SXSW 2017 Film Festival Review

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Seth Rogan

The SXSW Film Festival has grown to become a major Film Fest in its own right with major film screenings, world premieres, famous actors, and numerous red carpet events held at epic theaters (The Paramount, The State, The Hideout, The Alamo and more). This year’s fest once again drew the spotlight on a variety of genres from indie sleepers and unconventional cinema to major films from some of today’s most influential visionaries. The festival kicked off with Austin’s own legendary filmmaker Terrence Malick’s new film ‘Song To Song‘, featuring Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara, and Natalie Portman.  downloadHaving the World Premier in Austin was appropriate for this love story set against Austin’s own vibrant music scene which included footage from epic Austin locations (The Mohawk) & music festivals including ACL Fest, SXSW, and Fun Fun Fun Fest.  The Film has had mixed results, mostly from disappointed Austinites wanting more about our legendary music scene, venues, and musicians. The next day Director Terrence Malick and actor Michael Fassbender were joined at a key film panel with another legendary Austinite Director Richard Linklater to discuss the film and its meshing of our local music and film worlds. Austin is rich in film history almost as much as our status of ‘musical capital of the world‘. The night before Film Opening Night, Austin hosted the annual Texas Film Awards (aka Hall of Fame) at Austin Film Studios honoring Shirley McLane, Linklater, Jeff Nichols, Sarah Green,Hector Galan & Tye Sheridan. More at AustinFilmSee our Film Festival photo highlights HERE.

imagesAs Austin seems to be the “second Hollywood” with vast and frequent world premieres and red carpet events, many other films hit the spotlight of the  SXSW Film Festival circuit such as Baby Driver, a heist thriller from director Edgar Wright starring Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey, and ‘This is Your Death‘, a disturbing vision of the lengths and depravity media will go to starring Josh Duhamel.  Austin favorite, James Franco assumed the director’s helm for a new movie called ‘The Disaster Artist’ based on Greg Sestero’s book about his experience working with Tommy Wiseau on ‘The Room‘ (which screened across town bringing the dark film back for one more run through SXSW). Seth Rogan (another Austin-lover) returned as a SXSW highlight as part of a film panel promoting his new AMC tv drama based on the comic book Preacher (which he acted in and directed).
Coming to the festival from more humble origins is a Chilean Horror/Thriller film called Madre directed by Austin Actor/Visual Effects Artist Aaron Burns.  This regional chilling story or suspense tells the story of a mother of a special needs child being driven to the brink of insanity and her growing suspicions of her child’s full-time nanny.   Also two documentaries worth noting, ‘A Life In Waves’ a documentary about electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani, as well as the documentary ‘Meth Storm‘: Arkansas, USA -a gut wrenching ride along with the DEA as the filmmakers look at Clinton, AK, a town ravaged by the scourge of Meth Amphetamines.  IMG_4356
One film that was particularly interesting was the Docu-Bio-Pic ‘Becoming Bond’ about the life of George Lazenby (aka James Bond) coming to Hulu.  The film screened at the State Theater and relayed the story of an Australian car salesman turned male model turned film star-George Lazenby.  Told through a series of interviews and dramatic reenactments of Lazenby’s life, the film is a surprisingly gripping account of a man who had never acted before landing the key role in one of the most iconic film series in cinema history. Also, ‘Faces of Austin’ was a big hit as local filmmakers collaborated on short films of various genres.

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Faces of Austin

In addition to the screenings were a powerful set of Film Keynote discussions by some truly incredible film-makers: Lee Daniels, Jill Soloway, & Gareth Edwards.  First, Lee Daniels shared his experience of breaking into film-making and his experience championing the advancement of African-Americans in Film and Television through his hit tv series ‘Empire’ and films such as ‘Precious’, ‘Monster’s Ball’, and ‘The Butler’-all revolutionary in their own ways.

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Gabby Cidibe

His talk was raw and emotional and unscripted. He talked about struggles of living on the street, coming out to his family, and of racism. He has broken through massive barriers in Hollywood and continues to do things on his own terms, raising his own money for films and causes he believes in. He doesn’t rely on anyone and takes pride in helping others. Near the close of the talk, he asked Gabby Sinibe (sitting directly behind me) to join him on stage. She thanked him deeply for being a father figure in her life and launching her career. Rarely do we witness such sincerity and emotion during the Fest-it was one of the highlights and people kept taking about it. Jill Soloway (‘Transparent’ creator) was the speaker for another Keynote Address and discussed working in a male-dominated film industry battling racism, sexim, homo-phobism and discussed her motivation and the scarcity of female directors in Hollywood. The Emmy & Golden Globe winning tv show Transparent starring Jeffrey Tambor is a ground breaking story about trans-gender struggles. Read more here.

Finally in a fitting return this year Director Gareth Edwards (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) gave the final Film keynote address.  Edwards described how he was only able to launch his career with the help of SXSW agreeing to screen his first feature film, Monsters. Edwards has gone on to direct ‘Godzilla’ (2014) and ‘Hiroshima’ ,as well as last years’ Star Wars entry, and continues to push boundaries.
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Veep Cast

HBO had a big presence at this year’s Fest showcasing Game Of Thrones (GOT) and VEEP starring Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. In addition to a fun interactive ‘HBO Escape’ house that had participants thrown together immersed for 15 minutes within the shows tv-set conquering a mission with a countdown clock. And then there’s the GOT Wine which wasn’t half bad. At a popular Film Fest panel, the showrunners (Execs) of Game Of Thrones, DB Weiss and David Benioff, discussed the upcoming season of the show with actresses Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams.  They told fun stories of filming and explained the complexities of adapting the books into a tv show, and why you should never play the hand slap game with Jason Momoa (he’s that good).

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Warren G

One of our fave SXSW film events was the VEEP (HBO) Film Panel with showrunner David Mandel & almost the entire cast attending and moderated by Chuck Todd (Meet The Press). They discussed the successful transition to a new showrunner (Mandel), the overlap of current politics in America, and gave sneak-peeks into the new season. They had a blast, cracking up, making fun of each other and bowing down to the Queen/VP/Veep Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. It was a hugely successful panel which we think will return next year.

Another hugely popular panel was the Warren G (rapper/producer) session with producers and director Karam Gill) for his music documentary ‘G-Funk‘. Warren repeated his mantra “It’s all good” in his chill state (reminiscent of his best pal Snoop Dogg) and cheerleading his film premiere that night at The Paramount Theater.

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Frank Oz

Frank Oz was interviewed by Leonard Maltin in a packed session and included stories of Jim Henson, his legacy & The Muppets as well as cool film stuff like how he created the voice of backward-speaking wise man Yoda, one of the most popular Star Wars characters in history. We also loved Bob Odenkirks (Breaking Bad) session with Fred Armisen and Nick Offerman had us all in stitches with Nick Kroll and talked about his life making furniture to help him survive the industry.

See our Film Festival photo highlights HERE.

Rounding out SXSW were many film parties, happy hours, mentor sessions, Texas Film Meet up, John Cena interview and the Film Awards. The annual SXSW Film Awards held at The Paramount Theater halfway through the 9-day Fest are always a highlight hosting a red carpet and awarding the best and brightest in filmmaking.

Films we were bummed we missed: ‘G-Funk‘,’On The Road‘, ‘Best Animated Shorts‘, ‘Gemini‘ (Zoe Kravitz), ‘Atomic Blonde’ (Charlize Theron).

Our favorite Film Fest things: The Veep Panel, Lee Daniels Keynote Speech, HBO Escape, Frank Oz, Ryan Gosling (just because), and GOT Panel

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Sophia Turner

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