The SXSW Film Festival wrapped over the weekend and now that the Audience Award Winners and the Grand Jury Winners have been announced, I can finally sit still for a moment and reflect back on all the good, the bad, and the mediocre of this year’s fest.
I skipped SXSW in 2014 and 2015, and was ready to get back in the game for my fourth festival. Over the years, the film festival has maintained a balance of studio films and independent pics, leaning more towards the latter. The last time I went, the Evil Dead reboot, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Spring Breakers premiered. And in 2012, 21 Jump Street, The Cabin in the Woods, and HBO’s Girls were first introduced to the world.
This year, festival favorite and native Texan Richard Linklater premiered Everybody Wants Some, the “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, while Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, Midnight Special and Demolition made their premieres. Compared to previous years, the festival seemed a little modest with its programming, staying away from the big banner Hollywood titles and leaning more towards fare that reflected the festival’s genre-driven indie roots.
There was no big breakout film that everyone was talking about from this year’s festival. Instead, there were several small, thoughtful films that focused on the craft of filmmaking and interesting, unconventional storytelling. Personal favorites from this year’s lineup included Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe (read more below) and the dramedy Operator, which is cut from the same cloth as Her in that it explores the anxieties of a codependent relationship in the tech age. The Sophie Goodhart-directed dramedy, My Blind Brother, is further proof that Jenny Slate, Adam Scott, and Nick Kroll can go beyond the comedic roles for which they’re known, while Pet put an insane twist on the typical stalker/kidnapping movie.
Best: Handi-capable Home Invasion Movies
The home invasion movie was a huge trend at this year’s festival, but to add another layer of intrigue, the person being invaded was always at a disadvantage — or so it seems. In Don’t Breathe, a group of burglars invade the home of a blind man who ends up being more than they can handle. James Caan plays a crotchety old man who is harassed by two young pranksters via hidden surveillance cameras in his home in The Waiting. And in Hush, a deaf woman living in a secluded house in the woods gets stalked by a psychotic killer. There was definitely no shortage of home invasion pics at the fest — because they put the characters in situation that make us paranoid. This year, SXSW cranked up the dial a couple of notches when it came to the genre.
Worst: Musical Biopics
Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke acted their hearts out in musical biopics Miles Ahead and Born To Be Blue, but they failed to hit the right note. I don’t know if it’s because they were subpar films or if the world is suffering from musical biopic fatigue. I think it’s the latter.
Best: Work-in-Progress Screenings
Screening a film that is far from finished is a risk, but it definitely paid off for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s animated R-rated romp Sausage Party as well as Keanu from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. There were, by far, the two screenings that everyone was talking about.
Worst: Sold Out Movie Screenings
A SXSW badge doesn’t always guarantee you entry into a screening. No matter what, you always have to wait in line, and even then you aren’t guaranteed a spot. That’s why you have to arrive at the theater 45 minutes to an hour (depending on the popularity of the film) before a screening starts. This happened to me for the screening of Mike Birbiglia’s comedy Don’t Think Twice. I thought I arrived early and saw that the line was long. I remained hopeful that I would get in, but the cut off the line four people in front of me because the theater had reached capacity. Being turned away is never fun.
Best: The Alamo Drafthouse And Queso
I’ve already professed my love for the Alamo Drafthouse. It is probably the best movie theaters in the country — maybe even the world. What makes the theater even better is that each location caters to the local cuisine of the city. Considering I was in Texas, the home of Tex Mex, there were plenty of opportunities to eat queso (with chips, fries, etc.) — and I took advantage each time I watched a movie in one of the Drafthouse screening locations. And I watched at least 12 movies. That’s a lot of dairy.
Worst: Overlapping Screenings And Events
There are so many screenings and events at SXSW that it is virtually impossible to go to every single one. So sometimes you have to make a Sophie’s Choice when it comes to make decisions like “Should I go watch the premiere of Robert Kirkman’s Outcast or go for Seth Rogen’s premiere for Preacher?” I was faced with those anxiety-inducing decisions constantly. I guess it’s a good problem to have, but it can give you a major case of FOMO.
Best: Shuttle Busses
Thank God for the SXSW shuttle busses. If it weren’t for them, all the film festival attendees would be running wildly from theater to theater across Austin. Come to think of it, that may have been a good way to burn off all those calories from the queso.
Worst: Surge Pricing
There were times when time would not be on your side and the shuttle would take too long so you would have to catch an Uber or Lyft. Considering the crazy amount of people attending SXSW, all ride share apps would constantly be at surge pricing. That was not fun for my wallet.
Best: Meeting People In Line
With any festival, you will always have to wait in some sort of line — but that isn’t always a bad thing. You can strike up conversation with those around you about film and you can start to have a discussion about the best and worst films you have seen at the festival. It’s a great chance to get some recommendations. More than that, many filmmakers fall in line to watch movies like the normal people so you may have the opportunity to meet some Hollywood bigwigs.
Worst: Meeting People In Line
Waiting in line can also be irritating. Especially if you get stuck behind a person who thinks it’s necessary to call their friends and talk about their personal problems loudly. Very loudly. The entire time you are waiting in line.
SXSW is probably is a one of a kind festival that always has the unexpected and isn’t afraid to showcase new, fresh voices in filmmaking that defy the norm alongside big-time Hollywood names. It’s fun, weird, thrilling, and has films that no other major film festival would think of including in their program. Like the ones before it, this year’s festival continued to prove that they are a destination for film lovers and filmmakers from all across the world. Let’s just hope that SXSW continues to keep it weird for 2017.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer