|Austin-Bergstrom International Airport|
I'm not sure about the rest of you who may or may not have attended SXSW, but it was certainly not the indie smorgasbord that I was expecting. Especially after the price of a full access film pass for both panels and film. Isn't the purpose of the festival to promote independent filmmaking and films? I cannot speak for the rest of the attendees but I can speak for myself. Major disappointment! The Austin Film Festival is a much better deal!
Disappointment number one was the lack of Independent films. This year SXSW screened a total of 26 Independent films (independent meaning not funded by a Hollywood studio or has a distribution release within the following two weeks of the festival). The breakdown of the films was as follows: 10 feature length documentaries, 4 first time documentaries, 8 feature narratives and 4 first time narratives. The same festival screened 45 other films, 20 of which were Hollywood advance screenings. There is nothing wrong with having advance screenings but do we need 20 of them being shown two to three times during the festival and taking up precious screen time?
A contributing writer to Indie Slate magazine just finished a feature film that was entered into SXSW. The individual (protecting the innocent here, the person could be entering another film next year) called me to see if I knew anyone at all on the committee that could give the film a push. Get this: The film was not considered good enough for SXSW but was considered good enough for a Saturday night prime time screening at the NY Film Festival. And it got rave reviews. I'm not going to embarrass the festival directors by letting them know which film they passed up, as they will probably be seeing it in theatrical distribution in the near future. The film's success scored a production deal for the writer's second screenplay! Maybe it was a blessing that they didn't get into SXSW.
Disappointment number two was the overcrowded scheduling of the trade show, the panels, and the mentor sessions. If you were trying to make three panels a day (like myself), then you forfeited the opportunity for a mentor session. Attending three panels a day left little time for the brief trade show that was a major attraction to the filmmakers. It would have been nice if the trade show had been open during the whole run of the film festival. If it was open the entire time it was not made clear to the attendees. Nothing attracts a filmmaker like fancy new equipment.
Overall the panels were of great benefit! Only two were a waste of time. If I had known the panel on Distribution was going to be a bitch session to end up discussing alternative distribution avenues then I would have gone to the panel on Alternative Distribution. I expected to see an example of what a distribution deal looks like and what to expect when negotiating with distributors. Especially since one of the panelists was a producer of "Boys Don't Cry". We all know that was a film that got distribution. One of the panelists was actually falling asleep in his chair.
The other panel disappointment was on acting in independent films that featured a casting director who stated that she hated Hollywood agents. That is probably only disturbing if you are a producer or a writer trying to get a name attached to your film. Producers sitting in that panel would probably not make that casting director their first choice. To be fair the actors present did speak a lot about their positive experience working in well written indies and did try to give actors a realistic perspective when dealing with agents.
Ending on a positive note, the Rodriguez film school was especially informative and entertaining. He packed more useful information in that hour and a half then you get in a year at film school. His teaching style had everyone laughing as they were retaining valuable short cuts and tips on making the most of your precious film stock. The Rodriguez panel was the only one that I personally attended that had standing room only.
Speaking of standing room only, I was surprised to see so many panels half full or almost empty. Especially the one featuring a panel of female producers on getting your film make. Having the opportunity to pick Elizabeth Avellan's brain certainly helped a number of filmmakers in the room regardless of their gender. All of these women made themselves available to answer questions for considerable time after the discussion was to end. To their credit they opened up the opportunity for questions fairly early into the panel to feel out their audience. This encouraged attendees to get questions answered that were pretty specific to the projects they were trying to get made or completed. Kudos to the women!
The SXSW Film Festival is good for Austin; at least it used to be when it was independent. Perhaps that was what originally attracted so much industry attention to the festival. Now you can always tell who's from Hollywood, they're the ones hiding their badges in their pockets. Maybe getting back to independent roots would be in the best interest of the festival and the filmmakers that don't have big Hollywood deals. We'd get to see films that focus on the storytelling and the craft. After all the industry wouldn't have been attracted to SXSW if they weren't looking to different stories than what they're already serving up on the screen.