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SXSW: 'The Arbalest' and 'Tower' win big as film fest portion comes to a close

It's that time of year again when fans and industry insiders descend on Austin, Texas, for the annual South by Southwest festival. The 10-day event will offer buzzy movies -- including Richard Linklater's "Everybody Wants Some," Seth Rogen's animated "Sausage Party" and the documentary "Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru" -- plus hundreds of news bands, the latest in interactive culture, and keynote addresses from President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Keep up with all the action here.

'The Arbalest' and 'Tower' win top prizes at SXSW film fest

"Tower," winner of the 2016 SXSW grand jury prize for documentary feature. (Keith Maitland / Go-Valley LLC)
"Tower," winner of the 2016 SXSW grand jury prize for documentary feature. (Keith Maitland / Go-Valley LLC)

Though attention out of the event this year has largely been on larger studio movies such as “Everybody Wants Some,” “Keanu” and “Sausage Party,” the South by Southwest Film Festival has also long been a vital launching pad for new talent. Past competition wins have been important moments of discovery for filmmakers and performers in films such as “Tiny Furniture,” “Short Term 12” and last year’s winner, “Krisha.”

This year, the festival’s narrative feature grand jury award went to Adam Pinney’s “The Arbalest,” a dry, offbeat story of obsession. The documentary feature grand jury winner was Keith Maitland’s “Tower,” a multimedia look at the mass school shooting at the University of Texas in 1966.

Michelle Obama releases a new song, but won't run for president, she tells SXSW crowd

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks during a panel discussion at the 2016 South by Southwest festival. (Rich Fury / Invision / Associated Press)
First Lady Michelle Obama speaks during a panel discussion at the 2016 South by Southwest festival. (Rich Fury / Invision / Associated Press)

The announcement of Michelle Obama as a music keynote panelist at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, might have seemed strange. But in hindsight, it made perfect sense: She had a song to release.

On Wednesday morning, the first lady joined actress Sophia Bush, songwriter Diane Warren and rappers Missy Elliott and Queen Latifah on stage in the Austin Convention Center for a conversation about women in the arts, education and society.


SXSW breakout film 'Don't Think Twice' takes a shot at 'SNL,' slyly

A shot of the cast from Mike Birbiglia's improv-comedy movie "Don't Think Twice." (SXSW)
A shot of the cast from Mike Birbiglia's improv-comedy movie "Don't Think Twice." (SXSW)

One of the big breakouts at this year’s SXSW Film Festival is “Don’t Think Twice.” And one of the most potent aspects of the film is its broadside against “Saturday Night Live.”

Just don’t call it a broadside to its director.

Mike Birbiglia’s movie — starring improv comics, about improv comedy, though not always comedic — has been sparking strongly enthusiastic responses at the festival.

Michelle Obama delivers keynote address with some famous friends

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the South by Southwest festival on March 16. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)
First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the South by Southwest festival on March 16. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)
Queen Latifah, from left, Sophia Bush, First Lady Michelle Obama and Missy Elliott speak on stage. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)
Queen Latifah, from left, Sophia Bush, First Lady Michelle Obama and Missy Elliott speak on stage. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)
Queen Latifah during the SXSW keynote address. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)
Queen Latifah during the SXSW keynote address. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)

The Powerpuff Girls are here. The party can start

Buttercup, Blossom and Bubbles at "The Powerpuff Girls" parade and screening at SXSW on Tuesday. (Robin Marchant / Getty Images for Cartoon Network)
Buttercup, Blossom and Bubbles at "The Powerpuff Girls" parade and screening at SXSW on Tuesday. (Robin Marchant / Getty Images for Cartoon Network)

Jenny Slate, Nick Kroll and Zoe Kazan at the 'My Blind Brother' world premiere at SXSW

Charlie Hewson, from left, Jenny Slate, Sophie Goodhart, Nick Kroll and Zoe Kazan attend the "My Blind Brother" premiere at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, on Saturday. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)
Charlie Hewson, from left, Jenny Slate, Sophie Goodhart, Nick Kroll and Zoe Kazan attend the "My Blind Brother" premiere at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, on Saturday. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)

"My Blind Brother,” Sophie Goodhart's debut feature as writer and director, is an assured, acerbic look at family, guilt, jealousy, grief and competitiveness. The project began as a short film of the same name starring Tony Hale that debuted at South By Southwest in 2003 before playing other festivals, including Cannes.

