FESTIVAL: Blood Suckers and Spin Doctors; Diverse SXSW Lineup Offers Head-Spinning Combinations
by Marc Savlov
(indieWIRE/ 03.19.02) -- The 2002 South By Southwest Film Festival, which ran March 6-17, will likely be remembered as one of the more diverse programming coups of the year. It kicked off with Alexandra Pelosi's stunning documentary "Journeys With George" -- a privileged and often humorous glimpse into the inner workings of the campaign of our current president -- and ended with a sold-out world premiere of Guillermo del Toro's outrageously blood-drenched vampire epic "Blade 2," which scored high marks with a crowd that, to judge from some conversations around me, was more than ready to close things with a floodtide of flying body parts.
Del Toro has until recently been an Austin resident (he's since relocated to San Antonio), and although "Blade 2" is only his fourth film, it was clear he had a hometown advantage. During the extended post-screening Q&A with star Ron Perlman (recently tagged to star in the director's adaptation of Mike Mignola's Dark Horse comic "Hellboy"), an enthusiastic del Toro spoke about his new vampire designs (think H.P. Lovecraft instead of Christopher Lee) and their downright disturbing connection to a certain female body part: "We wanted something that was more scary than the usual guy with two little teeth up front, and so we came up with these really nasty, leech-like, almost vaginal creatures," cackled del Toro. "The effects guys who come up with these things, you know, they don't seem to get any so these strange body parts end up in their designs. I tell them no more penises and vaginas, but then I look at their effects work and what the fuck? There it is anyway. What can I do?"
Del Toro's sexual observations aside, the closing night's program brought a standing ovation and the occasional blanched filmgoer who, presumably, thought they were going to be seeing something considerably more restrained. "Love at First Bite," it's not.
Between Pelosi's flagship political doc -- currently the subject of a heated bidding war with (at last count) HBO's documentary arm in the lead -- and del Toro's comic-book bloodbath, this year's festival counted 190-plus films among its numbers. Highlights ranged from experimental and bizarre shorts -- Jonah Kaplan's "Interview with Spike Jones" took home an award to the "Spike & Mike"-flavored "Love That Pussy" by Keith Alcorn -- to the surreal Kennedy assassination parody of Brian Flemming's "Nothing So Strange," which substituted Bill Gates for JFK, and from Donovan Leitch's "The Last Party 2000" (the fest's other big political broadside) to a digitally remixed and remastered print of Martin Scorsese's "The Last Waltz."
SXSW Film 2002 also boasted a quartet of retrospective screenings -- Troma Films' Lloyd Kaufman held sway over the midnight crowds at the Alamo Drafthouse Theater (Let's face it, "The Toxic Avenger" plays better in a theater that works to keep your buzz on); while Austin favorite John Sayles screened and discussed four of his best; documentarian Albert Maysles' classic "Gimme Shelter" showed that the rock 'n' roll doc isn't what it used to be; and Mexican multi-Ariel Award winner Jaime Humberto Hermosillo proved that del Toro wasn't the only fest honoree from South-of-the-border-borne who knew how to work both camera and crowd.
Because SXSW Film is just one part of a three-pronged festival package -- there's also the concurrent SXSW Interactive Fest and SXSW Music, all of which focus, more or less, on the "indie" side of things -- the overlap and commingling of various attendees makes for some seriously unique opportunities and discussions.
Where else can you catch up with Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and "The Cruise"'s Timothy "Speed" Levitch while walking home from a party at futurist sci-fi author Bruce Sterling's house to nail a quick nap before heading out to see The Dead Kennedys fronted not by Jello Biafra, but by "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" star Brendan Cruz? It's enough to make your head spin. And then when a surly-looking Russell Crowe wanders up searching for a beer, you know it's time to get some rest (even if you haven't seen exactly everything yet). After all, there's always next year.