At SXSW, movies crowd the schedule
by Molly Templeton
|Motörhead’s frontman in the documentary Lemmy|
South By Southwest (SXSW), Austin’s sprawling, wonderful music/film/interactive festival, is a place to keep really, really busy. SXSW’s film track, now in its 17th year, hosts five days of panels, interviews and discussion and nine days of screenings — screenings for which there are increasingly fewer seats than there are would-be attendees. At more than one screening, SXSW film producer Janet Pierson asked, while introducing the films, whether people had had problems getting into screenings. Her response to the grumbling was to say that having too many people is a better problem than having too few. Though the audience (understandably) didn’t see it the same way, the expanding crowds are a sign of the increasing relevance of SXSW’s film festival, for which registration was up 25 percent this year.
It wasn’t impossible to see a wide array of films at SXSW, provided you planned well and picked carefully. What I saw in Austin ranged from an unforgettable documentary about Motörhead’s oddly charismatic frontman (Lemmy) to a coming-of-age-in-the-’80s story (Skateland) that wore its John Hughes influence proudly on its sleeve and a slasher-flick send-up starring Alan Tudyk (Dollhouse) as one of two backwoods buddies unexpectedly menaced by a gaggle of college kids (Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, which picked up an audience award). There were shorts, music videos and feature film world premieres; there were panels, packed Q&As with the likes of Michel Gondry and events hosted by hitRECord.org, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s collaborative online production company (of a sort). The hitRECord.org Spring Spectacular was half performance, half fantastic exploration of what the site does (in short: People upload all kinds of art; other people make it even better) and half participatory experience; the number of flashes popping and iPhone screens glowing seemed to make Gordon-Levitt, the evening’s host, almost giddy.
Of the movies I missed, some were big-name films that’ll land here soon enough (MacGruber, Kick-Ass, The Runaways), while others may require more patience (juried prizewinners Tiny Furniture and Marwencol; the Oregon-set documentary Hood to Coast). Getting to see Micmacs, the latest from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie), was a treat, even if the film, with its burnished Rube Goldberg playfulness overwhelming the emotional aspects of its narrative, wasn’t quite up to Jeunet’s best (you can have Amelie; my vote is on The City of Lost Children). It’s still worth your time to watch former mime Dany Boon, playing a man whose existence is waylaid by a pair of rival arms dealers, conspire and coordinate with a host of oddball characters who live in a junkyard.
Portland music video director Matt McCormick debuted his first feature film, Some Days Are Better Than Others, which stars James Mercer (The Shins), Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney) and Renee Roman Nose (not in a band, to the best of my knowledge) as three Portlanders whose lives intersect in small, believable ways as they go about their quiet and often lonely days. I want to call Some Days an indie rock movie, but that might sound more dismissive than I intend; it’s the aesthetic, though, the vintage sweaters and plaid shirts interspersed with fleeting transitional shots of bridges and birds.
Skeletons, director Nick Whitfield’s peculiar, gently surreal film about two traveling businessmen and the unusual procedure they perform, was among my favorites from the week, as was Cold Weather, which opens with a beautifully damp shot of a Portland apartment courtyard. Doug (Cris Lankenau), who walks stiff-armed and slouchy and looks like a rough copy of Mark Ruffalo, loves Sherlock Holmes and once studied forensic science, a subject he puts to use in Cold Weather’s latter half — only to have writer-director Aaron Katz remind us, at the close, what his film is actually about: the grounded, understated connection between Doug and his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn).
The candy-colored, campily enjoyable Elektra Luxx was just picking up steam when the projector broke. Grumbles and complaints changed, mostly (no contingency plan? Really?), to laughter as Luxx director Sebastian Gutierrez (Women in Trouble, to which Luxx is a sequel) leapt onto the stage at the Paramount Theater and conducted a breathless, entertaining Q&A that virtually guaranteed the audience wouldn’t hold the projection snafu against his film — or the festival, which smartly added make-up screenings later in the week.
For full reviews of most of these films and other pieces about SXSW, see blogs.eugeneweekly.com/molly