2011 marks the 25th anniversary of SXSW – what started as a music festival in the Live Music Capital of the world; Austin, Texas, and is now one of the trendiest media industry events to attend. The Film and Interactive portions of the festival are in their 18th year, the latter now being the largest with 20,000 registrants. With the recent news of Warner Brothers partnering with Facebook, it seems only right to have the film and tech industries collide at such an event.
During SXSW (or “South By” to those in the know), the city of Austin turns into a giant coffee shop – everyone is driven by their own agenda, caffeine, and the need to find an electrical outlet. This is my third SXSW experience, and second time at the film festival. As someone who works in the industry and also calls Austin home, I am particularly fond of this insanity that engulfs the city for 10 days every spring.
Texas is a funny place and Texans are even funnier people, a fact that can’t help but influence your experience at SXSW. They’re thrilled to have you here, but anxious to have you leave. The recent upsurge in Californians moving to this fair city has a lot of Austinites on edge. The city is comprised overwhelmingly of hipsters, and as the hipster culture goes, something is only cool so long as not too many people think so. Locals and veterans of South By are of the opinion that the festival jumped the shark last year. But I say, the more the merrier. It’s only within the past several years that it’s been notable enough to host world premieres and I can’t see that as a bad thing.
Before getting into the specifics of actual films screened, I feel it is important to mention that a film seen in Austin will be enjoyed more than if seen anywhere else. Austinites love movies, and it is impossible to not be affected by the collected energy of a super savvy, borderline rambunctious audience. They clap, they laugh, they boo and they sneer regardless of whether or not the director/cast is in attendance. Reportedly at the pre-festival screening of Red Riding Hood, people laughed so much that they “didn’t have time” for the director’s Q&A at the end.
This year’s opening night film was the world premiere of Source Code, directed by Duncan Jones, whose debut feature film was the highly praised Moon. Although this film is very different and not quite the same pedigree; it is a Jake Gyllenhaal/Summit Entertainment pairing versus the Sam Rockwell/Sony Picture Classics pairing of Moon. Also, this movie was penned by Ben Ripley, a writer of hardly any notoriety, whereas Jones himself wrote Moon.
During the Q&A Ripley was asked what inspired him to write a “techno-thriller”. He replied that he wanted to write something in the vein of Ground Hog Day and Sliding Doors and the audience laughed. An audience that will laugh in the writer’s face is surely an audience that feels they know something about movies. They also got a significant kick out of Jake Gyllenhaal’s perhaps unintentionally comedic mannerisms in the action hero role. This is worth noting as Jake Gyllenhaal was in fact in the theater.
Despite it sometimes crossing over into the realm of ridiculous, I did enjoy Source Code. And you know what? So did everyone else in the theater. I overheard someone say, “Well, it wasn’t Moon… but I dug it.” An apt summary.
The film starts out as more of a “whodunit” mystery, which is strange for the thriller genre, but that is what grabbed my attention. By the midway mark it shifts into full on action/thriller and starts to lose you a bit. It has an awesome score, heavy on the brass instruments, that reminded me of an early ’90s action flick (it was done by Chris Bacon, a composer only recently branching out on his own after working on films such as King Kong and The Dark Knight). Plus, I am a firm believer that in spite of any flaws, if you enjoyed watching a movie there’s something to be said for it. That’s what makes Austin such an amazing city for film. Sure we’ll laugh and poke fun, but we’ll also give thunderous applause and cheer when the credits roll, if we had a good time. Both of which happened tonight.
There are 130-something films showing at SXSW this year and I, along with an unapologetically hoity audience, will try our best to see as many as possible.