This was my third year to attend the South by Southwest Film Festival, and my best yet. Part of that's because I'm now familiar with the ins and outs of the fest and have learned how best to game the system: allow plenty of time for shuttle trips, eat whenever possible, and get up early each morning to hop in the Express Pass line in order to guarantee entry to films that day that you absolutely have to see.
But a bigger part of it was because I was free this year to see just the movies I wanted to see. Stringing for corporate entities has its perks, don't get me wrong, but it also means you have to cover high-profile stuff that might not pique your interest, or worse (to me), that's guaranteed to open wide. SXSW always has an interesting mix of smaller fare that's more typical fest material and bigger, wide-release genre movies that tend to land in the geek/fan/mainstream wheelhouse. This year, that meant Source Code and Paul, as well as the Paul Feig-directed comedy Bridesmaids. If you have to cover those premieres and events for a corporate entity, so be it. But I was lucky enough that the publisher of Pajiba and other staffers were usually up for the high-profile stuff, which meant I could go see smaller movies whose distribution paths were less certain. (Some of my favorites from the fest still don't have distribution.) I think that, unless you have to cover those movies for traffic or editorial purposes, it's utterly pointless to spend time seeing them at a festival when you could instead see something different, smaller, potentially more rewarding. Paul is going to open on almost 3,000 screens, and Source Code will see a similar wide release; there's no such guarantee for the other movies, which makes it all the more vital to see them if/when you can.
That's why I skipped the big narratives, as well as major documentaries like Conan O'Brien Can't Stop and Morgan Spurlock's The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It's not that I don't want to see them (I do), or that I have doubts about their quality (I'm told they're both wonderful). It's that I know they'll see release. The same can't be said for some of the other films on my list.
Here's what I saw:
- Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times: A solid and engaging documentary about the Gray Lady, though I would've liked a bit more narrative structure.
- New Jerusalem: A quietly observed and often beautiful film. Deliberately paced, but in a good way. Moving character study.
- Turkey Bowl: My favorite narrative feature of the entire festival. Totally fun.
- A Bag of Hammers: I actually walked out about an hour in. The two lead characters are inherently unlikable -- they steal cars at funerals -- and I don't buy into scripts that give a jerk one quasi-sensitive scene and then expect him to be treated as a human. The tonal whiplash and maudlin sensibility didn't do the flick any favors, either.
- Wuss: A good premise -- what happens when a weak teacher is pushed too far by a student? -- but a middling execution. A dark comedy is still a comedy; this started out that way and slid into dull drama.
- The Other F Word: Warm, funny, sweet, engaging, why aren't you on Netflix saving this to your queue already?
- Sound of My Voice: Totally compelling. Shot, acted, and directed with skill, and set up in a series of simple chapters, the narrative deals with a pair of documentarians trying to uncover the truth about a woman leading a cult in the San Fernando Valley. It played Sundance as well, but there's still no distribution as of this writing.
- Undefeated: A stirring, moving documentary about lower-income black students playing football in Memphis. I cried multiple times. It would take a man of stone not to.
- Buck: Another thoroughly captivating doc, Buck follows horse trainer Buck Brannaman and explores his life, tragic childhood, and what makes a good horseman. Another real-life tearjerker, but never falsely manipulative.
I also had a chance to organize and sit on a panel this year, one I dubbed "You Are Not a Publicist: Criticism vs. Advertising." It went well, with plenty of spirited discussion among the panelists and great questions from the audience. I also attended James Rocchi's "From the Sausage Factory: Inside the Film Press" and Will Goss' "The Blogger Centipede: How Content is Eroding Credibility." They were both wonderful, and they offered plenty of talking points for people in our business. All three panels dealt with the same messy issues of credibility, integrity, and honesty in criticism and journalism, and they explored them from their own perspectives. I was honored to be involved in the fest this way, and to see my friends do the same. I'm not sure yet if official video will be put online, but here's a clip someone shot at the "Blogger Centipede" panel:
I've submitted a panel idea for next year's South by Southwest Film Festival. I want to talk about what it's like to be a critic in the digital age, and how it's tough to maintain balance when you're beset by men and women willing to shill for a studio instead of honestly talk about a film. I go into slightly greater detail over at Pajiba, and I'll likely promote this on multiple social networks in the coming weeks, but if you vote for me, I'd really appreciate it. You do have to register (small hassle, I know), but it only takes a moment, and you'd really be helping me out. Click here to vote.
