Good Morning Austin, March 14: SXSW Gears Up

SXSW kicks off with sci-fi, horror, a superhero sendup and some nods to Hitchcock

A first-weekend's worth of dispatches from Austin, Texas, where the South by Southwest festival kicked off on Friday:

Source Code"SXSW really fits our vibe; it's becoming a bit of a specialist festival for those films which are not big massive blockbusters but are at the same time have kind of got a genre edge to them." So says Duncan Jones, director of the festival's most celebrated film so far, "Source Code." Jones came to Austin in 2009 with his debut, "Moon," and this year secured the opening-night slot with his follow-up, which drew the huge lines that are something of a SWSW trademark. ("[A]n engagingly trippy, somewhat sentimental and yet spiritual-minded sci-fi thriller that deserves a thumbs-up for several reasons," said Jeff Wells.) The film, in which Jake Gyllenhaal has to repeatedly relive eight minutes on a train to prevent a bombing, may have its sci-fi touches, but Jones tells Catherine Shoard that he was thinking of the past instead of the future when he made the film: "If we were ever talking about a reference, it was to Hitchcock. The score, the way that Jake was dressed, even the clock towers at the station … " (The Guardian)

In her first daily dispatch from SXSW, Anne Thompson calls "Source Code" proof that Jones "is a strong, stylish director who can handle an accessible bigger-budget ($35 million) ensemble movie." She also lists a few must-sees among the fest films she's already seen, including the documentary "Better This World" ("amazing access to the FBI"), the comedy "Paul," and Tom McCarthy's "WIN WIN." Among unseen films, she says, the biggest buzz is for the Ti West horror film "The Innkeepers." (Thompson on Hollywood)

We now have "the first geek hit of SXSW," according to Jen Yamato. It's "Attack the Block," a horror comedy about London street kids fighting off aliens. Still, "the near-unanimous showering of … blogger praise in Austin" may not be an easy ticket out of the festival circuit; Yamato says that buyers may be balking at a movie where the accents are so thick that the movie may require American subtitles. (Movieline)  

After the film received mixed reviews in Toronto, Jeff Wells didn't expect to like "Super," James Gunn's superhero sendup with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page. But he walked out of the theater in Austin loving it, "worshipping" Page's performance, and finding it close to his own view of the superhero fanboy crowd. (He's not a fan.) "'Super'is partly a dark and bracing satire of superhero movies, partly a withering 'eff you' to T-shirted ComicCon culture dweebs who live for superhero fantasies, and partly a violent, surreal-ish Troma comedy," he says, approvingly. (Hollywood Elsewhere)

Filmmaker magazine offers another perspective on the festival: a diary from British filmmaker Jeanie Finlay, who's traveled to Austin for the world premiere of "Sound It Out," her documentary about the last record shop in her small town in northeast England. Her first impressions include "The Austin Convention Center is like a small city" and "There are chickens in the yard of our apartment so we must be in Austin!"  (Filmmaker)

Jay A. Fernandez does a quick summing-up of Catherine Hardwick's SXSW director's workshop, at which the "Twlight" and "Red Riding Hood" director gave the crowded room a look at her approach to rehearsals, production design and color correction as a way to express emotion. (The Hollywood Reporter)

The Wall Street Journal sends a reporter to Austin to compare SXSW to New York's Tribeca Film Festival; the two fests, says Steve Dollar, are "the two large-scale American film festivals" outside of Sundance. SXSW, he says, is "a big street party, fueled by free alcohol and social networking, but … also a place to launch careers," while Tribeca has more big names and is in a media center where it's easier to get wide exposure. "One festival bubbled up from independent roots, the other arrived with major industry connections built-in," says the Journal, which seems a bit partial to the fest with the industry connections. (Wall Street Journal)