South by Southwest was the first film festival to which I ever traveled; it was 2010 when they premiered Kick-Ass and showed a sneak of Predators. I fell in love with the city of Austin so much that I go back twice a year (also for Fantastic Fest), and fell for festivals such that I explore them all over the country, nay, the world now. You’ve read – and if you haven’t, why not? – my reports on the TCAs and Sundance, which are both events that I love, but each of those are only one thing. Either all TV, or all movies. Here at SXSW I get movies, technology, and music shows I wouldn’t even have time for if I wanted to!
SXSW began as a music festival, and added a film and interactive component over the years. The film festival actually runs longer than the music by several days now, so take that, rock stars. Unlike Sundance or Toronto, where major studios cull the schedule of independent films to purchase the distribution rights, SXSW isn’t so much a buying festival. There are some sales for sure, but it’s more of an opportunity for studios to premiere films and for fans to be exposed to cool, edgy material.
Between the film slate and the interactive conference’s exhibition of new technology and apps, there were plenty of geekily cool moments. I was there watching movies, interviewing celebrities and checking out some of the tech, so here are the top 10 things I saw at SXSW.
10. SXSW Shuts Down Marvel and Comixology
Marvel Comics had a great idea to drum up interest in their new Marvel App and content on Comixology. They would give away 700 classic first issues to entrants attending the SXSW Interactive Conference. Most of us could never afford a Captain America or Fantastic Four #1 in a good old fashioned plastic bag with a cardboard back, and let’s face it, if we could, we would never expose those pages to the elements or our own grubby little fingers. So if we actually want to read the first issue, our only options are a trade paperback reprint, or this online edition. The online version is likely more faithful to the original colors, or perhaps enhanced for digital screens.
It doesn’t matter, though, because it seems Marvel vastly underestimated the numbers at SXSW Interactive, and contest entries shut down Comixology. They suspended the contest as a result. So are you happy now, Marvel fans? No comics for anybody!
9. Joseph Gordon-Levitt Hasn’t Heard the Nolan/Justice League News
Or at least that’s what he says when asked about his reaction to his Inception/Dark Knight Rises director being hired to handle DC’s answer to The Avengers. I actually had a TV interview with Gordon-Levitt for his directorial debut, Don Jon, which will run on Crave Online, but I made sure to ask him about the Nolan news.
Now, I’ve gotten to interview JGL several times over the years, all the way back to his indie film Manic. Around the time of (500) Days of Summer he was cast in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra so indie movie junkets became a chance to ask him about his upcoming big studio films. He was always evasive and by the time he landed in Inception, he wouldn’t say anything about his big movies. I politely waited until the end of the Don Jon interview, and I certainly had plenty of questions about his current film. But news is news, and Warner Brothers/DC hiring Nolan is news. I asked him if he was excited to hear Nolan was going to be involved; Gordon-Levitt said he hadn’t heard that, which could have been a quick way to shift the focus back to his current movie. But he’s a busy guy, so he probably hasn’t been online reading the news. Right?
8. Team Coco on the Ground
Conan O’Brien’s online army were in full force at the Interactive portion of SXSW. I hooked up with them in the Austin Convention Center where they were shooting Vine videos on a cell phone of convention attendees. While every app developer was sending booth babes around Austin giving out free samples of their latest service, Coco couldn’t take any of this seriously.
The Coco crew had two ideas for convention goers. I chose to record a video complaining about apps: why does every app need to update every two days? I just want the current version to keep working! The other idea was to pitch Conan your idea for an app, while chewing on a mouthful of crackers. I wasn’t opposed to the crackers; I just couldn’t think of an app to pitch. So far I have not seen any of the Vines on their Twitter feed or website, which is why I’ve chosen a totally unrelated Team Coco video to accompany this text. Yeah, the interactive conference ended Tuesday, Coco…so get on that.
7. Shailene Woodley reading Manga
By now everyone knows Shailene Woodley because she’s playing Mary Jane in the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man. You may have also heard her movie The Spectacular Now was a big hit at Sundance, and A24 will be releasing the film this summer. I finally got to see Spec Now (as the cool kids are abbreviating it) at SXSW and it only adds to Woodley’s cred.
Woodley plays Aimee Finecky, a shy independent girl who falls for bad boy Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), and one of her character traits is she’s a manga fan. Now this may raise some red flags: we all hate when movie stars play their version of “nerds” with glasses and pony tails and some token obsession. Woodley doesn’t wear glasses, although she does have a pony tail in a few scenes, and that only makes her cuter. Her character’s manga collection isn’t really played up that much.
There could be a whole movie about a cute girl collecting manga, and there should be – get on that, Hollywood! – but least when Aimee shows off her collection she gets it right. She teaches Sutter (Miles Teller) to read them right to left, so Woodley and the filmmakers at least know that much about manga themselves (or did the research, anyway). When Spec Now comes out on DVD, somebody should make a gif of Woodley flipping through the books.
