interest to a Los Angeles audience are premiering, including "The Announcement," about Magic Johnson's 1991 revelation that he was HIV-positive and retiring from basketball; "Uprising: Hip-Hop & the L.A. Riots;" and "Sunset Strip," a 100-year history of the so-called loudest street on the planet.

A total of 130 features will screen at the 19th annual festival, which will take place March 9-17.


'The Cabin in the Woods' to premiere at SXSW

SXSW 2012: Cliff Martinez, Jeffrey Tambor announced

SXSW: Texas two-step


— Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum in "21 Jump Street." Credit: Scott Garfield / Columbia Pictures.

Joss Whedon's 'The Cabin in the Woods' to premiere at SXSW

January 12, 2012 | 12:00 pm

Cabininthe woods

"The Cabin in the Woods," a horror movie produced and co-written by Joss Whedon and directed by "Cloverfield" screenwriter Drew Goddard, will have its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival's opening night March 9, festival organizers announced Wednesday.

About a group of friends (Chris Hemsworth, Jessie Williams, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Kristen Connolly) who decamp to a remote cabin for a weekend of excess, "The Cabin in the Woods" continues SXSW's historic focus on genre movies. In addition to premiering the film, Whedon will participate in a conversation at the festival March 10.

SXSW also announced that it will premiere the first three episodes of Lena Dunham's new HBO series "Girls," and Dunham and executive producer Judd Apatow will participate in a panel March 13. For Dunham, it will be a return to the festival that launched her career -- Dunham's indie comedy "Tiny Furniture" premiered at SXSW in 2010.

Additional films announced include Kevin Macdonald's Bob Marley documentary, "Marley"; Jonas Akerlund's black comedy "Small Apartments"; "Beauty is Embarrassing," a documentary about artist Wayne White; "Citadel," a psychological horror film from Irish director Ciaran Foy; and a special presentation of the 1919 Ernst Lubitsch silent film "The Oyster Princess," with an original live score performed by the instrumental quintet Bee vs. Moth.

The complete festival lineup will be announced in early February. More information about the lineup so far is available at SXSW.com/film. The 19th annual South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival will take place from March 9-17 in Austin, Texas.



SXSW 2012: Cliff Martinez, Jeffrey Tambor announced

SXSW: Texas two-step

--Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden (Jesse Williams), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz) and Dana (Kristen Connolly) in "The Cabin in the Woods" Credit: Diyah Pera

SXSW 2012: Cliff Martinez, Jeffrey Tambor announced

October 26, 2011 | 12:01 pm

The 2012 South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival announced its first batch of sessions, including a conversation with Cliff Martinez, the onetime drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers
The 2012 South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival will be a little bit punk and a little bit Bluth.

The festival today announced its first batch of sessions for the 2012 edition, including a conversation with Cliff Martinez, the onetime drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers who is behind the propulsive electronic film scores for the movies "Drive" and "Contagion," and an acting workshop lead by Jeffrey Tambor, best known as George Bluth, the peculiar patriarch of the filthy rich Bluth family from TV's "Arrested Development."

The festival's eclectic, freewheeling panels are part of its signature, and SXSW organizers unspooled nearly 40 talks they have selected for 2012 from proposals submitted to their website. Next year's offerings are scheduled to include the functional: "Beyond Netflix and iTunes: Your Film's Unique Digital Distribution Strategy," organized by Richard Lorber of the independent film company Kino Lorber; the Twitter-friendly: "Arts Criticism in 140 Characters or Less," from Time magazine's Jen Nedeau; and the culturally-minded: "The Evolution of the Douchebag in Modern Cinema," by TV and film consultant Robyn Sklaren.

A full list of the panels announced today is available at SXSW.com/film.

The 2012 SXSW Film Conference and Festival is set for March 9-17 in Austin, Texas.


Cliff Martinez scores a strange success with "Drive"

SXSW 2011: Jodie Foster at "The Beaver" premiere

-- Rebecca Keegan

Photo: Cliff Martinez. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

SXSW 2011: The inside-out world of doc winner 'Dragonslayer'

March 17, 2011 |  1:29 pm


With a mix of footage from Flip cams and a Canon 5D still camera -- moving between home-movie immediacy and more artfully considered portraiture -- the documentary "Dragonslayer" creates a full sense of the interior world of Josh "Screech" Sandoval, a twentysomething skateboarder in Fullerton. In many ways, the film takes its stylistic cues from the wild unpredictability and inexplicable wiggling grace of Sandoval's manic skating style.

