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SXSW 2023: TV, D&D and Edgy Comedies Hold the Spotlight at Film & TV Festival

Festival Director Claudette Godfrey spoke to TheWrap about the magic of programming and why the Daniels are destined to win Oscars

For over 30 years South by Southwest – styled SXSW, or “South By” for short – has been serving up films of a certain flavor: out-there, original, a bit of everything, everywhere, all at once.

Starting on Friday, hundreds of thousands will flock to Austin for 10 days of film, television, music, comedy, technology, exhibitions, interactive media, and conferences.

“There can be this great cross-pollination between [events] that makes what we program, and how [SXSW] feels, a little bit different,” Director of Film & TV Claudette Godfrey said in an interview with TheWrap. “It’s the audience from a normal film festival, plus a bunch of people who would maybe never have gone to a film festival only.”

The Film & TV program reflects both its local roots and international scope. Music, technology, pop culture and genre films are all well-represented in this year’s lineup of 250 projects.

Opening Night will kick off with the world premiere of Paramount’s “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.” According to Godfrey, the adventure-action flick is “tailor-made” for SXSW: there’s something in it for everyone, even if you’ve never played or heard of the game.

Other Headliner selections include the long-awaited “Evil Dead Rise,” tech biopics “BlackBerry” and “Tetris,” and buzzy comedies “Problemista,” “Joy Ride” and “Bottoms.” (When asked about her personal favorites, Godfrey played coy: “I love all my babies equally.”)

That barely scratches the surface of the 110 feature films, 22 TV projects, 83 short films and 35 XR Experience projects that were chosen from 7,216 submissions.

“Part of the magic of programming, and also to the frustration of all creators around the world, is you’re looking for that magic nugget, that thing that makes you sit up off the couch after watching movies all day and be like, ‘What’s this? Who’s this?’ – and get that excited butterfly feeling of seeing something that you want to go show to 1100 people in the Paramount [Theatre],” said Godfrey.

Though films occupy most of the lineup, TV has been gaining ground since 2012.

“We always say that we program the way real people watch film and TV,” said Communications Director Jody Arlington.

Godfrey agreed that “most of the audience is not differentiating like that.”

“Part of the reason that we changed our name over the summer was because we have really strong TV content in our conference as well,” she continued. “Instead of it feeling like a sidebar of content, we wanted to elevate it.”

To usher in “& TV,” a new category called TV Spotlight will feature season premieres of prestige series as a counterpart to the Film Headliner section. Meanwhile, the TV Premieres slate is an embarrassment of riches: Boots Riley’s “I’m a Virgo,” “American Born Chinese” with Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, and “Beef” starring Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, to name a few.

Showcasing TV and other non-film content is part of a long-term effort to foster a community beyond the year-to-year lineup. “We’re always thinking about more and better ways to keep everybody coming back,” Godfrey said.

She pointed to directors like Hiro Murai and the Daniels, who started off in SXSW’s Shorts and Music Video programs and made their way into other categories.

L-R: Daniel Kwan, Claudette Godfrey, Daniel Scheinert and former Film & TV Festival Director Janet Pierson at SXSW 2022

“Wherever [an alumnus’] career progresses, being able to support them and not being exclusive to film [is important to us],” she said. “We have room for TV and movies, not just ‘films,’ and we pride ourselves in [asking], ‘What is great content that we love? What would people actually want to watch? And how do we celebrate that?’”

One way is to “[invest] in people who we really see talent in, and that we want to keep making movies.”

The 2023 lineup speaks to the strength of this approach. Multi-year alum Rachel Sennott has double billing with features “I Used To Be Funny,” and “Bottoms,” co-written with director Emma Seligman, who made her SXSW debut directing Sennott in the short film “Shiva Baby.” Another example is Festival Favorite title “The Starling Girl,” whose filmmakers met at SXSW when they were working on different short films about five years ago.

Discovery, or elevating filmmakers without exposure or connections, is a programming mandate at SXSW. “We try to make sure we have a good variety and diversity of filmmakers, of countries, of topics, of filmmaking styles,” she continued. “But really, for me, it’s always about the film itself.”

Godfrey has been with the festival for 18 years, this being her first as Director of Film & TV. In that time, she’s witnessed a lot of change.

“[Nowadays] there’s way more diversity in stories and storytellers. You don’t have to really search to fill any gaps,” she said. It’s “a really beautiful thing” to have witnessed different types of creators gain more access and support over the years, she added.

In the three years since COVID the festival has done some evolving of its own. SXSW 2023 will be a larger event than last year, but smaller than it would have been in “the before times.”

“[The pandemic] kind of created this space for us to think about what our event is, and then as we were coming back to [being] in-person, it was about what to realign,” Godfrey said. At SXSW 2022, they prioritized rest and socialization time by cutting down on late-night screenings, with overwhelmingly positive results.

“Last year was great, this year is gonna be even better. It’s been a lot of change, but it’s going to be phenomenal,” she said.

One such change is that the Oscars will coincide with SXSW’s opening weekend. Though not ideal, Godfrey isn’t pressed. Plus, there’s the remarkable fact that on March 11, 2022, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” held its world premiere at SXSW. One year and one day later, the film will be a top contender at the Academy Awards. Godfrey said she’s thrilled, though not surprised.

“For the last 11 years, I’ve known that [the Daniels] were going to get an Oscar,” she said. “When you have that much talent, and are willing to work that hard, and have that much imagination and different perspective, there’s nothing that can keep you down.”

Completing the circle, “Everything Everywhere” star Stephanie Hsu will head to Austin a few days after the ceremony to premiere her new film “Joy Ride.”

“The movies – that’s what you always gotta come back to,” Godfrey reflected. “These movies are the bomb, and everyone is going to love them. That is what keeps you going and makes you go, ‘Yeah, this is the magic. And that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.’”

SXSW runs from March 10 to March 19, 2023.