6. Mature for Her Age
Grow Up, Tony Phillips is Austin filmmaker and child prodigy Emily Hagins’ fourth film. She was shooting Pathogen when she was 12, but now that she’s 20 it’s not cute anymore. She’s just a professional veteran director. Okay, it is still cute, but the point is she’s gotten rather good at filmmaking, so it’s not just a gimmick that she’s a young director.
Tony Phillips is about a high schooler who still dresses up for Halloween and goes trick or treating. His choice of robot costume should make all of our inner retro-fiends happy: a boxy ’50s style machine. The theme of keeping our childhood traditions alive is awesome. I mean, why shouldn’t we keep trick or treating? It’s a lot more creative and social than just going to a costume party and getting drunk. Tony’s making more effort than most of the kids wearing store-bought costumes, so he’s earned it!
5. Download This!
Remember Napster? If not, or if The Social Network made you curious, this documentary, directed by Bill and Ted‘s Alex Winter, will remind you. Napster was the first significant music sharing service, and it was effectively shut down by the music industry and their copyright lawsuits. Just seeing Napster screens at work will make you nostalgic, and this fair portrait of its creators Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning shows they weren’t trying to steal from anyone. They just wanted to create a legal way to share authorized music, and they sort of got screwed when the industry just took their concept and did it their own way with iTunes.
You may not know this, but Winter has become quite an accomplished director since Bill and Ted. You should definitely check out his awesome movie Freaked (Mr. T as a bearded lady! Bobcat Goldthwait as a guy with a sock-puppet head!), and on television he’s worked on Ben 10 and Level Up. There’s no air guitar in Downloaded, but if Bill and Ted had logged on in 2000 they would have freaked out over all the music available for free. Or maybe Wyld Stallyns would have sued Napster like Metallica. Winter crafts a tale like David Fincher’s Facebook tale in documentary form, only Napster doesn’t have a happy ending for its creators. Spoiler.
4. A Torrent Affair
If you thought Napster was a hot topic on the Internet, get a load of this documentary about the Swedish file sharing service The Pirate Bay. TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard follows the creators of TPB during their trial when Hollywood studios sued them for facilitating bit-torrent downloads of copyrighted motion pictures. This is an even grayer area than Napster. The founders argue that they’re fighting for a free internet, but dude, did they have to go and call it The Pirate Bay?
The filmmakers’ access to their company, technology and private lives is unprecedented. We get deep inside the Pirate Bay headquarters and the programmers’ private lives. It may not be the most flattering portrait of hackers, although I think the filmmakers were sympathetic to the ideals of a free Internet. The TPB guys just come across as immature. They have lofty ideals but seem dismissive of little things like copyright and artistic ownership. That’s for the courts to decide, and they did, but we get to explore how it got this far and draw our own conclusions.
3. Milius the Barbarian
John Milius directed such films as Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn (1984) and wrote Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry and the story to Spielberg’s 1941; he’s also rumored to be the basis for John Goodman’s Walter in The Big Lebowski. At SXSW, he got his own movie. The documentary Milius features all the crazy stories of Milius behind the scenes, as told by his super famous friends: Spielberg, Eastwood, Scorsese, Coppola, Schwarzenegger… a bigger cast than any Milius movie.
As a behind-the-scenes story of some of the most important films, Milius is pure cinephile nerdgasm. I mean, just hearing the above collection of filmmakers tell stories, it doesn’t really matter who they’re talking about. Milius himself is represented through an old interview (he’s had a stroke so can’t speak today.) Basically, stories of Milius are more entertaining than the movies themselves. Milius pulled guns on movie stars, made outrageous threats or outlandish casting suggestions, wore a stinky blazer… if it weren’t all for real, it might sound even less believable than the John Goodman version.
Like the manga issue in The Spectacular Now, you might worry if Hollywood were making a movie about dice based roll playing games. Luckily, Zero Charisma is not a Hollywood movie. It’s an indie movie from Austin filmmakers Andrew Matthews and Katie Graham, and they not only know their RPGs, but have a cinematic way to show everyone else how cool they are.
Scott (Sam Eidson) is a game master who rules his games with an iron fists, but his descriptions of the adventure to his players are elegant, and the movie captures the drama of guys sitting around a table rolling a 20 sided die. Underneath the game is a good character drama about what happens when the game changes and a game master can’t hold it together. Scott reluctantly allows newcomer Miles (Garrett Graham) into his game and Miles appeals to the players’ frustration with Scott. So Miles is the bad guy, obviously. You’ve got to respect the game master!
1. Swallow our Souls
Bruce Campbell himself was in the house for the premiere of Fede Alvarez’s re-imagining of Sam Raimi’s original cabin in the woods film. Though there is no Ash in the new Evil Dead, Campbell produced this remake/reboot/rewhatever with Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert.
The new Evil Dead did not disappoint horror fans, who were cheering from the pre-title sequence through the infamous tree scene to the all the new horrors. Campbell joined the cast and filmmakers on stage after the film as all of Austin, or at least 1200 of them, hailed to the king. However, he called reports on an Evil Dead 4 “baloney” even though Raimi has said during his Oz the Great and Powerful press rounds that he’s writing a fourth Ash movie. Meanwhile, they’re already talking about an Evil Dead 2, so there’s good news for deadite fans everywhere.