This year’s SXSW Film Festival is currently raging in Austin, Texas, complete with a packed slate that should keep festival attendees pretty happy in between bouts of chowing down breakfast tacos and basking in the good ol’ Texas sunshine. As ever, the festival features a strong lineup of both fresh premieres and festival favorites, new and returning stars, and plenty of opportunities for talent to break out on the festival stage.
From filmmakers to actors (and, sometimes, both at the same time), familiar faces looking to try a new craft to total newbies, this year’s festival has plenty of stars on the rise to look out for (ouch, so bright).
Who’s going to break out in a big way at this year’s festival? We’ve got some ideas.
Ansel Elgort, actor, “Baby Driver”
If you’ve seen a little franchise called “Divergent,” you probably know Ansel Elgort as Caleb Prior. And if you’ve seen “The Fault In Our Stars,” you probably know him as Shailene Woodley’s romantic interest. However, he’s about to take on a whole new profile as the centerpiece of Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” in the title role of the reported crowdpleaser. As a getaway driver keen on escaping his criminal ways, Elgort’s character winds up stuck under the employ of a menacing overlord played by Kevin Spacey. Stepping into a lead role in a studio movie for the first time, Elgort has gone with an original project from a director who knows how to play with genre, rather than settling for an overstuffed blockbuster. It’s a savvy move likely to raise expectations for his young career and proves he’s got an eye for good filmmakers. -Eric Kohn
Noël Wells, writer, director and actor, “Mr. Roosevelt” / actor, “Infinity Baby”
The one-time “Saturday Night Live” star — remember all those cute impersonations? — and charming love interest from “Master of None” is hitting this year’s festival hard. First up, Wells is pulling triple-duty on her feature directorial debut, “Mr. Roosevelt,” which she also wrote and stars in as a struggling comedian who finds her life upended by an illness in the family and an uncomfortable confrontation with her nice guy ex and his new lady friend. Elsewhere, she’s co-starring in Bob Byington’s kinda secret “Infinity Baby,” where she’ll appear alongside Kieran Culkin, Stephen Root, Megan Mullally, Martin Starr, Nick Offerman and Trieste Kelly Dunn. We don’t think she’s playing a baby, but we’d still definitely watch that. -Kate Erbland
Kristoffer Borgli, writer and director, “DRIB”
“DRIB” is the real story of a crass marketing campaign for a well-known energy drink that failed. The problem is, the company behind said energy drink wouldn’t allow their story to be told, so the project became a hybrid documentary about the fictional drink called Drib. Norwegian writer-director Kristoffer Borgli has fought an uphill legal battle to make this film, eventually embracing his restrictions and corporate censorship by turning them into creative tools that will leave the audience wondering what is and is not real. Borgli seems like the right director for this unusual material after his mockdoc “Whateverst” and exploration of viral content in “Internet Famous.” The film is getting a great deal of early buzz headed into SXSW and could establish Borgli as an offbeat new voice in the film world. -Chris O’Falt
Gabe Klinger, writer and director, “Porto”
Gabe Klinger first impressed us with his 2013 documentary, “Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater.” Easily the most intelligent, nuanced, and cinematically literate of the many different docs that have been made about Linklater in recent years, Klinger’s debut may have been focused on two master filmmakers, but it hinted at the possible emergence of a third. With “Porto,” Klinger’s first fiction feature, the Brazilian-born director takes another major step towards realizing his potential. Unfolding like an elliptical and compellingly condensed riff on his hero’s iconic “Before Trilogy,” “Porto” stars the late Anton Yelchin (in what might be his finest performance) and French actress Lucie Lucas as two romantics who briefly cross paths in the eponymous Portuguese city, but find themselves haunted by the connection long after they’ve parted. As knotted temporally (and formally) as it is emotionally, “Porto” is a succinct and swirling examination of love in all its bittersweet splendor. Perhaps, one day, Klinger will be the subject of a reverent documentary, himself. -David Ehrlich
Laura Terruso, writer and director, “Fits and Starts”