The film walks a fine line between being a quirky family story and an essay on jealousy and regret, veering between romance and dark comedy. In a Q&A after the film’s world premiere Saturday at South By Southwest, actress Zoe Kazan, who plays Rose’s friend Francie, praised Goodhart’s “control of the comi-tragic tone.”


Seth Rogen finally premieres the dark comic book adaptation 'Preacher'

Director Evan Goldberg, left, showrunner Sam Catlin, director Seth Rogen and author Garth Ennis attend the screening of "Preacher" during the 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas. (Mike Windle / Getty Images for SXSW)
Director Evan Goldberg, left, showrunner Sam Catlin, director Seth Rogen and author Garth Ennis attend the screening of "Preacher" during the 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas. (Mike Windle / Getty Images for SXSW)

Of all the comic book material Hollywood has tried to adapt in its current throes of Marvelmania and DC-dom, not many come with the challenges of "Preacher."

The mid-1990s Garth Ennis work (from DC's Vertigo imprint) is dark, sprawling and, most critically, controversial.

A violent story about a pugnacious preacher, his vampire pal and a butt-kicking ex linking up to track down an absent God and take Him to task for the state of humanity isn't the stuff down-the-middle TV shows are made of. It isn't even necessarily the stuff basic-cable shows are made of.

Sure enough, all of these challenges are what creators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg faced as they tried to bring the property to the screen.

"Me and Evan grew up together and read a ton of comic books," Rogen said. "As soon as we had any power in Hollywood we tried to make it." This involved many false starts, he noted; in fact, there were so many twists and turns that they began their bid during production on "Pineapple Express" nearly a decade ago.

It's always been in the hands of people more talented and powerful than us. But they all ... it up. And it rode downhill into our laps.

Seth Rogen on 'Preacher'

'Everybody Wants Some' at SXSW is Texas by way of Richard Linklater and baseball

Shown is a scene from Richard Linklater's "Everybody Wants Some." None
Shown is a scene from Richard Linklater's "Everybody Wants Some."

Sometimes a time and a place just come together. The director Richard Linklater has been making movies centering on, and informed by, the state of Texas for many of the last 25 years.

But few of his films are as dripping in local detail as "Everybody Wants Some," the director's semi-autobiographical look at a southeast Texas college baseball team during the first few days of the semester.

And even fewer films have the chance to make their grand debut in a spot so close to where their events take place, represented by so many people from that place.

'Scandal' star Kerry Washington on the 'double-edged sword' of social media

"Scandal" actress Kerry Washington speaks at the Austin Convention Center on March 13, during the South by Southwest Festival. (Rich Fury / Invision / Associated Press)
"Scandal" actress Kerry Washington speaks at the Austin Convention Center on March 13, during the South by Southwest Festival. (Rich Fury / Invision / Associated Press)

When Kerry Washington sits down for a chat about social media, the topic of her personal life will inevitably come up -- and perhaps the utter lack of it in her posts, specifically anything to do with her husband, former football player Nnamdi Asomugha, and their daughter, Isabelle.

The ultra-private "Scandal" star has for months been the subject of tabloid gossip insisting that her nearly three-year marriage is on the rocks or is already over. Washington addressed those rumors on Sunday but, in typical Olivia Pope fashion, found a way to talk around them rather than give a straightforward answer.

"If I don't talk about my personal life, it means I don't talk about my personal life," the actress asserted during the "New Rules of Social Stardom" panel at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas (via Us Weekly). "That means not only did I not tell you when I was getting married, it also means if somebody has rumors about what's going on in my marriage, I don’t refute them, because I don't talk about my personal life."

Horror director Ti West takes a shot at western 'In a Valley of Violence' with Ethan Hawke, John Travolta

Ethan Hawke in the western revenge saga "In a Valley of Violence." (SXSW)
Ethan Hawke in the western revenge saga "In a Valley of Violence." (SXSW)

There are plenty of ways in which the South by Southwest Film Festival has grown in scale over the years. But it is still the kind of event where one might run into a filmmaker such as Ti West on an Austin, Texas, street corner the night before the world premiere of his much-anticipated western, “In a Valley of Violence.”

And he will stop to chat for the cycle of a couple street lights, professing his seemingly genuine enthusiasm for the film and how excited he is for people to see the performances by Ethan Hawke and John Travolta.

