Good Morning Austin, March 16: SXSW's Big Winner

A look at the festival's stealthy and most-honored film, and a dispute over “Bridesmaids”

The SXSW film awards have been handed out, and the music people are moving in. But there's still some life in the film festival part of this shindig …

"Natural Selection" was certainly not one of the more buzzed-about SXSW films … at least not until Tuesday night, when the film from first-time feature director Robbie Pickering nearly swept the SXSW film awards. Not only did it take home the Best Narrative Feature prize from both the jury and the audience, but it won five other jury awards to boot. Until then, the film appeared to have been overlooked by most SXSW attendees – reviews are nearly impossible to find, even at sites doing the most exhaustive job of covering the festival, and news stories covering the awards couldn't agree on whether the film is a comedy, a drama or a dramedy. Still, Charles Ealy ran an interview with Pickering on Saturday at the Austin 360 Movie Blog, and Variety now says that the film "attracted intense buyer interest after its Sunday world preem and looks likely to land with a specialty distrib soon." Anne Thompson, meanwhile, tweeted that Roger Ebert – one of three on the narrative jury – said the jury "unanimously agreed to give so many awards" to the film "because it was realized so well by cast and Robbie Pickering."

A clip, with award winners Rachael Harris and Matt O'Leary:

Finally, two days after the film's SXSW premiere and two hours after its seven awards, Variety posted a review in which Joe Leydon called "Natural Selection" "an engagingly offbeat comedy that respects its characters to much to push hard for easy laughs … Indeed, once first-time feature filmmaker Robbie Pickering gets past a bumpy stretch of tonally dissonant expositional scenes, this filmed-in-Texas road movie finds a smooth groove between self-conscious quirkiness and broadly played farce." But he doesn't think that makes it a hit: "Theatrical prospects are iffy, but pic could connect with simpatico viewers on VOD and homevid." (Variety)

"Natural Selection" may not have a distribution deal yet, but the post-apocalyptic thriller "The Divide" picked up a significant one courtesy of Anchor Bay, reports Mike Fleming. He says the deal, which he characterizes as being made on "the final movie day" of SXSW (it isn't: the film component of the fest runs through Saturday), was for low seven figures and may be the biggest ever for the Austin festival. (Deadline)

"We Went to the SXSW Transmedia Panels So You Don't Have To," reads Paul Brunick's headline. So do we have to read his summary of those panels?  If we do, we'll learn that "studios are shifting priorities and adopting new workflows" to turn what were once creative afterthoughts into more vital aspects of a property; that you'll get the most viewers if you put your interactive storytelling on YouTube, but that it'll limit your ability to make money from those viewers; and that television as we know it "will soon be a thing of the past." (indieWIRE)

Yesterday we quoted an extremely positive review of "Bridesmaids," the Judd Apatow-produced, Kristen Wiig-written film that's been hyped as a female "Hangover." And while most of the reviews out there have followed suit, the film has also picked up some prominent naysayers in Austin, starting with Variety's Joe Leydon ("a sluggish, charmless misfire") and now including Anne Thompson, who says, "the movie is ruined by heavy-handed, lurching direction and female self-loathing on a grand scale." She goes on to quote many of the folks who liked it, but you know her heart is with Leydon all the way. (Thompson on Hollywood)

Here's a SXSW event to create a bridge between the film festival, which will wind down over the next few days, and the music festival, which is just getting started: veteran music supervisor Randall Poster talking with composer Graham Reynolds about the music choices on a variety of films, including Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tennenbaums" (they wanted the Beatles but couldn’t get permission) "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (Poster's favorite Anderson film) and "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" (for which he'd been saving the Bobby Fuller Four's "Let Her Dance" for 10 years). (The Playlist)