AUSTIN, Texas — The SXSW Film Conference and Festival was once considered a small fry compared with the gargantuan club-and-industry hop that makes up SXSW Music. These days the tunes are still the big draw, but the little cousin gets bigger and better every time out.
Case in point: Last March, a little war movie called “The Hurt Locker” made its Lone Star bow at SXSW. Sunday night it capped a whirlwind year by taking home six Oscars, including best picture and best director (Kathryn Bigelow).
We obviously can’t predict that this year’s installment of the fest, which kicks off Friday and runs through March 20, will yield such a success story. But we can promise we’ll be there to find out, and we can point out some of the films, people and events we’re looking forward to seeing in Austin.
Opening night features the kind of movie that was born to premiere in genre-happy Austin: “Kick-Ass,” Matthew Vaughn’s profane, rock-‘em, sock-‘em adaptation of the Mark Millar-John Romita Jr. comic book. The story of a teen nobody (Aaron Johnson) who takes his superhero fanaticism to dangerous new levels, the film also stars Nicolas Cage as a crime fighter with a caped-crusader complex and a big chip on his shoulder. The principals (sans Cage) will also be featured in a panel discussion at 11 a.m. Saturday.
If that’s not your thing, the other big opening-night attraction is “Leaves of Grass.” Tim Blake Nelson’s film is about twin brothers — one a professor, the other a pot dealer, both played by Edward Norton — making moves in their native Oklahoma. Both Norton and Nelson will be in town.
Acting threesomes don’t get much richer than Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray. They star in “Get Low,” a backwoods tale of an unpopular old codger (Duvall) who wants to plan his own funeral — while he’s still alive. The Sundance favorite shows at 7 p.m. Wednesday; the cast is expected to attend.
If you can’t find a documentary to meet your interests at SXSW, you probably aren’t interested in much. Subjects include the gay subculture of bears (“Bear Nation”); troubled NBA star Allen Iverson (“No Crossover: Allen Iverson”); cab drivers in Beijing (“Beijing Taxi”); the mercurial pop and world music star David Byrne (“Ride, Rise Roar”); Houston’s storied Kashmere Stage Band (“Thunder Soul”); and plenty more that prove truth is often more fun than fiction.
The SXSW panels and conversations are usually as worthwhile as the films. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez will share secrets of genre filmmaking at the “Directing the Dead” panel (12:30 p.m. Saturday). Director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) will hold forth with film critic-radio host Elvis Mitchell (12:30 p.m. Sunday). Aspiring filmmakers can check out sessions on everything from new media distribution strategies to creating a hot graphic novel property.