Sia, Elle King, Willie Nelson and more rock SXSW

Sia performs at Samsung Galaxy Life Fest. (Rick Kern / Getty Images)
Sia performs at Samsung Galaxy Life Fest. (Rick Kern / Getty Images)
Willie Nelson performs at the Spotify House (Anna Webber / Getty Images)
Willie Nelson performs at the Spotify House (Anna Webber / Getty Images)
Singer Elle King performs onstage at Samsung Galaxy Life Fest (Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images)
Singer Elle King performs onstage at Samsung Galaxy Life Fest (Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images)

Key and Peele movie 'Keanu' makes a funny but uneven SXSW debut

Jordan Peele, left, and Keegan-Michael Key show a T-shirt they handed out at a screening of their work-in-process film "Keanu" at the Paramount Theatre during the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. (Jack Plunkett / Invision / Associated Press)
Jordan Peele, left, and Keegan-Michael Key show a T-shirt they handed out at a screening of their work-in-process film "Keanu" at the Paramount Theatre during the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. (Jack Plunkett / Invision / Associated Press)

Whether it's introducing fantastically named college-football players, doing spot-on Obama impressions or making inspired mayhem across the TV dial, the comedy duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have been deservedly at the top of the sketch game for years, as socially provocative as they are goofy.

Hopes, then, run understandably high for their first feature film, an action-spoof called "Keanu" that made its "work-in-progress" debut at a late (like, end-at-3:30-a.m.-late) screening Saturday night at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, an event at which the stars showed up and tossed stuffed animal giveaways into the crowd.

Key and Peele produced and star in the film, while the latter was also a writer. "Keanu" is directed by Peter Atencio, another ingredient in their secret sauce; he has helmed every episode of their hit Comedy Central show. In other words, it's an all-in-the-family affair.

The film focuses on underachieving stoner Rel (Peele) and his best friend/cousin Clarence (Key), a suburban square whose very presence riffs on racial preconceptions. (Warner Bros.' New Line made "Keanu" and will release it in theaters April 29.) 

The title is a reference to, yes, that Keanu, only this time he's a cat that saves Rel by showing up at his door after the stoner underwent a bad breakup -- but whose disappearance sends him and Clarence on a crime-riddled spin through some of L.A.'s gang underworld. It's that kind of movie.

Director Joe Berlinger on his new Tony Robbins documentary before its SXSW premiere

A scene from a new documentary about Tony Robbins by Joe Berlinger. (SXSW)
A scene from a new documentary about Tony Robbins by Joe Berlinger. (SXSW)

Though he had directed some of the most acclaimed documentaries of the contemporary era, Joe Berlinger was just a regular guy grappling with personal issues when he decided to attend a Tony Robbins seminar in 2012.

Robbins had reached out to Berlinger after seeing the filmmaker’s Metallica documentary, “Some Kind of Monster,” a number of years before, and the two had formed a friendship. The self-help guru invited Berlinger, an admitted skeptic about the brand of personal improvement Robbins practiced, to attend his week-long “Date With Destiny” event.

What resulted was a journey that changed Berlinger’s life. And given how he resolved to make a movie about Robbins (and convinced his reluctant subject of the appeal of same), it might change your life too -- or, OK, at least set percolating a series of questions about the nature of charismatic leadership and the ways we approach and measure the benefits of psychological counseling.

Berlinger was taking a breather at a hotel in Austin, Texas, on Friday evening. On Monday, the director's “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru” will make its world premiere, ahead of its eventual release by Netflix. (The Times was shown a cut of the film ahead of the festival). What could have been an exposé in line with, say, Berlinger's search-under-every-rock criminal-injustice tale “Paradise Lost," about the so-called West Memphis 3, is instead a piece far more immediate and non-conclusive. It is also frequently spellbinding.

U.S. Olympian asked to remove hijab for ID photo at SXSW

Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad poses at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit on March 8. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad poses at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit on March 8. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Ibtihaj Muhammad, a 2016 Olympic fencer and South by Southwest speaker who is Muslim, was asked to remove her hijab as she proceeded through registration at the festival Saturday afternoon.

"I can't make this stuff up," she tweeted.

SXSW officials said they had removed the volunteer who checked her in.

Muhammad is expected to make history this summer by being the first hijab-wearing woman to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. She will appear on a Saturday evening panel called "The New Church: Sport as Currency of American Life."

