Talent discovery is what film fests like Sundance and SXSW are all about. Yes, the sales boom that attended Toronto and Sundance continued to the Austin, Texas fest, which is usually not a distributor's market. But agents like CAA's Dina Kuperstock mainly go to Austin to seek and support young clients like Evan Glodell, writer-director of Bellflower.
If Tiny Furniture's Lena Dunham was last year's SXSW it-girl (landing distribution, a Judd Apatow HBO series and a Scott Rudin development deal), even though Bellflower launched at Sundance, where it landed distributor Oscilloscope, Glodell was still the new SXSW filmmaker on the block. Many folks who missed Bellflower at Sundance caught up with it at SXSW, along with Zal Batmanglij's Sound of My Voice, which featured an even better performance from Brit Marling (video interview here) than Sundance hit Another Earth, which Fox Searchlight smartly opted to secret-screen at SXSW, continuing the Marling lovefest. (The former investment banker is wasting no time, replacing Eva Green in Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage and starring in Jamie Babbit's Breaking the Girl, as well as rejoining director Batmanglij as producer/co-writer/star of The East.)
Unlike actress Marling, who partners with directors who co-write the films she produces and stars in, Glodell has no intention of ever putting himself in a movie again. He is clearly a unique self-taught writing and directing talent who tinkers with camera custom optics and built a special car (the Medusa) with a roll cage, two flamethrowers, smoke screen, adjustable rear suspension, and three surveillance cameras. He shot the film for about $17,000 on a Silicon Images SI-2K mini prototype camera. "I am a mechanical techie," he says. "I can build things with my hands."
The short-filmmaker started writing Bellflower at age 22 to help understand why a relationship went wildly wrong. When he moved from Wisconsin to L.A., he supported himself with odd jobs, waited tables, and lived with his brother. After years of scouting locations, improving the script, and lining up talent to star in the film, he finally decided that he would play himself best. "I don't have any ambitions as an actor," he insists. "I felt very uncomfortable doing it. The first take every day I'd open my mouth and no words would come out. I'd do a couple of takes and eventually I could run the lines."
The film is controversially violent and misogynistic. "There's a lot of violence in the movie, and some of it involves women," he says. "It's intense. You don't know what's real and what's not. It's about a guy having his heart broken, going through a nightmare. He doesn't know how to deal with it. I don't have anger towards women. It's the first script I wrote, I was really young. I got older. It's told from an angry point-of-view. Young men are crazy strange emotional beings."
Still penniless, Glodell admits that he's a personal filmmaker who is "never able to work on other people's projects." A couple of people are interested in helping him to fund his next film, he says, which nobody has read yet. I am eager to see what he does next.
Other filmmakers cast themselves in their films--with varying results. One SXSW director who should never cast himself again is American Animal's Matt D'Elia, whose irritatingly narcissistic performance as a young man facing death drove me out of the theater after about 20 minutes.
Here's more emerging talent from SXSW that the industry will continue to watch.
Duncan Jones proved with Source Code, the follow-up to micro-budget Moon, that he's a strong, stylish director who can handle an accessible bigger-budget ($35 million) ensemble movie with movie stars. (Here's my video interview with him and Jake Gyllenhaal.)
Ti West’s sixth film, atmospheric horror flick The Innkeepers, not only broadened his appeal as a witty thrill-meister, but revealed Last House on the Left star Sara Paxton, 22, as a winsome comedienne.
Robbie Pickering's Natural Selection not only collected the SXSW Narrative Feature Competition grand jury prize, two breakthrough acting awards, special prizes for screenplay, cinematography and editing, but the Audience Award as well; IndieWIRE explains why. More about Pickering here.
SXSW breakout star Greta Gerwig (Hannah Takes the Stairs) is already well on her way, having starred in Greenberg and Arthur, but her performance in Alison Bagnoll's The Dish & the Spoon is revelatory. She can do improvised acting on a level that few can match. (Here's my video interview.)