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The SXSW All-Stars: A New Ultra-Indie Movement

The SXSW All-Stars: A New Ultra-Indie Movement

Here, at the Austin film fest, now in its waning days, I am on the documentary jury. So it’s probably unfair to write about the majority of the films I’ve seen. Outside of the docs, however, it’s clear that SXSW has found its narrative niche: as a launchpad for the new lo-fi truly American indie, embodied by the likes of Joe Swanberg, Andrew Bujalski and the Duplass brothers — all of whom are represented in one way or another at the fest. They are the hippest filmmaking posse in town.

When Greta Gerwig, the star of Swanberg’s latest no-budget slacker romp “Hannah Takes the Stairs” was seen walking up Congress Ave. on Monday with big orange sunglasses, me and my friends gawked as if we had just caught a glimpse of Julia Roberts. She is the next indie princess, star of the Dupass’ upcoming “Baghead,” and the cute, adorably awkward, emotionally confused core of the likeable “Hannah.” Watching the movie is like hanging out with a bunch of your friends — that is, if your friends are all smart, white self-conscious 20-somethings. Which pretty much seems to define much of the SXSW crowd.

By all accounts, “Hannah” is Swanberg’s most mature work, and it’s easy to see why. Featuring an ensemble cast made up of Gerwig, who is also a playwright, and filmmakers Bujalski (Mutual Appreciation), Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair), Kent Osborne (Dropping Out), Ry Russo-Young (Orphans), and Todd Rohal (The Guatemelan Handshake), the film has a relaxed and intimate atmosphere that evolves naturally out of this likeminded creative group. The gang can also be seen in the wry festival trailers that precede all of SXSW’s films — sharp comic bits that reverberate nicely with “Hannah.”

I haven’t seen all of the films, but Ronald Bronstein’s “Frownland” and “Dance Party USA” director Aaron Katz’s latest “Quiet City” also appear to fit into this new genre of Amer-indie, composed of refreshingly unpretentious portraits of lost young Americans on anti-depressants. Sundance has largely bypassed this movement, one that is far closer to the origins of ’70s and ’80s American indie cinema than just about anything in Park City’s Dramatic Competition. The movies are ragged, honest, and completely unconcerned with commercial viability. It all almost makes you think you’re 25 again.

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