The year’s film festival calendar continues to roll right along, with the South by Southwest Film Festival on Tuesday announcing its feature film program. The SXSW event in Austin, Texas, has become established in the festival landscape as a vital place for discovering new talent as well as a showcase for off-center studio films.
The festival will feature the world premiere of Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” the anticipated getaway-driver thriller starring Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Ansel Elgort. SXSW also includes the U.S. premiere of another crime story, Ben Wheatley’s intense “Free Fire,” starring Brie Larson, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley.
This year’s festival will feature some 125 features, with 51 movies from first-time filmmakers and 85 world premieres. With that many unknown quantities to put before viewers, even the festival’s organizers acknowledge they never quite know what’s going to happen and can’t predict responses.
“It comes alive in front of the audience here,” Janet Pierson, head of SXSW Film, said this week. “It’s always interesting what we think going in, and how invested we are in the whole program, and then things pop, the audiences speaks, the critics speak and always in ways that surprise us. It’s not like we know what everyone is going to highlight.”
However, Pierson did point out a trend of films on creativity and how things get made, noting documentaries making their world premieres at the festival, such as Frank Oz’s “Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched,” David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg’s “Bill Nye: Science Guy,” Jennifer M. Kroot’s “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” and Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen’s “Spettacolo.”
The festival’s narrative feature competition includes 10 world premieres, with Jason Headley’s “A Bad Idea Gone Wrong,” Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak’s “A Critically Endangered Species,” Anthony Onah’s “Dara Ju,” Laura Terruso’s “Fits and Starts,” Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund’s “La Barracuda,” Jessica M. Thompson’s “The Light of the Moon,” Rob Mockler’s “Like Me,” Natalia Leite’s “MFA,” Ana Asensio’s “Most Beautiful Island” and Lauren Wolkstein’s “The Strange Ones.”
The 10 world premieres that make up the documentary feature competition are Emma Franz’s “Bill Frisell: A Portrait,” Erik Ljung’s “The Blood Is at the Doorstep,” Luke Korem’s “Dealt,” Nanfu Wang’s “I Am Another You,” Mila Aung-Thwin’s “Let There Be Light,” Miao Wang’s “Maineland,” Erin Lee Carr’s “Mommy Dead and Dearest,” Lysa Heslov’s “Served Like a Girl,” Sandra Adair’s “The Secret Life of Lance Letscher” and Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous’s “The Work.”
Last year’s documentary winner, Keith Maitland’s “Tower,” went on to make the shortlist of 15 for the Academy Award. But last year’s narrative feature winner, Adam Pinney’s “The Arbalest,” essentially disappeared from the festival circuit after its win.
“What I feel strongly about is we wish everybody who comes here finds success for their films, and great things happen to them after the festival,” said Pierson. “But I feel really strongly that it can happen across all the programs in all the sections. It’s not like people only look to the competition for the breakouts.”
Pierson added that one of the main missions for the festival is “supporting voices, all kinds of voices and all kinds of creativity, whether it’s people doing something with chewing gum or people doing something with some money at their disposal. It’s the idea of fresh voices, points of view, people who engage in life. You’re looking for stuff that really resonates. So you can’t help but come up with real issues, because people are grappling with the things that really matter to them.”
The festival’s spotlight section will include a mix of new and familiar names with the world premieres of Valerie Weiss’ “The Archer,” Jared Moshé’s “The Ballad of Lefty Brown,” Aaron Katz’s “Gemini,” Elijah Bynum’s “Hot Summer Nights,” Tommy O’Haver’s “The Most Hated Woman in America,” Noël Wells’ “Mr. Roosevelt,” Evan Katz’s “Small Crimes,” Giancarlo Espositio’s “This is Your Death” and Joe Swanberg’s “Win It All.”
The SXSW Festival was among the first to spotlight television work and has premiered such shows as “Girls,” “Unreal” and “Mr. Robot.” Last year, the festival featured the premiere of the series “Search Party,” which was co-created by Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, who won the feature competition in 2014 with “Fort Tilden.” Michael Showalter, another co-creator on “Search Party,” was at SXSW in 2015 with his feature “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” and his new film, “The Big Sick,” will also play at this year’s festival.
Among the TV shows premiering at this year’s fest are Justin Simien’s adaptation of his feature film “Dear White People,” Rachel Holder’s “I Love Bekka & Lucy,” Jonathan Levine’s “I’m Dying Up Here,” Michael McDonald’s “Nobodies” and Tom Harper’s “The Son.” The festival had previously also announced the series “American Gods,” an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel from executive producers Bryan Fuller and Michael Green.
As previously announced, the festival’s opening night film is Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song,” starring Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman and Rooney Mara and which was shot in Austin during a previous SXSW music festival.
The film festival is just one arm of the larger South by Southwest event, including the foundational music festival that started in 1987, the ever-growing interactive festival and the newer comedy festival. The intersection of all these different areas and overlapping events has made SXSW well suited to reflect the fast-changing media environment.
“The essence or very core of what we do, I think, is connecting talent with audience,” said Pierson. “The talent takes a lot of different forms. I love the prescience of the founders of this company, who knew that these were all related. I didn’t invent it, I came in much later, but that’s one of the things that’s exciting being here all these years — being in a place where all these different disciplines and industries feed each other. It’s exciting, the possibilities.”
Additional programming will be announced Feb. 7. For more information, visit sxsw.com.
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