Recently here in L.A. I attended the SXSW South By Southwest party the festival throws annually in the Fall at the always cool rock musicians’ bar on Sunset
The Cat & Fiddle.
There I encountered SXSW South By Southwest Film Fest and Conference Head Janet Pierson, an acquaintance in the business many years now. A brief discussion
ensued and I committed to writing a piece here describing the Fest’s uniqueness as a film and cultural event.
I sincerely thank Janet for speaking with me and helping me to shed some light on this landmark and unique organization and multi-level event held in
Austin TX each March.
SXSW South By Southwest is actually 3 related simultaneous separate but interconnected cultural events which overlap in the beautiful Texas capital Austin.
These overlapping conferences are filled with with performances, screenings, lectures featuring music, internet issues and film.
The SXSW music event began 1987 in this town known for its clubs and bands. It now features over 4 days 2,000 bands in over 100 venues.
SXSW Interactive and Film were launched together as SXSW Multimedia in 1994. The following year they were separate into two separate conference events that
run simultaneously. The FIlm Festival runs throughout the full 9 days, continuing through the Music Fest & Conference dates.
The 3rd event is the SXSW South By Southwest Film Fest and Conference running from March 13-21 this year. I have always believed it one of the best US Film
Fests (and the ONLY US one outside of the NYC and LA areas with any serious film business importance for filmmakers because of film trade attendance. I add
here that for me Sundance always was and is what I consider ‘an LA Festival’.).
But, as Janet pointed out to me, correctly I believe, SXSW South By Southwest Film Fest and Conference exists in an environment unique in the world because
of the 2 separate parallel but related events. What occurs in Austin in March certainly ranks near the top events of cultural importance in the US.
The SXSW South By Southwest Film Fest has roughly 130 feature films and 110 shorts.
The Shorts program has 10 competitive juried shorts programs including narrative, documentary, animation and music videos. Texas high school students
contribute under 5 minute shorts which have their own competition.
The feature programs include different sections which are fluid in number each year: Headliners, 5-8 titles, Hollywood studio, big ‘names’; Fiction (aka
Narrative) and Documentary Spotlight sections, 12-16 titles, higher profile films having either a US and or world premiere showing; Documentary and
Fiction, 8-10 titles each, these sections are features with jury competition. Visions section, is for innovative, DIY or hybrid fiction and doc titles,
with varying premiere status, 15-18 titles. Midnighters section has 10 genre, or midnight titles. 24 Beats Per Second are music films, 12-18 in number. SX
Global are international films with subtitles for the most part. Fest Favorites can be 15-20 in number and can have showed at Sundance or other Fests.
These numbers are approximate as the sections can vary depending on the selections.
Last year SXSW introduced a new section called EPISODICS which Janet is excited about and which is made up of episodic work, which in addition to their
DIGITAL DOMAIN section covers innovative work for the small screen, narrative, on line, TV. Formats flexible.
The bad news for anyone reading this now (sorry!!) is that deadline was November 13, 2014 so no submissions for 2015 now please.
So what is the personality of SXSW Film Fest?
Firstly I have found that all film fests I know (many in the US and internationally) are unique from one another. They are defined by place, organizers’
goals, taste, etc. So SXSW Fest is known as a place of discovery of new films and emerging talent. Their bias is to give talent a break. What also defines
them is that they are one element of a larger cultural event. Therefore they must have a BIG reach to succeed with these bigger events happening alongside
and simultaneously. They are known for taking chances which is influenced by their sense of community. At SXSW people bond, make connections and so
important in our film world they network.
The organizing team at the Film Fest are small in number but talented and dedicated.
SXSW Film Fest is in Austin but by any measure it is truly international and thus is in the world.