Hundreds of features, documentaries and shorts screened at the film portion of South by Southwest this weekend. KERA’s Stephen Becker couldn’t quite see them all. But he did chat with me about some of the highlights.
Any overarching themes that you saw at the film conference this year?
SBWell, the real takeaway for me was just how strong the documentaries were this year. The opening night film was a documentary about Katie and Russell Brand, and then there was just a number of films that went really deep on a very niche subject almost. To me which those are the best kinds of documentaries, to where you just dive on something you knew almost nothing about. For example, the first night I saw a doc called Welcome to Leith that’s going to be on Independent Lens next year. It’s about a white supremacist group trying to take over a small town in North Dakota. Also saw a film called Rolling Papers that’s about how the Denver Post actually has a small staff that covers the marijuana industry, and the legalization of pot in their town and the ups and downs of covering a brand new beat for newspapers. And then finally I saw a movie called Raiders that was just the definition for smiling two hours long. In the 80s there were these two friends, who decided they were going to do a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark which had just come out. They were almost able to pull it off except for one scene they weren’t able to film. This documentary is about their attempts to make that final scene. Now, Raiders and Welcome to Leith are also both going to be playing at the Dallas International Film Festival in April.
What about the people there? SXSW usually has a really impressive lineup of speakers.
SBAnd what’s neat about being in the room during those speeches is clear that they’re being directed towards the creative types that are in town for the conference to actually learn something. I’m there to cover it for our station but I enjoy listening to it through their ears. I went to the keynote speech given by Ava Duvernay of Selma, of course. She talked about how on her first two films, which were really tiny, her goals were things like making big box office and getting noticed at festivals. When Selma came around, which had a budget 100 times more than her previous film, she actually kind of just freed her mind to tell the story, and didn’t worry about some of those elements.
If that dream is just about something you want to accomplish and you don’t even know why you want it? I mean, it’s too small. It may take your attention, but you’re not really winning. You may achieve it but you’re not growing from it. You’re just going from thing to thing. It may look like success from the outside, but if you don’t truly know why you’re doing it then your cause and effect will be off and you’re not fully truly living you dream. – Ava Duvernay
You also sat in on a panel about House of Cards.
SBYeah, Beau Willimon who’s the show runner for House of Cards, basically the guy who guides the show did a similar thing. He was talking specifically to writers, and the point of his was not being afraid to fail.
I’d say out of 1,000 ideas, 990 are bad, eight of them are mediocre and two of them might be original. I see this process, the creative process, as being a trial and error game. Which means you don’t know how to do. You don’t have a blue print, you don’t have a road map, so most of the time is spent failing, and failure to me is the key ingredient to the creative process. Of course the real question in the room was when are we going to see a season four of House of Cards because season three just came out last month. He wasn’t giving any details, but you got the sense there will be one. – Beau Willimon
Any North Texans down there?
You know, there was a few, not as many as in previous years, but I did catch up with David Gordon Greene. He’s the Richardson native who’s gone on to do some big films like Pineapple Express, Your Highness. He’s one of the creators of Eastbound and Down on HBO. His new film is film is a movie called Manglehorn, which stars Al Pacino as the guy who is grieving over lost love and just sort of blind to the rest of the world around him. I talked to David about how tough it is to pin down the kind of films he makes.
People like to think that a director has this particular signature, “I’m Alfred Hitchcock and I do thrillers.” In a lot of ways it’s a good business model if you can have that signature, but I really don’t have the attention span to do the same thing. – David Gordon Greene
You’re going to be talking more about SXSW Film on The Big Screen.
SBThat’s right, my Big Screen partner, Chris Vognar from The Dallas Morning News was also down there hitting the pavement pretty hard. We’re going to talk on Thursday about a new movie about The Beach Boys that’s out, and other things that we saw that will be playing at the Dallas Film Festival this year.
More South by Southwest Film coverage from Stephen: