The 2006 SXSW Film Festival comes to a close Saturday with a screening of Paul Weitz‘s “American Dreamz,” starring Hugh Grant and Mandy Moore. While the high profile new film joins the list of star-driven premieres, including Robert Altman‘s “Prairie Home Companion” opening night — as well as this week’s debut of “V For Vendetta” and a special sneak screening of Richard Linklater‘s “A Scanner Darkly” — SXSW has made a name for itself as a premier showcase of new American films, many by emerging directors.
For indieWIRE’s final dispatch from SXSW, we’ve decided to take an entirely subjective look at what we feel were the SXSW premiere films with the biggest buzz during this week’s festival (and why). With a particulary strong showing from documentaries, it’s our first take on the new films and notable filmmakers that we think our readers will be hearing about in the months and years to come.
“Al Franken: God Spoke“, directed by Nick Dood & Chris Hegedus
A verite look at outspoken writer and radio host Al Franken, the film is executive produced by the legendary D.A. Pennebaker, and produced by his son and regular producing partner Frazer Pennebaker. After witnessing Franken’s public spat with Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, filmakers Hegedus and Doob decided to film Franken on a series of public appearances including a book tour, radio and TV interviews and a trip to the Republican convention. Next up for the doc will be trips to the Full Frame, San Franciso International and Tribeca Film Festivals this Spring.
“Americanese,” directed and written by Eric Byler
Four years ago, Byler won the audience award at SXSW for his film “Charlotte Sometimes,” and he returned to Austin with another audience prize winner. An adaptation of a novel, Byler explores romance and race issues among a group of Asian Americans. Chatting with the audience after a screening of his often sensual new film, Byler admitted that because of a dearth of steady work, it was hard to find an Asian man to take the lead in his new film, but ultimately found a wining lead in Chris Tashima. And not one to rest for long, Byler has already finished another feature, dubbed “Tre,” a follow-up to “Charlotte Sometimes.”
“The Cassidy Kids“, directed by Jake Vaughan, written and produced by Bryan Poyser
The film, the latest from the University of Texas’ Burnt Orange Productions, rode into SXSW on a wave of anticipation. Vaughan and Poyser, following their indie success with the film “Dear Pillow,” are active in the Austin film scene and employed equally notable locals Kyle Henry as editor and PJ Raval as D.P. The film stars Kadeem Hardison, Anne Ramsay, and Judah Friedlander and marks an important progression for the emerging filmmaking team.
“Dance Party, USA,” directed by Aaron Katz
A low-budget look at the lives of a group of kids, Katz’ frank film is a solid debut offering a candid look at sex among a pair of American teenagers, featuring natural performances from a young, attractive cast.
“Darkon“, directed by Andrew Neel and Luke Meyer
A particularly popular doc here in Austin this week, “Darkon” (winner of the documentary audience award), goes inside a longstanding fantasy war gaming group. The film had many insiders buzzing at SXSW, even those who aren’t particular into fantasy, role-playing entertainment.
“Gretchen“, directed by Steven Collins, produced by Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen, and Anish Savjani
Another local production, “Gretchen” comes from a trio of producers that have been fixtures on the recent festival circuit. Van Hoy, Knudsen and Savjani were also in Austin with Kelly Reichardt’s acclaimed “Old Joy,” a buzz hit at the recent Sundance and Berlin fests. UT film instructor Collins’ movie, expanded from a short, is a distinctive look at the title character. Gretchen seems a bit like Solondz’ infamous Dawn Weiner, yet the tortured teen follows a somewhat less painful path.
“Jam“, directed by Mark Woolen
Winner of the documentary jury prize, “Jam” looks at a man’s drive to bring the roller derby to wider attention ten years ago. Perhaps more than any other film this week, the movie was informally touted by a mix of industry, critics and audiences alike.
“LOL,” directed, produced, shot and edited by Joe Swanberg
Swanberg made a name for himself at SXSW last year, when he debuted the sexy indie, “Kissing On the Mouth.” Since then, the director has used the Internet (in particular a blog) to document the creation of his new film about how technology today can create barriers to a relationship.
“Maxed Out“, directed by James Scurlock
The sometimes disastrous impact of credit card debt is the focus of “Maxed Out,” a look at the dark side of consumerism that starts off as a bit of a light romp through America’s obsession with credit, but quickly progresses into an exploration of the ulterior motives of banks and how their actions can lead to tragic results. Ahead of his film’s debut here this week, Scurlock closed a deal — Simon and Shuster will publish a book inspired by his film. The book will be a memoir of his travels in making the film, including the people he met and interviewed along the way. It is expected to be published in Winter 2007.
“Oilcrash,” directed by Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack
A documentary with an even more harrowing outlook at our country and the world’s future, “Oilcrash” had festival attendees shaking their heads in desperation after screenings at SXSW. The film is a wake up call to the reality of the rapidly depleting (and eventual end) of oil availability. It includes interviews with politicians, a former OPEC leader, oil industry executives, scientists, and academics. Next up is a screening at Hot Docs in Canada.
“Summercamp!,” directed by Bradley Beesley and Sarah Price
With music by The Flaming Lips, “Summercamp!” gave attendees a respite from the weighty issues of the world by looking at the personal dramas of a group of kids who spend part of the summer away from home. The film combines the talents of two already notable indie doc directors, Beesely (known for “Fearless Freaks” and “Okie Noodling”) and Price (“The Yes Men” and “American Movie”).