SXSW Film has grown from a venue for quirky independent films into a launchpad for critically acclaimed and financially successful vehicles. No longer a place where one major star, usually a Texas native, shows up to promote his or her latest endeavor, bringing friends and a few Hollywood executives to the party – a strategy, albeit, that is easily bankable, when “locals” includes legends like Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock and Ethan Hawke. But, in the years since its debut in 1994, SXSW Film has grown to bring the entire filmmaking industry to Austin, making room for the creative vanguard as other film festivals, like Cannes and Sundance, increasingly feature big-budget, big-studio blockbusters. And while the names and films have gotten bigger at SXSW, the independent heart remains the same, and there’s scarcely an explosions-first, non-thinking, light-plotted film in the schedule.
New to the past few years, as well, is the emergence of small screen premieres. With Netflix and other streaming media making such a splash over the past decade, more shows have attempted to generate a buzz by premiering or featuring during SXSW’s robust schedule. Shows like “Ray Donovan,” “Penny Dreadful,” and the ever-popular “Game of Thrones,” have all had prominent placement and visibility during SXSW, and that trend shows no sign of slowing.
Whether big screen or small, the momentum a film or show can generate from a successful launch at SXSW can mean box office success, critical acclaim or earning the ever-revered Oscar.
Here are the five films or shows that we cannot wait to see at this year’s SXSW Film:
Jake Gyllenhaal is no stranger to SXSW. Having premiered commercial success, “The Source Code” at the Paramount during SXSW two years ago, his face is well familiar to SXSW Film audiences. His latest, “Demolition” appears to dive less into the scientifically intellectual, so much as headlong into the emotionally cavernous. “Demolition” looks to be a heart-wrenching study of grief, connectivity and the ways in which we both lose and regain ourselves. With a cast that includes Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper, we anticipate an amazing performance and a still more amazing film. The trailer alone will wrench tears from any who watch.
North American Premiere | March 12, Paramount Theatre | 9:30pm
2) Everybody Wants Some
Fresh off his Golden Globes wins – Best Motion Picture and Best Director – and Oscar nominations for “Boyhood,” SXSW alum, Richard Linklater, returns to the town that launched his career in 1994 with “Dazed and Confused,” to release a spiritual sequel to his love letter to the 1970s. Picking up in the 1980s, Linklater’s film, “Everybody Wants Some,” moves to a different stage of life, leaving behind both the primary school of “Boyhood,” and the high school of “Dazed and Confused,” for the collegiate landscape. Set in the 1980s, the film looks poised to capture a whole new generation of fans, who lived through and are nostalgic for that period in time, before the internet commanded all attention and the age of excess was in full swing.
World Premiere | March 11, Paramount Theatre | 6:30pm
3) Midnight Special
Not much is known about the thriller, “Midnight Special,” except that it involves a father figure – played with all the intensity that renowned actor, Michael Shannon, can bring to the table – is trying to safeguard a child with extraordinary abilities. It is precisely the kind of mysterious plot, filled with great casting (Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver all feature prominently in the film) that is perfect for the SXSW audience, who often look to have their curiosity sated and be surprised within the course of the movie, rather than with obvious plot tropes or trailers that explain too much. Directed by SXSW alum, Jeff Nichols, the movie is poised to shock and amaze all who take its wild ride.
North American Premiere | March 12, Paramount Theatre | 6:00pm
4) Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday
Say what you will about the power of nostalgia. The reckless joy and quirky demeanor of one Pee-Wee Herman can still raise a smile or coax a laugh from many who grew up in the 1980s. Returning to the matter that made Paul Reubens a Saturday morning staple and the world pioneered by Tim Burton, this installment of Pee-Wee’s adventures should bring back memories of an innocent time, while adding just enough gravity and surrealism to the landscape to make a splash into an increasingly cynical world.
World Premiere | March 17, Paramount Theatre | 6:00pm
5) Alive and Kicking
We can’t really address SXSW Film without mentioning its contribution to the documentary landscape. And it’s hard to ignore, during a festival renowned for music, the urge to celebrate dance. Thus, this documentary film, which focuses on the swing dance culture that has persisted since post-Depression-era and also experienced a significant revival in modern days. Taking that platform and revealing the individual stories, “Alive and Kicking,” promises to deliver the jumps, jives and, potentially, the wails, as the film uncovers the intricate society of devoted swing dancers.
World Premiere | March 13, Stateside Theatre | 1:45pm
BONUS – Roadies Viewing
We don’t know the full details of when Cameron Crowe and J.J. Abrams will be bringing their new show, “Roadies,” to SXSW for Showtime. What we do know is that they’ve planned the mother of all three-day parties on Rainey St. during the festival, and the show, which returns to the rich and fertile narrative ground of touring rock and roll bands that was responsible for one of the greatest films of all time, “Almost Famous,” Crowe and company have the potential to make an incomparable splash at SXSW this year. Follow Texas Lifestyle Magazine on twitter, and when we know, you’ll know; but, we can’t contain our excitement about this show and the potential this party looks to have.