Docs Dominate at SXSW As Insiders Anticipate The Festival's Tipping Point
by Eugene Hernandez
By all accounts, film industry insiders and observers are waiting for the moment that the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival sees a narrative premiere acquired during the course of the annual event. Everything at this festival will change, explained Variety reporter Dana Harris, when that happens. As Harris predicted during Saturday morning's "Meet the (Film) Press" panel, that's a moment that she, and no doubt SXSW organizers, are eagerly awaiting. How the festival would change remains to be seen, but like many other U.S. festivals the 12 year old SXSW is clearly trying to serve not only a large local audience, but also the film industry and having a fiction film find favor with buyers during its festival is seen as a key rite of passage for an event that is drawing praise this weekend from the many insiders here in Austin, TX.
Buyers from such companies as Sony Pictures Classics, Newmarket Films, Lions Gate Films, ThinkFilm, Magnolia Pictures, Wellspring, Roadside Attractions, Palm Pictures, and others are among the industry insiders in town eyeing new films. A few new narrative films are already striking a chord in Austin, notably Andrew Bujalski's "Mutual Appreciation," Ian Gamazon & Neill Dela Llana's "Cavité," and Paul S. Myers & Brennan Shroff's "Southern Belles," not to mention the Sundance '05 film "The Puffy Chair," by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, which is seen as a likely acquisition. But, as with many U.S. film festivals of late, it's a number of SXSW docs are clearly seizing the spotlight.
First off, a doc distribution deal has been announced. Seventh Art Releasing has acquired world rights to Daniel Peddle's "The Aggressives," the story of a group of six New York City lesbians who live their lives as men and call themselves The Aggressives. Peddle is a photographer who works in Manhattan's fashion industry.
"It is an amazing achievement -- raw... yet intimate and touching," said Udy Epstein, in announcing the deal to indieWIRE. "We learn about their lives, feelings, aspirations and backgrounds -- we care about them!"
Rachel Boynton's first feature, "Our Brand Is Crisis," having its world premiere at SXSW and set to screen at New Directors/New Films later this month, stirred moviegoers on Saturday afternoon. Boynton goes inside a Bolivian election in 2002 that has the country's President Sanchez de Lozada (aka "Goni") hoping to assure victory by hiring GCS, a group of U.S. campaign led by noted strategists Stan Greenberg, James Carville, and Bob Shrum. Battling rapidly growing voter protests, fueled by a rising Bolivian unemployment rate, the strategists hope to harness the perception of the crisis and beat a field that includes nine other candidates. After the down-to-the-wire election, the situation takes tragic turns and politicians and strategists alike are faced with an even more intense crisis.
Challenging the idea that the United States can export its brand of democracy to other parts of the world, Boyton's doc, in her words, "Says so much about what one needs, to succeed as a president of a country."
Michele Ohayon's "Cowboy del Amor" is an entertaining portrait of Ivan, the self-proclaimed "Cowboy Cupid" who matches up older American men with Mexican women. With old-school values and traditional definitions of the roles for male and females in a marriage, Ivan sets out to help men like himself find a woman they just might fall in love with. In the case of Rick and Francis, his arrow strikes and Ohayon reaps the benefits, watching as love at first sight seems to blossom.
"I make movies about people I love," beamed Michele Ohayon after Saturday's screening of "Cowboy del Amor," sharing in the emotional moments after her subjects Ivan, Nick and Francis saw the movie for the first time at its SXSW world premiere. The Film Sales Company is selling the movie in Austin.
Continuing a trend of comedy docs that have found favor of late, notably "The Aristocrats" at ThinkFilm and the upcoming Eddie Izzard project from the same company, two humorous docs were quite popular this weekend. Liam Lynch's "Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic" is seen as a sure bet for a release, and Michael Blieden's "The Comedians of Comedy," a comedy tour doc, was an anticipated fest film that didn't disappoint audiences or buyers at its Sunday night screenings. After the showing, festivalgoers toasted the film at a slick, crowded Netflix celebration that many noted had the feeling of a Sundance party.
Other docs that had festival-goers buzzing during the first few days of SXSW were Alexandra Shiva's "Stagedoor," Ellen Spiro's "Troop 1500," Kate David & David Heilbroner's whistling doc "Pucker Up," and the local premiere of Alex Gibney's "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." Also, a new doc, tentatively titled "You're Gonna Miss Me" has been added to the festival slate. Kevin McAlester's look at rock icon Roger Kynard "Roky" Erickson featuring appearances by Patti Smith, Thurston Moore, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and others, will screen today.
Alexandra Shiva's husband visited Stagedoor Manor, a theater camp in the Catskills for four years. "When I was sneaking out and going to Nell's (as a teenager), Shiva joked in a brief chat with indieWIRE outside the Ironworks BBA joint, "(My husband) was producing 'Evita'."
She spent a month with the camp kids, shooting their lives and experiences with two cameras. The film is her second feature after the acclaimed 2001 doc, "Bombay Eunuch." Spiro's "Troop 1500," screening in the festival's Lone Star States section, captures the story of a group of Girl Scouts whose mother's are in prison.
Gibney's "Enron" doc, fresh from screenings at Sundance in January, had a Saturday night crowd buzzing when Gibney decided to give away a share of Enron stock after the showing. Asking two audience members to guess the share's value, one viewer said $100 and the other guessed a negative ten cents. Of course both were wrong, it's worth nothing.
So, Gibney ripped the stock in half and gave a piece of it to each moviegoer.
indieWIRE's coverage of SXSW '05 includes a regulary updated blog @ http://blogs.indiewire.com/sxsw/