Twenty films in six days, tons of red carpets, one-on-one interviews and a film that mentions Galveston.
South By Southwest — SXSW — is a monster film festival that focuses on interactive media, film and music. This is my fifth year covering the festival that ascends on Austin like a giant plague of people and food that doesn’t clear out until spring break is over. It was freezing cold for most of the festival this year, and my film coverage ended on a sad note as two people were killed early Thursday morning by a person who was charged with drunken driving and who was being chased by police.
This year, I noticed a consistent theme with the focus on teenage boy storylines. The festival kicked on March 7 with “Iron Man” director-actor Jon Favreau bringing his latest independent film “Chef” to the festival. It was one of the best festival openers I have seen and a career best for Favreau, both in front and behind the camera. It also made my mouth water with the delicious food on screen and even highlights one of the most talked about barbecue joints in Texas, Franklin’s BBQ.
I rushed from “Chef” over to interview Jason Bateman (“Horrible Bosses”, “Arrested Development”), who was making his directorial debut with “Bad Words.” Saturday began with Oscar winner Tilda Swinton talking about her experiences as an artist and commenting on two films she had in the festival, Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” (one of the best vampire films I have seen) and Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (one of the better films of 2014, now playing).
Later I talked to Swinton (“Michael Clayton,” “The Chronicles of Narnia”) on the red carpet, where she admitted both of the wise old women characters she plays in each of the festival films were inspired by her grandmother.
One of the biggest mainstream films getting its premiere in Austin was the big screen treatment of the cult television show “Veronica Mars” (now playing). The entire cast was on hand, including “Frozen” star Kristen Bell. After that, Zac Efron, Dave Franco and Seth Rogen walked the red carpet, promoting their latest dirty comedy “Neighbors.” Comedian and co-writer of the film Rogan made some rude comments to the audience during the Q&A following the film, saying “you guys didn’t pay to see the film.” The cheapest badge at SXSW averages more than $500. Rogan quickly apologized on Twitter.
The best comedy I saw at the festival was “Take Care” from actress Leslie Bibb (“Iron Man,” “Talladega Nights”), directed by a first-time filmmaker, Liz Tuccillo.
The final film Saturday night (the first of two for star Ethan Hawke) was the futuristic “Predestination,” directed by Aussie twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig (“Daybreakers”). Hawke admitted later that it did have a lot of “Gattaca” influences. The film, which was certainly one of my favorites from the festival, was a great mind-bending mystery with just the right amount of science fiction.
Early the next morning Oscar nominee Hawke and his buddy Oscar nominee Richard Linklater, fresh off their awards ride with “Before Midnight,” talked about their 12-year-long project “Boyhood,” an unbelievable cinematic feat that will define Texan director Linklater’s already impressive career. We literally watch the cast, including Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Linklater’s daughter and new talent Ellar Coltrane grow up before our eyes. They shot for a couple of days every year for the past 12 years in Austin, Houston and San Marcos.
Nicolas Cage and last year’s breakout star Tye Sheridan (“Mud,” “Tree of Life”) brought their latest, directed by David Gordon, called “Joe,” to the festival. It met with mixed reactions, especially from me, but it’s still a step in the right direction for Cage, who acted as if he had never been to a festival before.
Robert Duvall walked the red carpet promoting his new film “A Night in Old Mexico” and talked to me about the importance of Western themes in today’s film culture. The 83-year-old, Oscar winning legend was as sharp and gracious as ever.
Also on Monday, the cast and crew of the biopic “Cesar Chavez” came to town to discuss their film. Actor turned director Diego Luna (“Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Elysium”) and cast members Michael Pena, Rosario Dawson and American Ferrara drew a huge crowd at the Paramount Theater downtown.
Later that night, I ran into Elijah Wood at the premiere of his twisted new film called “Open Windows,” and he admitted that he has gravitated toward horror films of late, but that it wasn’t intentional.
The time of year really limits the best of films debuting here. Most of these films were barely finished in time for the festival — or were being shown as a work in progress.
However, the best film I saw ironically was shot and set in Galveston County, Port Arthur and on Bolivar Peninsula.
“Hellion” is directed by local UT professor Kat Candler and stars “Breaking Bad” actor Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis. It’s a heartbreaking story of family members trying to move on after the death of their wife and mother as their tempers and rage work against them.
Most of the 20 films I reviewed at the festival will be coming to a theater near you in the next 12 months. For the full reviews on all the films I saw and full interviews, visit texasartfilm.com.