Fede Alvarez returns to SXSW with the thriller 'Don't Breathe'

Uruguayan film director and screenwriter Fede Alvarez, speaking at Austin’s Stateside Theatre for a late-night screening of his new film (Jack Plunkett / Fons PR)
Uruguayan film director and screenwriter Fede Alvarez, speaking at Austin’s Stateside Theatre for a late-night screening of his new film (Jack Plunkett / Fons PR)

The official South by Southwest festival program and schedule had the film listed as “Untitled Fede Alvarez/Ghost House Thriller” for the names of its director and production company. The synopsis was a brief, oblique two sentences and there were no photos released. The audience arrived at the Stateside Theatre in Austin, Texas,  for a late-night screening of this mysterious film to find the marquee proclaim the film’s title as “Don’t Breathe.”

“For me, I want to tell you, honestly I feel this is my first film,” Alvarez said while introducing “Don’t Breathe.” “‘Evil Dead’ was technically my first film, but it was Sam Raimi, it was me, it was Rob Tappert, it was a lot of people. This is the most personal film, I guess.”

Fede Alvarez, director, speaking about his new movie at Austin’s Stateside Theatre at SXSW.

Check out our panels!

Jon Healey from our editorial board spoke Friday about copyright issues in the digital age.

My panel Saturday afternoon is on social media and the presidential campaign

Mitra Kalita on Sunday will talk about helping newsrooms transition to the future. 

Dexter Thomas' panel is Monday on tech and diversity.

Hope to see you here!

Obama at SXSW: 'The reason I'm here really is to recruit all of you'

President  Obama speaks at the opening Keynote event during the 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images for SXSW)
President Obama speaks at the opening Keynote event during the 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images for SXSW)

President Obama made a strong plea to the technological community to help fix government even as he offered a pointed rebuttal to a popular Silicon Valley position. 

Speaking at South by Southwest, the music, film and interactive gathering, Obama on Friday urged digital experts to join a battle to solve bureaucratic challenges such as voting ‎inefficiencies and the disbursement of federal funds. But he said that unequivocally supporting those in the tech world who resist government intervention would be misguided.

President Obama gets interactive SXSW

President Obama steps off Air Force One in Austin, Texas, en route to the South by Southwest festival and a couple of fundraisers. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
President Obama steps off Air Force One in Austin, Texas, en route to the South by Southwest festival and a couple of fundraisers. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

The interactive portion of SXSW landed a familiar name for this year's keynote address. President Obama is taking part in a discussion with Texas Tribune Chief Executive Evan Smith about "civic engagement in the 21st century."

L.A. Times reporter Steven Zeitchik is on the scene:

SXSW attendees wait in line for panel featuring President Obama. (Erich Schlegel / Getty Images)
SXSW attendees wait in line for panel featuring President Obama. (Erich Schlegel / Getty Images)
President Barack Obama places his order with Torchy’s Tacos owner Aaron Sego, right, before going the SXSW interactive panel. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)
President Barack Obama places his order with Torchy’s Tacos owner Aaron Sego, right, before going the SXSW interactive panel. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)
President Barack Obama speaks during the 2016 SXSW Festival at Long Center in Austin. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images for SXSW)
President Barack Obama speaks during the 2016 SXSW Festival at Long Center in Austin. (Neilson Barnard / Getty Images for SXSW)
Obama, right, talks with Texas Tribune Editor in Chief/CEO Evan Smith at the Center for Performing Arts in Austin. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)
Obama, right, talks with Texas Tribune Editor in Chief/CEO Evan Smith at the Center for Performing Arts in Austin. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

Sad news from SXSW

Louis Meyers, seen in 2004. (Austin American-Statesman)
Louis Meyers, seen in 2004. (Austin American-Statesman)

A colleague of SXSW co-founder Louis Meyers says the musician has died on the day the major entertainment festival opened for the 30th year. He was 60.

Folk Alliance International Director Aengus Finnan said Meyers died Friday in Austin. The cause of death wasn't immediately known.

The scene at SXSW

The First Order, from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," has landed at SXSW. (Vivien Killilea / Getty Images)
The First Order, from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," has landed at SXSW. (Vivien Killilea / Getty Images)
People line up inside the Austin Convention Center to register on the first day of SXSW. (Larry W. Smith / European Pressphoto Agency)
People line up inside the Austin Convention Center to register on the first day of SXSW. (Larry W. Smith / European Pressphoto Agency)
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