I recently got home from my second South by Southwest Film Festival. The fest also includes components for music and interactive, but since I am not in a band and don't design apps, I stick with movies. It was a busy, crazy, fun week, and I saw a decent selection of films, some better than others. I'll have reviews of some at Pajiba and The Hollywood Reporter in the coming days and weeks, but for now, here's a round-up of the posts I did for THR. I'm much happier with my THR coverage this year than I was last year, mainly because last year I had to file my copy to a territorial and obtuse reporter who rewrote my blog posts to fit his pedantic, first-person-plural, generally awful tone. But he's since moved on, and the staffer I worked with this year was encouraging and fun and respectful of the fact that my stuff sounds like me, and shouldn't be changed to sound like someone else.
I've known about Seth Rogen ever since I watched "Freaks and Geeks" back in high school, but it wasn't until fall 2006 that I realized I was kind of weirdly similar to him, or at least the onscreen personas he's created. As Rogen's popularity has grown, I've increasingly been accused of looking like him, mostly from drunks on the Westside, but it's just because I'm tall, overweight, and sport curly hair and a beard. I probably can't stress enough that this is something people (again, mostly when drunk) do all on their own. They look at me and make the leap. There's a slightly dickheaded writer at The Hollywood Reporter who half-jokingly said I was the one going around telling people, including celebrities, that I looked like Rogen, but I'm not. That's what makes part of the recent South by Southwest so weird.
Covering film premieres for work let me do some red-carpet interviews, and while talking to Paul Rudd ahead of I Love You, Man, he joked, "When Jason (Segel) and I pulled up, I said, 'Oh, Seth's here.'" I laughed but mainly thought it was kind of surreal that someone who knew Rogen was parroting what I usually get from inebriated locals at the Scarlet Lady. Later that week, on the press line for Observe and Report, Michael Pena said, apropos of nothing, "You look like Seth, dude." A few minutes later, as Rogen walked up to do his 60 seconds of chatting for my paper, he stuck out his hand and said, "Hello, me." First words out of the guy's mouth. It was bizarre, but not unpleasant.
Anyway, after being told many times I resemble the actor, he confirmed it himself. I don't know what that means, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't mean much of anything. I sat down for a few minutes the next day for interviews with him, Pena, Jody Hill, and Anna Faris, and I was also more comfortable interviewing Rogen than the rest just because I knew I wouldn't have to go very far to guess at what makes a 27-year-old sarcastic guy tick. We talked about movies and comic books, and I had a good time. He's a nice and completely normal guy.
My intro paragraph for the interview was given tonal direction by the editor and then chopped up anyway, so here's what it originally was:
"It makes sense that Seth Rogen is becoming a household name: He's almost earnestly normal, the kind of funny, smart, literate guy who's as down-to-earth as you'd expect from the man who came to fame playing stoner sidekicks. But he's also in the process of transforming that image, with roles like the unhinged security guard in Observe and Report and a bona fide superhero in Michel Gondry's forthcoming The Green Hornet. His days as the lovable schlub might be numbered after all."
I'm going to be out of pocket for a few days as I'll be attending South by Southwest. It's my first time at the festival, and I'll be blogging about it here and also over here. So check it out. UPDATE: Actually, please don't read the blog posts at The Hollywood Reporter. They were taken from me and largely rewritten without my consent, eliminating voice and style. I'm embarrassed by them, and consider them unusable.