Two things come to mind when I think of South by Southwest: “Everything is bigger in Texas” and “With great power comes great responsibility.” The former is the state motto and the latter… well, that’s Spiderman’s late Uncle Ben. In a city known for its love of movies there is arguably no greater city to host a film festival than Austin. But Film is merely one portion of SXSW, with its other two parts, Music and Interactive having grown exponentially over the last few years — the festival has now reached a “seemingly” unmanageable size. I say “seemingly” to be kind, when “obviously” would be more apt. Festival-goers who arrived on Friday waited an average of two hours in line for badge pickup. As you can still walk up to registration and purchase a badge, one can only assume there is no cap on attendance (how does that make sense?!). Hence Uncle Ben’s wisdom comes to mind — in spite of being one of the most exhilarating and enjoyable fests to attend, SXSW is hardly the best managed… to the point of being comical.
As a local I am perhaps more critical of how my city presents itself. But as there is a group of Austinites running around with shirts that read, “Welcome to Austin! Please don’t move here. We hear Dallas is great.” perhaps the total chaos and horrendous weather (uncharacteristically cold temperatures and torrential downpours that have been dubbed “Hurricane South By”) are all part of the plan to keep the Californians out.
All of that aside, SXSW is in my opinion one of the best film festivals around. While others cater to studio executives and filmmakers, South By is for movie fans. It’s rare to go to a panel or Q&A and not hear the filmmaker say “this is [their] favorite festival because you guys love movies so much”. Maybe that is why of the 130 features to be screened this year, 65 of those are world premieres.
This year instead of attending the opening night headliner (which was Joss Whedon’s horror film Cabin in the Woods) I decided to take the advice of SXSW film festival producer, Janet Pierson and “break away from the crowd and take a chance on something”. That chance was the feature-length dance music video Girl Walk // All Day.
That’s right, I didn’t stutter. Feature-length music video. Filmmaker Jacob Krupnick took mashup artist Girl Talk’s latest album All Day and set a narrative dance routine with New York City as the stage. Starring three dancers as the principal cast, “the girl”, “the creep”, and “the gentleman” break dance, tap and pirouette all over Manhattan. A 75-minute music video sounds exhausting, but it is essentially a ballet (a narrative dance with no dialogue) that pulls you in immediately.
Krupnick also shot and edited Girl Walk himself and the funding for the project was entirely crowd sourced. The, albeit basic, narrative is pulled from the lyrics in the song samples (everything from Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”) and the movements almost entirely match the ever changing beat. I found this impressive as it surely would have been easier to edit to the music versus actually choreographing an hour-long fluid piece.
My main criticism, which applies to pretty much every dance movie out there, is the tendency to leave part of the dancers body out of the frame. Medium shots and close-ups are fine occasionally, but it doesn’t make sense to me why you would have a shot that shows the dancer from the ankles/knees up. That is after all why dance is typically a stage art and not cinema – the audience’s eyes need the freedom to move where the dancers body tells them to move (an apparently difficult task for a camera to emulate and I have yet to see it done satisfactorily).
All the same, Girl Walk is a total blast. I don’t think I’ve had a smile on my face for the entirety of a film since Babies. By the end of the screening I was about ready to jump out of my skin — the urge to bust a move having become overwhelming. It was to my great elation then that during the final dance number members of the cast leapt out of their seats and turned the Vimeo theater into a 400-person dance party. I apparently wasn’t the only one ready to dance.
The cast led the audience outside the theater where the dance party continued with the added bonus of sparklers. It was a cathartic experience to what had been an unpleasant and aggravating start to the festival. I apparently wasn’t the only one who felt this way as the person dancing next to me yelled out, “THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST SOUTH BY EV-AR.”