"Dragonslayer" was directed by Tristan Patterson and executive-produced by Christine Vachon, who got involved during post-production. It features a soundtrack of alternately roaring and dreamy contemporary rock music mostly from the hip indie labels Mexican Summer and Kemado Records. The film nevertheless came into the South by Southwest film festival for its world premiere with neither a sales agent nor outside publicist, an increasing rarity even at this DIY-oriented event. Playing as part of the documentary competition, "Dragonslayer" won the top prize of Best Documentary Feature as well as Best Cinematography. (Full disclosure: This journalist was a member of the three-person jury that decided those awards.)

The film is the first feature directed by Patterson, a 35-year-old screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles and had its origins on a Friday night in spring 2009 when Patterson went with a friend to a house party in Chino to see a band play. There he met Sandoval and was immediately taken by his reckless energy and relentlessly upbeat disposition. About a week later, Patterson met Sandoval again and began filming just a few days after that.

"I'm a writer, so I wasn't looking for a subject," said Patterson in an interview over Bloody Marys on an Austin, Texas, patio Wednesday afternoon. "And I definitely wasn't looking to make a documentary at all. I was really hungry to film. I'd spent years writing screenplays, all different kinds, and nothing was getting made. This, I thought I was going to make a 15-minute experimental art film that I would show in a gallery if I was really lucky.

"A lot of the things I've liked creatively have always been in the past. So I was so charged up when I thought I'd found something that was happening in the present." 

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SXSW 2011: At premiere, Jodie Foster calls 'The Beaver' the 'biggest struggle of my professional career' [Updated]

March 16, 2011 | 11:28 pm


Calling the film “the biggest struggle of my professional career,” Jodie Foster introduced “The Beaver,” her drama starring the troubled Mel Gibson as a depressed father who reinvents himself with the help of a hand puppet, to its first public audience at the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival on Wednesday night in Austin, Texas.

“All sorts of stuff happened after the film was finished that threw our release into a crazy pattern,” Foster told the sold-out audience of 1,200 people at the Paramount Theater, alluding to the very public and sordid domestic violence case between Gibson and his ex-girlfriend, a situation that delayed the release of “The Beaver,” filmed in 2009. “I have no regrets about him being in the film.”

Foster, who directed and co-starred in the film, prefaced the screening by saying: “This is not a comedy.” But “The Beaver” drew many laughs from the SXSW audience, most for intentionally funny scenes, as when Gibson showers and irons a shirt with the puppet on his hand, but at least once for a scene that was unintentionally evocative of the star’s personal problems -- when his character carries a box of liquor bottles.

“The Beaver” shifts to a much darker tone in one scene that drew gasps from the crowd.

“What was beautiful about the script was that it has equal levels of lightness and darkness,” said Foster, a longtime friend of Gibson's who plays his wife in the film. “It was hard to figure out when you go from one to the other.”

SXSW audiences are famously enthusiastic, but before the film, many expressed reservations about Gibson, whose public struggles began when he was pulled over for driving under the influence of alcohol in 2006 and delivered an anti-Semitic tirade. His problems escalated when a series of racist and threatening voice mails he had left his ex-girlfriend were made public last summer, and continued last week when he pleaded no contest to charges of domestic battery related to a January 2010 altercation. Gibson, 55, was sentenced to three years' probation and ordered to stay away from his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva.

“I’m Jewish, so that was something I really was weighing before coming out,” said Lainey Melnick, a commissioner for emergency services in Austin and a volunteer at the festival. “I used to love his work, but now it’s difficult for me to separate the two. I do think he’s a fabulous actor. In a way I’m sort of glad he’s not here so I don’t have to deal with that.”

After the film ended, Melnick was crying. “It was really beautiful,” she said. “I could put all that aside and was watching the story.”

Sandy Schwartz, an Austinite who was serving as a volunteer usher for the night, said she would never pay for a ticket to a Gibson movie. “He’s just generally not a nice person," Schwartz said. "Why do people continue to support him?”

