As South by Southwest (SXSW) made the transition into its massive music festival and conference here in Austin, music documentaries shared the spotlight -- at a crowded panel Tuesday afternoon and during even more jammed interview session with the Beastie Boys yesterday afternoon. As many have reiterated this week at SXSW, this is the place to launch a music-oriented doc, particularly in the fest's 24 Beats Per Second section.
Beasties Take On SXSW
The Beastie Boys took the spotlight Wednesday in Austin, with a press screening of their film and a crowded audience interview at the Austin Convention Center, as well as the premiere at the Paramount Wednesday night. Even Terrence Malick popped in to see a bit of their film "Awesome; I Fucking Shot That." The movie is comprised of footage shot by the band's own fans.
At the interview, Adam Yauch (MCA), Mike Diamond (Mike D), and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) mostly joked their way through the hour-long session. In a rare serious moment, Yauch (the director of the film using the pseudonym Nathaniel Hornblower) explained that the film was particularly challenging in terms of clearing rights to the many samples used by DJ Mixmaster Mike, in their songs.
Later, the band was asked whether they are still "keeping it real" in Brooklyn, despite their tremendous successes. Noting the many changes in the gentrifying New York City borough, Beastie Mike D quipped about the area, "They are actually not keeping it real in Brooklyn anymore," and adding about himself, "I know more about the playground than the underground."
The film will hit theaters on March 31st, following a preview in theaters around the country next week. Meanwhile, at SXSW, insiders were buzzing about an anticipated surprise performance by the band expected a popular Austin venue tonight (Thursday).
Many Music Docs
"Our film is about penguins," quipped Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron, when asked to talk about the doc that brought her to SXSW. Theron produced and entirely financed Juaretsi Saizabitoria and Emilia Menocal's film exploring a collective of Cuban rappers who are ouside the state controlled music scene in their country. At the panel, Theron explained that she and the first time filmmakers covered a music fest in 2004, leading them down unexpected paths.
"We ended up with a lot of surprises (and) a film that touched on a lot more than we thought. We realized how much music can transcend politics (and) society." She added that she is in talks with Sony BMG on a distribution deal for the project. "Most films in Cuba are about looking back," Theron said, "We wanted to look forward."
Zach Niles and Banker White, here with "The Refugee All Stars," were asked about the close relationship between filmmaker and subject and made no apologies for their bond with the band. "In a certain way we have no fear of our love affair with the band coming across," explained Zach Niles.
The filmmakers are proud to be a rare -- maybe the first -- triple threat at SXSW. Their film is playing at the film fest, their website was nominated in the interactive conference, and the band is in town from Sierra Leone to perform at the SXSW music event.
Despite the docus on music docs in Austin (and at a few other film fests), the filmmakers worried that the business shuns such movies. "We get messages back (from buyers) that people aren't doing music docs, or it's too political," added Niles, "We thought we did the best job we could to make the two meet in the middle. It's not just music, it's about people and a situation."
"Isn't it interesting that two of the biggest docs are political ("Fahrenheit 9/11") and about music ("Buena Vista Social Club")," asked Charlize Theron.
"I think documentaries have proven to be incredibly successful in the business sense," continued Theron. "At the end of the day, you want your movie out there and (for people) to see it. (That's) even more important that me getting my money back."
Other films in the 24 Beats Per Second section include Alexandra Lipsitz's "Air Guitar Nation," Andrew Shapter's "Before the Music Dies", Zalman King's "Crazy Again," JL Aronson's "Danielson: A Family Movie," Alex Gibney's "Herbie Hancock: Possibilities," Hector Galan's "Los Lonely Boys: Cottonfields and Crossroads," Steve Cantor & Matt Galkin's "LoudQUIETloud: A Film about the Pixies," Sam Dunn, Scot McFadyen, Jessica Joy Wise's "Metal: A Headbandger's Journey," Rupert Williams & James Mackie's "The Passing Show," Alex Hinton's "Pick Up The Mic," Doug Biro and Jone Fine's "Possibilities, Zach Merck's "Punk Like Me," and Dan Ollman's "Suffering and Smiling."