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LOS ANGELES — “The Beaver,” Jodie Foster’s drama that features Mel Gibson as a depressed man who reinvents himself with the help of a beaver hand puppet, will have its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) in March.


Gibson’s public meltdown — and its uncomfortable proximity to “The Beaver’s” subject matter — has ignited an enormous amount of curiosity about the film. But festival organizers, who announced the premiere Thursday, said it was Foster’s direction that won them over.


“We didn’t want to become involved with a film that would hijack our festival with tabloid noise,” said SXSW Film Conference and Festival producer Janet Pierson. “But we were completely moved by the film itself. It’s a tough topic and incredibly well realized.”


Foster, who directs and stars in the movie, will appear at the festival. “This is her chance to stand behind her work,” Pierson said. “Her work has sort of gotten lost in this personal circumstance.” It has not been determined yet whether Gibson will attend, Pierson said.


The Austin, Texas, festival also will cement its reputation for pop-culture-centric documentaries when it kicks off March 11 for its nine-day run.


“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop,” about the 32-city stand-up tour the talk-show host embarked on after his much-publicized separation from NBC, will have its world premiere there. “The filmmakers had unparalleled access to a late-night host as he was making a major transition in his life,” Pierson said, adding that the festival this year received 1,700 submissions for 130 feature-film slots.


Two more docs making their world premieres in Austin are “It’s About You,” a chronicle of John Mellencamp’s summer 2009 tour, directed by photographer Kurt Markus and his son, Ian; and “Square Grouper,” a portrait of Miami’s 1970s pot-smuggling scene.


Other films announced Thursday are geared to Austin’s genre-friendly audiences. “The Innkeepers,” Ti West’s ghost story about two hotel clerks who set out to prove the place they work is haunted, will have its world premiere, and “Paul,” a Universal Pictures comedy in which Simon Pegg and Nick Frost embark on a road trip to the U.S.’ UFO heartland, will play for North American audiences for the first time.


These films join SXSW’s previously announced 2011 opening-night film, “Source Code,” directed by Duncan Jones and starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The rest of the festival’s lineup will be announced in early February.


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