The annual South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, beginning this weekend, features eagerly-awaited premieres and hidden gems. Janet Pierson is the director of film at SXSW and provides a guide to what’s good this year.
The selection process for SXSW Film is particularly competitive. Pierson says.
”Every year, we approach the admissions process with the same intent,” Pierson says. “We’ve got 2500 feature submissions and 5500 short submissions and we’re… looking for 130 features that will really jump out to us and 110 shorts.”
This year, the process yielded many strong films – more than usual. The opening night film, “Us,” was an easy choice, though.
“The minute we heard it was in production, we just had our sights set on it,” Pierson says.
SXSW is also showing “Longshot,” featuring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen. Pierson says it is a “really smart, satisfying rom-com – who knew?”
Anticipation for one of this year’s films began with a previous success.
“‘Spring Breakers’ was a huge title for us. We’ve had Harmony Korine at SXSW with a lot of different films. ‘Spring Breakers’ was one of the nights that people still talk about being the ultimate night,” Pierson says. “Beach Bum” is this wonderful revisiting to… the same place and same characters with some age on. The most incredible cast you could ever imagine… it’s Matthew Mcconaughey and Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill, Jimmy Buffett…”
Though SXSW isn’t a regional festival, it does have a unique relationship to Texas films.
“The Texas relationship to films in the festival does seem stronger than usual,” Pierson says. “It’s always something we care about, but it’s always still a fraction of the whole. Of course, everyone is so excited about ‘Running with Beto,’ … ‘The River in the Wall’ is not to be missed. It’s this extraordinary cut – just look at the landscape, the Texas landscape, through the whole southern border.”
Pierson calls SXSW “populist,” to a certain extent .
“We’re looking at films that we find that are really entertaining or that move us or that are interesting and need a platform in some way. The films… come alive when the audience comes and we just hope people come and share the experience with us,” she says.
Written by Brooke Reaves.