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SXSW Day One: Early Buzz, Opener Source Code Plays Well

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood March 12, 2011 at 10:49AM

People keep telling me to see Ti West's horror flick The Innkeepers. So I'll check it out Saturday night. That's what film festivals do. They start buzz on a movie that few have seen or know anything about, and suddenly a career is born--or not.
Thompson on Hollywood

People keep telling me to see Ti West's horror flick The Innkeepers. So I'll check it out Saturday night. That's what film festivals do. They start buzz on a movie that few have seen or know anything about, and suddenly a career is born--or not.

While sharing an airport cab Friday with the NYT media columnist David Carr, who is here to support the Sundance hit doc Page One: Inside the New York Times and do a time management panel Monday, we recalled that he'd done a feature on Lena Dunham's jury-prize-winning Tiny Furniture last year; she went on to score an IFC release, an HBO series, a development deal with Scott Rudin and a screenwriting Indie Spirit, among other things. Breaking out at last year's fest with micro-budget VFX movie Monster led Brit Gareth Edwards to sign on to direct a big-budget Godzilla remake. Sundance breakout producer-writer-actress Brit Marling (Another Earth) is in Austin with her other Sundance film, Zal Batmanglij's Sound of My Voice--which she hopes to sell here as she weighs her options.

SXSW is also about networking among the Interactive and film fest attendees, who check out each others' panels. At a Guero's Mexican lunch with the indieWIRE and New York Film Festival gang and other assorted critics and pals, I reconnected with Kickstarter co-founder Yancy Strickler, whom I first met at a Twitter meet-up last year organized by Carr at the Driskill Hotel.

Friday night SXSW Film Fest producer Janet Pierson opened the nine-day 18th Film Festival, her third, telling the crowd that the original music fest is celebrating its silver 25th. After screening Source Code, she brought on director, David Bowie sprig and ardent tweeter Duncan Jones, who ignited his directing career at SXSW with the tour-de-force Moon. "You have eight minutes and 140 characters to review this film," he said. "That was terrifying. With Moon there weren't any expectations, with this there were a few."

Summit's Source Code proves that Jones is a strong, stylish director who can handle an accessible bigger-budget ($35 million) ensemble movie. Based on an original sci-fi premise by Ben Ripley, Jones and his cast --Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright--make the most of what could have been a deadly repetitive premise: a fighter pilot keeps returning--in eight-minute jags-- to the scene of a deadly explosion on a train speeding toward Chicago in order to gather intelligence about the bombing and prevent the tragedy. There's a bit of romance with fellow-passenger Monaghan; Farmiga and Wright are conducting the high-tech experiment. Judging from audience and twitter reaction and attendees at the opening night feed at Buffalo Billiards, the movie played well, without earning raves.

Of the films I have already seen, SXSW must-sees are:
World premieres:
Domestic terrorism doc Better This World, which features amazing access to the FBI (IW's Eric Kohn agrees with me).
Greg Mottola's genial sci-fi comedy Paul, written by and co-starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, with Seth Rogen as a foul-mouthed alien.

Fest Circuit features:
Susanne Bier's family drama In a Better World, which won the foreign film Oscar.
Denis Villeneuve's heart-tugger Incendies, the foreign nominee from Canada.
Mike Mills' relationship drama Beginners.
Evan Glodell's intense action bromance Bellflower.
Miranda July's elegant relationship comedy The Future.
Tom McCarthy's high school comedy-drama WIN WIN.

Andrew Rossi's Page One: Inside the New York Times.
Peter D. Richardson's examination of physician-assisted suicide, How to Die in Oregon .
Errol Morris's stranger-than-fiction Tabloid.
Horse whisperer profile Buck.
Kevin Macdonald's YouTube 24-hour Life in a Day.

Check out Filmmaker's SXSW coverage and IFC's live-streaming SXSW interviews from the IFC House. Flickchart is ranking SXSW movies, as is IW's criticWIRE.

This article is related to: Festivals, Genres, Headliners, Independents, Reviews, SXSW, Jake Gyllenhaal, Summit

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.