Big stars and big debuts slated for 2023 South by Southwest Film & TV Festival

The festival, which kicks off today, will draw the likes of Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Tilda Swinton and Bruce Campbell.

By Laura Rice and Glorie MartinezMarch 10, 2023 1:41 pm, ,

Mid-March usually means spring break time for most Texans, but in the Texas capital city, it means something else.

Time to make a little room for the masses of people from around the world who flock to Austin for South by Southwest. The festivals, of course, include music and technology as well as film.

Peter Hall is Film & TV Festival programmer for South by Southwest and he joined the Standard to talk about what attendees can expect this year. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: So you’re telling me that this is the first year in 15 years or so that the film portion of South by Southwest has been under new leadership? What’s that mean of the festival?

Peter Hall: It is. Janet Pierson stepped back into a purely programing role last fall, and her sort of right hand, Claudette Godfrey, stepped into the VP role of film. It hasn’t actually meant too much for the festival as far as the public is going to see. The programing team still stayed largely the same and we all have the same tastes. It’s mainly more so on the administrative side.

Now, I have to ask you, because you mentioned it hasn’t been a change in tastes, how much is that a factor in what it is that ultimately appears on the South by Southwest calendar when it comes to film? I mean, is this representative as much of anything, the sort of the editorial discretion of the panel that picks these films?

South by is an interesting festival in that we program almost exclusively from submissions. And it goes through a huge process where each submission is watched by many, many eyes. We have tiers of screeners. They put in their reviews and then the programmers sort of go off of that and we see what’s rising, falling and we have our own taste. So it’s a very surprisingly democratic process. And even though the film team is small, the decisions are widespread.

Well, I would guess that it probably isn’t on purpose, but sometimes you start to see film lineups start to reveal themes. Maybe it’s part of the zeitgeist, you know, of the times. Have you noticed any themes sort of emerging as you were putting this year’s lineup together? 

We never actively try to put together little programing packages in that way, but after the fact you do notice them. This year there is a trio of really good films that happen to be the directorial debuts of actors. So Jake Johnson from New Girl is making his debut with a comedy called “Self-Reliance.” Eva Longoria is making her debut with a film called “Flamin’ Hot,” which is sort of a narrativization of the janitor who helped launch the line of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. And the actress Brittany Snow makes a very, very great debut directing a film called “Parachute,” which is in our narrative competition section.

As the Texas Standard, we love to focus on films with Texas connections. Any others that come to mind in this year’s festival?

With straight Texas connections, there’s quite a few. There’s a really great documentary called “The Herricanes.” They were an all-women’s full tackle football team in the seventies in Houston. There’s another documentary, “Robert Irwin: A Desert of Pure Feeling,” about the artist who has an exhibit at Marfa, which is covered somewhat extensively in the doc. And then “The Lady Bird Diaries” is a fantastic documentary, which takes a lot of footage that you might already know about her and her life but over it all is her diaries. So you get to actually hear, in her words, her perspective on a ton of pivotal events in American history, which is quite fascinating.

You know, I know that this is really all about the films and not so much about the red carpet, but any big stars appearing in these films that we can mention? 

Oh, yeah, there’ll be quite a few. Our opening night film is “Dungeons & Dragons,” which stars Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez and Hugh Grant, Sophia Lillis and Justice Smith. Tilda Swinton will be here with a very funny comedy called “Problemista.” “Evil Dead Rise” is a fantastic horror movie – even though Bruce Campbell just produced, it he’ll be here for that. William Shatner. We have a documentary about Shatner called “You Can Call Me Bill.” He’ll be here for the Q&A.

That sounds so awesome. I have to ask, since TV is actually part of your title, how much more has television become a part of South by Southwest over the years?

It has been a part for a few years, but maybe hadn’t been reflected in that way. And so this year we have a number of really interesting TV projects. One of them does have a direct Texas connection – that would be HBO’s “Love & Death,” which stars Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons. That’s going to have its premiere at the Paramount. It was shot in and around Central Texas, as well. We also have an opening night TV show called “Swarm,” which was produced by Donald Glover. I don’t want to say too much about it because I don’t think the show has revealed too much about it. But it is fantastic and will get a lot of people buzzing.

So what’s day one? Where does it all get underway? 

So day one is this Friday, March 10. And we are spread out. The Film and TV Festival is spread out across a number of venues. The big one is the Paramount – that’s where the the headliners premiere, like “Dungeons & Dragons.” But then we also take over smaller venues like the Alamo Drafthouse, and we even convert to the ZACH Theatre, which is normally a playhouse, into a very, very nice venue. And some of the larger venues like the Paramount and the Stateside and the ZACH actually can sell tickets directly to people who aren’t badge holders. So even if you don’t have a badge, you can potentially see something there.

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