But after the credits rolled, Schwartz’s position had softened. She seemed to credit Gibson with making the same kind of transformation as his character in the film, although the actor has made no public statement of remorse about the threatening voice mails or domestic battery case, and his attorney has repeatedly maintained Gibson's innocence. “I thought maybe this was his story,” Schwartz said. “Maybe there’s redemption and hope for him.”

Prior to the screening, some exhibitors who had not yet seen the film also expressed concern about it.

“You’ve got this very high-concept movie with a star who has had some real issues in the last year,” said Tom Stephenson, CEO of Rave Motion Pictures, which owns about 1,000 movie screens in 20 states. “People are worried about that combination. But if the movie gets really good early reviews or word of mouth, people might go see it in spite of the controversy.”

Last month, Summit Entertainment postponed the release of the film from March until May 20. Gibson is featured prominently in the trailer and the poster.

“In the campaign, he is kind of poking fun at himself,” said Mark Young, a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business. “He’s drawing attention to himself. 'I know I have messed up, I’m still here, I’m still an actor.' You could argue that ‘The Beaver’ is a way for Mel to express himself behind a mask.”

“If I was a studio exec, I would be very cautious about using Mel right now,” Young said. “Jodie Foster is a charming-enough and well-respected-enough person that she alone could do the launch of this film.”

That seemed to be Summit’s strategy in SXSW, where Foster attended a cocktail party before the screening. She had flown in Wednesday from the Paris set of the Roman Polanski film “Carnage” and was wearing sunglasses even at night due to what she said was an illness. Gibson did not attend SXSW, but actor Anton Yelchin, who plays his son in the film, and screenwriter Kyle Killen took the stage with Foster after the screening for a Q&A.

Another prong of the strategy involves a social action campaign promoting awareness of depression and mental health organized by Participant Media, a partner on the film. At SXSW, Participant is co-hosting a barbecue with the mental health awareness groups To Write Love on Her Arms and the Kristin Brooks Hope Center.

[For the record at 1:05 p.m., March 17: An earlier version of this post identified Participant Media as Participant Productions.]

Foster admitted to being nervous before the screening.

“For me it’s a very personal film,” Foster told the audience in Austin. “It has to do with all of my struggles and what I think about obsessively and where I am at this particular point in my life. We’ve all had these struggles and life is full of these -- half-comedy and half-tragedy -- and the only way to get through it is to know you’re not alone. Connection is the one thing that makes life bearable.”

 -- Rebecca Keegan

Photo: Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson appear in "The Beaver." Credit: SXSW


SXSW 2011: Harmony Korine rolls into Austin for Die Antwoord short film

March 16, 2011 |  5:08 pm


"Hello, South by Southwest. This is Harmony Korine comin' atcha."

It would a toss-up which is better: one of filmmaker Harmony Korine's notorious, rambling tall-tale live introductions or one of the outrageous videos he sometimes sends instead. For Tuesday night's world premiere in Austin, Texas, of his new 16-minute short film starring the South African rap group Die Antwoord, called "Umshini Wam," he sent along a video.

In a dimly lit room, Korine was seen with short hair and dark sunglasses, with fancy basketball sneakers over his hands. He noted first that the title translates to mean "Bring Me My Machine Gun." (A little Googling reveals that the phrase is based on an African rallying song.) Then things took a turn to what might be called the Harmonious.

"And so what happened was I got stuck in this other place filming something; that's really ridiculous," Korine said to explain his absence in a comicaly slurred and halting voice. "But I had to do it. Anyway, I hope you like this. We made this movie across 15 continents, it took a couple of years and a few million dollars, but in the end it was all worth it."

As one might expect, none of that description turned out to be particularly true from what followed onscreen.

Continue reading »

SXSW 2011: Joe Swanberg shines his 'Silver Bullets'

March 16, 2011 |  4:39 pm


No filmmaker has come to embody the scrappy micro-indie, do-it-yourself side of the South by Southwest Film Festival quite so fully as Joe Swanberg. His movies, including "Hannah Takes the Stairs," "Nights and Weekends" and "Alexander the Last," all made noteworthy premieres here, and their handheld, improvisatory style typified a certain type of Digital Age independent filmmaking. His new film, a harrowing tale of personal jealousy and artistic anguish called "Silver Bullets," had its premiere North American screenings at this year's festival, and it seems the South By kid is taking big steps toward growing up.

