By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood March 11, 2014 at 11:57PM
Austin's South By Southwest Film Festival is enriched by taking place each March alongside the Interactive conference, which offered back-to-back keynotes from Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.
Thus SXSW brings together two worlds that are usually far apart, Silicon Valley and Hollywood. This year especially, the Film Fest drew big crowds to its keynote speaker and panels, from Lena Dunham--who broke out with her second film to play the fest, "Tiny Furniture," which was followed by unveiling the first three episodes of "Girls" before the HBO series hit the zeitgeist--to "Joe" star Nic Cage, who surprised everyone with his thoughtfulness. At a film panel, Cinetic Media's John Sloss begged for transparency on VOD numbers, which is long overdue, while producer Dana Brunetti ("Captain Phillips") railed against celebrity crowdfunding. Yes, "Veronica Mars" played well to the faithful.
Meanwhile VOD distributors Magnolia, IFC and TWC's RADiUS were trawling for pickups, although RADiUS's Tom Quinn admitted that seven years after he started attending the fest, it's not as easy to find diamonds in the rough. Now everyone's looking. Bob Berney's Picturehouse scooped up Sundance entry Adam Wingard's"The Guest" before its SXSW screening. The film was produced by the same team, Snoot Entertainment, behind rookie Riley Stearns' "Faults," a twisty comedy-drama about cults starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Smashed"). She's so well-known in the festival universe that the small-budget film directed by her husband did not wind up in the competition. (Here's The Playlist's review.)
Truth is, SXSW follows well after Sundance and its competition selection of eight films (awards winners are listed below) is not the be-all-and-end-all of its programming. Fest producer Janet Pierson, six years in, says she's most interested in giving filmmakers and participants a great experience, offering networking and career building, then who wins awards. (Still, last year's "Short Term 12" proved a major calling card for SXSW.)
It's true that over the years, the likes of Joe Swanberg, Ti West, David Lowery, Amy Seimetz, Mark Duplass and yes, Dunham have built friendships and collaborators that have enriched all their films. They share and help each other, within an emerging barter indie economy. Duplass was back at the festival as the writer-star-producer of micro-budget two-hander found-footage movie "Creep," from rookie director Patrick Brice. (Interview with Duplass and producer and SXSW keynoter Jason Blum here.)
Television continues to make its mark on this festival as well as Comic-Con, as Mike Judge put audiences into rolls of laughter with hilarious HBO series "Silicon Valley," Sam Mendes and Juan Antonio Bayona's Showtime series "Penny Dreadful" terrified the SXSW crowds, Robert Rodriguez played to the hometown gang with the TV series "From Dusk Till Dawn," and keynote speaker Neil Degrasse Tyson introduced his mindbending revamp of Carl Sagan's series "Cosmos."
This year's film festival over the course of nine days hosted a total of 133 features with 89 World Premieres, 11 North American Premieres and 8 U.S. Premieres, with a remarkable 70 first-time directors. 113 shorts screened as part of 11 overall shorts programs. The 246 films were selected from a record number of overall submissions, nearly 6,500, comprised of approximately 2,200 features and 4,300 shorts, with an overall increase of 14% over 2013.
An interactive gathering of speakers and panels that functions as a Silicon Valley conference, SXSW pushes together disparate groups in the halls of Austin’s convention center and nearby hotels. They learn from each other, share new apps, tweet each other’s panels, and congregate at various watering holes. And if they’re running short on time, they can order food at entrepreneur Tim League’s Alamo Drafthouse, which enforces a strict no-phone policy in their theaters.
The Jury and Special Award-winners of the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference and Festival were announced Tuesday night at the Festival’s Awards Ceremony at the Paramount Theatre. The awards were hosted for the second year by comedian Jerrod Carmichael, who also starred in Nick Stoller's hilarious fest hit "Neighbors," starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron. Other movies that made their mark in the wide-ranging SXSW sections, including the Spotlight, Midnight and Vision sections, include opener "Chef," a scruffy father-son road comedy from Jon Favreau (with Gary Clarke Jr. performing at the after party) and Diego Luna's riveting and sincere biopic "Cesar Chavez," starring Michael Pena and America Ferrara as the farm worker activist and his stalwart wife, which roused the Paramount to multiple standing ovations.
Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics and IFC used the fest as press launches for Wes Anderson's "Grand Budapest Hotel," Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive," and richard Linklater's "Boyhood," respectively. And Participant Media mounted a day long conference of its own to accompany five films at the fest, including "Cesar Chavez" and corporate oil expose "The Great Invisible."
According to a SXSW press release:
Jury Awards were selected from the Narrative Feature and Documentary Feature Competition categories. Films in these categories, as well as all feature categories (with the exception of Headliners and Special Events), and the Poster and Title Design Competition entrants, are also eligible for 2014 SXSW Film Festival Audience Awards. All Audience Awards will be announced separately on Saturday, March 15, (with the exception of the 24 Beats Per Second category, which will be announced on Monday, March 17 due to first screenings scheduled for Saturday, 3/15). SXSW continues showing films through Saturday, March 15, details can be found here.
The full list of award winners is below.