By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act March 20, 2012 at 8:37PM
This was S&A’s first year at The SXSW Film Festival, so, as could be expected, there were a few hiccups here and there, but mostly logistical. However we (myself and Vanessa) got through it all unscathed; lessons learned for next year’s festival that will assist in planning for it when the time comes.
But it was good to finally make it to Austin, TX for the mammoth festival that I assume must be a beast to plan every year.
To keep this simple, I've divided this post into "Tambay's SXSW 2012 Recap" and "Vanessa's SXSW 2012 Recap."
TAMBAY'S SXSW 2012 RECAP
A film festival is really only as strong as its lineup of films, and I’ll be honest and say that, upon first looking at this year's SXSW selections (before the festival began) I wasn’t immediately excited by much of what I saw – going based solely on trailers and synopses primarily. Obviously I had yet to see any of the films, but I recall being far more enthusiastic about last year’s lineup, which included the stateside debut of Attack The Block, and introduced John Boyega to the world.
There was also the drama/thriller 96 Minutes, which star Evan Ross was an acting award for at the festival, and Aaron Burns' Blacktino (which I still haven't seen).
Viva Riva! Also screened in the global section of the festival; Victoria Mahoney’s Yelling To The Sky (which I shad not seen at that point; I would see it a few months later in NYC); the film that would win this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary, Undefeated, also screened at SXSW 2011, as did Benda Bilili!. And there were others that were of interest to me and that I was genuinely excited to see.
These are just the “black films” by the way, or the films with people of African descent in starring roles.
Outside of that group, there was Source Code, Romain Gavras’ Our Day Will Come, Incendies, Errol Morris’ Tabloid, and several others that were on my “must-see” list (I of course eventually saw most of them at later festivals, or on DVD/VOD).
This year’s SXSW festival – 2012 – lineup just didn’t do for me what last year’s did, so I went into it laggardly; my co-hort, Vanessa, while she approached it much more enthusiastically than I did, felt similarly about the selection of films this year (you can read her thoughts below mine).
I’ll keep this short and mention 2 films that I felt really stood out above many of the others for me at the festival; first was Ya’Ke Smith’s Wolf (if you’ve read my review of it, then this probably won’t be news to you; if you haven’t read my review, you can do so HERE now). I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to expect from it, after reading its synopsis and watching its trailer before the festival; but I was enthralled from the opening frame to the last. I really do hope it gets picked up by the right distributor – key words there being “the right distributor;” I’m sure Ya’Ke, as well as the film's cast and crew will be pleased with an acquisition; BUT, I’m sure they’ll be even more pleased if the distributor shows that they know what to do with the film, and how to get it out to the audiences that want to see it. I’ve seen many a film get acquired and then dumped, or just mishandled by the distributor.
The other highlight was the documentary Brooklyn Castle – a moving look at the ups and downs of a junior high school chess championship team comprised primarily of black kids. I also reviewed it enthusiastically (read my review HERE if you haven’t). It was announced soon after it premiered at the festival that Sony Pictures had picked up remake rights to the doc; I can’t say what to expect there, but I strongly recommend you see the doc if it comes your way, before the Hollywood adaptation happens. You will most certainly be moved as I was.
Obviously I couldn’t see every single film; in all, I’d say that I saw 10 to 15 films total – not a lot considering there were 132 feature films; but our first full day there was Saturday, the 10th, and we left Wednesday morning, the 14th, so really we had just 4 days of movie watching, at about 3 films per day. Anything more than that would’ve been tough for a number of reasons, like the fact that you have to be in line a good hour (sometimes more depending on the popularity of the film) before a screening begins, just so you can be sure that you’ll get into it (SXSW doesn’t have separate press screenings like some other festivals do – Sundance for example - so everyone, including press, general audience ticket holders, filmmakers, etc all see the same films together, which means getting into a screening isn’t always a guarantee; and that's why you’re encouraged to get to the screening location early).
To see 21 Jump Street for example, we were in line for about 2 hours (and the funny thing is that even though we got there really early, there was already a really long line; but the screening was in one of the (if not the) biggest theater in use by the festival. But, as luck would have it, we both despised the movie in the end. So there ya go…
But the point is, all that waiting in line really kills one’s time, as well as the fact that there are several theaters used by the festival, and they all aren’t very close to each other; so you also spend a lot of time on shuttle buses (or on foot) getting from one theater to the next.
Another reason it’s nearly impossible to see more than 3 movies a day is because you do need to sleep at some point; it’s entirely useless to go into any screening sleepy, as I did on more than 1 occasion, and you end up dozing off during the movie, and you miss some of it.
The last reason is that reviews have to be written, and we tried to review films within 24 hours of seeing them; otherwise, they’ll pile up on your to-do list, as you see more and more films; and before you know it, you’ve seen 6 films, and written no reviews.
But that’s why it makes sense to have a partner working with you at the festival; while one of you is screening a film at the Violet Crowne theater for example; the other could be screening another film at the Alamo Ritz theater, or attending a panel; or getting some food, taking a nap, or already waiting in line for the next screening. I know some media outlets send several writers to these behemoth festivals for that reason. You just get more done, and it’s less taxing on each person, as it was when I went to Sundance in January solo.
And on that note, I’ll pass the baton over to Vanessa for her own general reactions to the festival and films. Read her writeup immediately below.
VANESSA'S SXSW 2012 RECAP
This is my first time attending a film festival of this size, so I wasn’t sure to expect. Besides the rainy and cool weather this past weekend in Austin, the city seems ideal to host this film event. Prior to the fest, I wasn’t too thrilled with the selection; there seems to have been many more documentaries than narrative features, at least for the films that pertain to our site.
Those who are familiar with the downtown Austin area, the theater venues and transportation logistics likely caught more screenings than I did. However, things did get easier as I became more familiar with the system. The first screening I caught was Matthew Cherry’s The Last Fall, which I reviewed HERE. I was glad to see plenty of advertisement for the film; I saw many posters in all corners throughout downtown aside from the convention center. I also had the pleasure to meet Cherry and some of the film’s crew.
I was disappointed with a few films that I was highly anticipating like the documentary Tchoupitoulas (see my review HERE) and the narrative feature Gimme The Loot (my review HERE), the latter which ended up winning the festival’s Jury award!
However, some other films surpassed my expectations, like the documentary Bay Of All Saints (see my review HERE) and Ya’Ke Smith’s brilliant feature film debut Wolf, which Tambay reviewed. I was delighted to meet Wolf’s helmer Smith and to converse with lead actor Jordan Cooper and Mikala Gibson, who plays Cooper’s mother in the film.
Here’s a recap on a two others that held my attention, which are of interest to S&A:
A Chjana– A short we’ve profiled on the site a couple of times before. Jonas Carpignano helmed this remarkable 20-minute film inspired by real events about an African migrant in Italy during the country’s most notorious race riots. After one of the riots, Ayiva, an intense and nuanced performance by Koudous Seihon, and his friend Chico, played by Cheik Baily Kane, make a pact to reunite the next morning at a train station. It’s a beautifully shot and touching film; I just wished it had been a full-length feature.
Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke– another short we’ve profiled in the site. Yes, the predicaments in which Luke finds himself in are inane and absurd, but, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty amused and it held my attention throughout the 11 minutes or so. I am not a fan of Mr. Luke’s persona whatsoever, but it was actually better than what I expected shrugs.
I networked with S&A fans, filmmakers and cinephiles, so I was in good company. Overall, the festival was a great learning and inspirational experience. If it were possible, I certainly wouldn’t mind attending SXSW next year.