"Silver Bullets" took some 2 1/2 years of on-and-off shooting to create. After making "Alexander the Last," which premiered at SXSW in 2009, the Chicago-based Swanberg found himself at a creative crossroads. After abandoning another project, Swanberg assembled a small cast and simply started shooting. Though his previous films had been noted for their loosely structured storytelling, this was something different.

"As I've made more work, I think it's been easier for me to work with actors without a script at all," said Swanberg during a post-screening Q&A on Monday night. " 'Silver Bullets,' I would say, is the most improvised of anything I've ever made because we started shooting without even an idea of what the film would be other than I know the people that I wanted to work with. So we tried a bunch of false starts and different paths until we accumulated enough material that it started to make sense.

"The writing developed out of the shooting, and there was never anything on the written page that I gave anybody. It was through phone calls and e-mails and things like that."

The movie centers on a young actress who is cast in a low-budget horror film. (She's played by Kate Lyn Sheil, who is one of the breakout actresses of this year's festival, thanks also to her role in "Green," an understated tale of pastoral paranoia.) The director of that low-budget horror film (Ti West, director of "The Innkeepers" also playing SXSW) seems to have amorous designs on her, which sets her boyfriend (Swanberg) into a spiral of jealousy and self-doubt. Framed lightly around a werewolf horror story, the slight tinge of psycho-sexual genre storytelling makes "Silver Bullets," despite its free-form origins, feel like Swanberg's most cohesively structured film.

(And if there was ever any doubt of the inter-connectedness of Swanberg's universe, at the film's first screening Sunday night there was nearly a full row of friends and collaborators who represented easily more than a half-dozen films in SXSW this year alone.)

Continue reading »

SXSW 2011: 'Bridesmaids' director Paul Feig: 'Jon Hamm is a comedy nerd'

March 15, 2011 | 12:32 pm

In “Bridesmaids,” Kristen Wiig plays a maid of honor whose life falls into chaos as she plans her best friend's wedding. Scripted by Wiig and her writing partner Annie Mumolo, produced by Judd Apatow and directed by “Freaks and Geeks” creator Paul Feig, "Bridesmaids" comes with a top-line comedy pedigree. It also stars Maya Rudolph as the friend Wiig is terrified she’s losing, Jon Hamm as the guy she definitely should not be dating and Rose Byrne as her nemesis in wedding planning.

Before the film’s midnight premiere at SXSW, Rebecca Keegan talked to Feig about the dearth of good comedies for women, Hamm's hidden talent and fashion advice every director should heed.

24 Frames: This is Kristen’s first lead in a film. How does she make the transition from character roles to leading lady?

Paul Feig: I cast her in her first actual movie role, "Unaccompanied Minors." I’ve always been a huge fan of hers and kept up with her. I would get frustrated when I’d see her in movies 'cause they’d either use her too much or they would have her play almost dramatic, so they didn’t use her talents. I wanted to take what she’s funniest at, but then have her grounded and really have her go through the movie-star machine. When you get your first vehicle, you have to come into the machine as people know you, doing what they like about you. And then you go through so many moves and three-dimensional dramatic paces that you come out on the other side a fully realized movie star.

Most studio comedies seem to be written for guys, and the ones written for women leave me cold. Is there an untapped market for this movie?

PF: I’ve always wanted to do female-oriented entertainment. I’ve always related to women more than guys. When I wrote “Freaks and Geeks” I always liked writing the Lindsay character more, just 'cause growing up all my best friends were girls. After "Freaks and Geeks" I got offered all these “high school guys [in search of sex]  kind of movies. I don’t relate to that. I watched a ton of romantic comedies. The ones that are done well like “Annie Hall” and “When Harry Met Sally,” I love those movies. But so many of them are so terrible, and so overwritten. They don’t exist in the real world. They’re very idealized worlds. I always felt that women are so under-served, so it all came together on this project with all these funny women.

The history of "Saturday Night Live" cast members getting their own films is a checkered one. Do you worry about meeting audience expectations for a movie starring Kristen Wiig?

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