The Bronx-set drama "Gimme the Loot" and the rock documentary "Beware of Mr. Baker" have won the top jury awards at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival.
The first five days of the Austin festival also saw the premiere of Sony's "21 Jump Street," an array of raucously-received horror and genre films, appearances by Willem Dafoe, Minnie Driver, Matthew McConaughey, Joss Whedon and many others, and even a controversial use of homeless people as wifi hotspots.
SXSW's film festival, which runs as part of a 10-day block that also includes an interactive festival and a music festival, announced its awards on Tuesday, near the midpoint of its run rather than at the end.
"Gimme the Loot" (left), writer-director Adam Leon's film about a pair of graffiti artists looking for revenge after a rival gang defaces their work, won the Grand Jury Prize for narrative features, topping a field that included eight world premieres.
Jay Bulger's "Beware of Mr. Baker" (below), a documentary about veteran rock drummer Ginger Baker, won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary features.
Other prize winners included Megan Griffiths' "Eden" (Narrative Feature Audience Award) and Annie Eastman's "Bay of All Saints" (Documentary Feature Audience Award).
But the focus at SXSW, if a sprawling film festival competing for attention with simultaneous interactive and music festivals can be said to have a focus, is not on the films that win awards, but on the unruly films that find a more enthusiastic audience in Austin than they likely will anywhere else.
One example: "Los Chidos," a film from Omar Rodriguez Lopez, frontman for the rock band the Mars Volta. At indieWIRE, Eric Kohn called the film "the bastard love child of John Waters and Alejandro Jodoworsky," and added, "[this] batshit-crazy spin on the telenovela includes a graphic scatological meal, incest, severed penises in jars, inexplicable cannibalism and intentionally amateurish dialogue that's obviously dubbed." It also, he pointed out, "played through the roof" at SXSW.
Other SXSW hits included Craig Zobel's "Compliance," which didn't divide the audience the way it had at Sundance; David Zellner's surreal "Kid-Thing"; Sony Classics' "The Raid: Redemption," a martial-arts epic from Gareth Huw Evans; and the opening-night selection, "The Cabin in the Woods," a genre-deconstructing horror film from writer-director Drew Goodard and writer-producer Josss Whedon.
Anne Thompson, for one, wondered if the last of those films is too smart and knowing to be a hit outside of the friendly confines of Austin, though she embraced the film, which she said "allows the audience to enjoy its sexy, exploitative, subversive E-ride through horror monsters past (and some demented new creations as well) as it sends up all the cliches of the genre."
The festival's annual "secret screening," meanwhile, was "Sinister," a horror film starring Ethan Hawke and directed by Scott Derrickson ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose"). The found-footage story of a man who finds a box of Super 8 movies while investigating a series of murders, "Sinister" is "a controlled and sophisticated slow-burn horror film," according to Drew McWeeny, "…that introduces the sort of movie monster that could easily become a fan favorite and drive an ongoing series."
Critics who are trying to document all of this found a novel way to file their stories from Austin: "homeless hot spots." The brainchild of the marketing company Bartie Bogie Hegarty, the plan gives 4G hotspots to some of the city's homeless people, along with t-shirts reading "I am a 4G hotspot." SXSW festivalgoers are then invited to pay the "hotspots" whatever amount they'd like while availing themselves of the connectivity.
"The digital divide has never hit us over the head with a more blunt display of unselfconscious gall," wrote ReadWriteWeb's Jon Mitchell, who goes on to wrestle with the ethics at some length.
By mid-week, SXSW was beginning the transition from film and interactive to music; although the film festival runs through March 17, the music festival's launch on Tuesday marked a shift in focus. Jay-Z showed up that day to give a kickoff show at Austin City Limits, where he arrived late after receiving a police escort from the airport.
And on Thursday, Bruce Springsteen will deliver the SXSW Music Festival's keynote address, followed by a performance with the E Street Band at an unnamed, "intimate" venue in Austin. SXSW patrons have to enter a lottery to win tickets for that show – though they also have a pretty good chance of seeing the Boss onstage if they can get in to SXSW shows by Tom Morello or Alejandro Escovedo as well.
SXSW's film festival ends on Saturday, with the musical festival continuing one additional day.
Feature Film Jury Awards
Grand Jury Prize, Documentary Feature : "Beware of Mr. Baker," Jay Bulger
Grand Jury Prize, Narrative Feature : "Gimme the Loot," Adam Leon
Feature Film Audience Awards
Documentary Feature: "Bay of All Saints," Annie Eastman
Narrative Feature: "Eden," Megan Griffiths
Short Film Jury Awards
Narrative short: "The Chair," Grainger David
Documentary short: "CatCam," Seth Keal
Animated short: "(Notes On) Biology," Danny Madden
SXGlobal short: "The Perfect Fit," Tali Yankelevich
Midnight short: "Don't Hug Me I'm Scared," Rebecca Sloan and Joseph Pelling
Music video: Battles, "My Machines," Daniels Casey
Texas short: "Spark," Annie Silverstein
Texas High School Short: "Boom," Daniel Matyas and Brian Broder
Film Design Awards
Excellence in Poster Design: "Man and Gun," Justin Cox
Special Jury recognition: "Pitch Black Heist," Andrew Cranston
Audience Award winner: "The Maker," Christopher Kezelos
Excellence in Title Design: "Les Bleus de Ramville," Jay Bond
Special Jury recognition: "X-Men: First Class," Simon Clowes
Audience Award Winner: "Bunraku," Guilherme Marcondes
SXSW Wholphin Award: "The Black Balloon," Sen Safdie and Josh Safdie
SXSW Chicken & Egg Emergent Narrative Woman Director Award: (tie) "Eden," Megan Griffiths, and "Sun Don't Shine," Amy Seimetz
Louis Black "Lone Star" Award: "Bernie," Richard Linklater
Special Jury recognition: "Trash Dance," Andrew Garrison
Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship: Lindsay Utz