The jump from screenwriter to director is not always an easy transition, but “Hello, My Name Is Doris” scribe Laura Terruso had eight shorts to her name as director when “Doris” (based on one of those shorts) became one of the top-grossing indies of last year. While that film paired Terruso with the very funny Michael Showalter, the writer/director steps out on her own with an equally satisfying first feature, “Fits and Starts.” Set over one weekend, the film stars Wyatt Cenac as a struggling author caught in the shadow of his Times-bestselling wife. Cenac’s fumbling neurotic feels like a character from an early Woody Allen film stuck in a set-up from Christopher Guest, filtered through Cenac’s laidback drawl. The cast reveals something about Terruso’s influences; the film features an eclectic mix of New York downtown theater performers, “High Maintenance” regulars, and eccentric indie filmmakers. With Terruso’s ear for neuroses and nods to the absurd, “Fits and Starts” heralds a comedic voice as fresh as it is refreshingly familiar. -Jude Dry
Peter Vack, writer and director, “Assholes” / actor, “Dara Ju,” “MFA,” and “Whiskey Fist”
At this point, Peter Vack is as much a fixture at SXSW as the crowds you bump into on 6th Street or the knee pain you suffer from seeing a movie at the Paramount. The 30-year-old New Yorker has been positively ubiquitous at recent editions of the fest, bringing his model-esque glower to breakouts like “Fort Tilden,” “6 Years,” “I Believe in Unicorns,” and approximately 40% of the other movies that have premiered there — the programming at the Texas event isn’t as easily summed up as that of Sundance or Cannes, but it’s not a true SXSW until Peter Vack shows up. Recently, Vack has begun flirting with broader visibility, appearing in studio hits like “The Intern” and on network TV shows like “The Blacklist.” But this year, Vack is poised to graduate from “that guy” status; don’t worry, he’s still in several different SXSW titles, but his biggest role will be behind the camera, as he’s coming back to Austin with his directorial feature debut, “Assholes.” The story of two sober New Yorkers who fall in love, relapse, and run amok, the movie promises to live up to its title. One thing’s for sure: If Vack is half as prolific a filmmaker as he is an actor, he’s going to need his own festival soon. -DE
John Carroll Lynch, director, “Lucky”
As an actor, Lynch has quite a body of work to pick from. Ten years ago, he was in one of the greatest movies of the 21st century. Just last year, he was in one of 2016’s best horror films and one of the most wonderfully bizarre late-night segments. But SXSW 2017 will feature “Lucky,” Lynch’s first effort from the director’s chair. Starring the legendary Harry Dean Stanton as the title character, “Lucky” follows an elderly man’s introspective look as he reaches the apex of his life and time in a small desert town. Lynch has always been a patient presence on-screen — it will be interesting to see if he can bring that foundational sensibility to his work behind the camera. -Steve Greene
Lauren Wolkstein, co-creator, “The Strange Ones”
Returning to the festival where her short, “Cigarette Candy” took home the Best Short Award in 2010, Lauren Wolkstein premieres her first feature, “The Strange Ones,” a collaboration with Christopher Radcliff. One the most hotly anticipated premieres of the festival, “The Strange Ones” is based on a short film that made waves at Sundance in 2011. The film is a tense mystery about two siblings on a road trip who raise suspicions when they stop at a broken down motel on their way to an unknown destination. Wolkstein was one of five emerging indie filmmakers behind “Collective: Unconscious,” an anthology project led by Dan Schoenbrun which had filmmakers interpreting each other’s dreams. With a third feature in the works, based on her short, “Social Butterfly,” Wolkstein’s name is one you’ll soon be hearing a lot more. -JD
Eric Ruffin, actor, “The Transfiguration”
“The Transfiguration” was one of the surprise hits of last year’s Cannes Film Festival. But while the film’s debut may have been something of a genre curiosity, it should be primed to explode with an Austin crowd even more well-suited for the vampire film’s twists and turns. As Milo, the teenager whose school troubles spark both a special friendship and other odd changes, Ruffin is poised to have one of the buzzed-about performances of the fest. Look for other kudos to go towards writer/director Michael O’Shea and Ruffin’s co-star Chloe Levine, both out at the festival and when the film hits theaters in April. -SG
Alice Lowe, writer, director and actor, “Prevenge”
Fans of Ben Wheatley’s singular brand of cinema already know Lowe (she co-wrote his “Sightseers”) and she frequently pops up in Edgar Wright’s own movie universe, but Lowe is poised to break out in a wholly unique way at this year’s SXSW, thanks to her black-as-night dramedy “Prevenge.” Lowe not only stars in the film, it also marks her feature directorial debut, complete with her very own script. The film centers on Lowe’s widow Ruth, hugely pregnant and prone to fits of rage, who believes her unborn baby is telling her to, well, just kill a lot of people. The film is already out in the UK and has played a handful of other festivals, but the genre-loving audience of SXSW will eat this one up, giving Lowe a major boost just as the film prepares for its March 24 release. -KE
SXSW runs from March 10 – 19 in Austin, Texas.