Just as Hollywood has brushed off the snow from Park City, the SXSW Conference calls the industry and talent for the annual tech, music and film gathering in Austin, Texas.
The film program unveiled a strong but leaner slate from 2016, featuring big names for its headliners sections — like reigning Best Actress Brie Larson, and an action title that may finally serve Ansel Elgort.
It also boasts probing docs about cultural institutions like Bill Nye The Science Guy and The Muppets, and a narrative section led by a Hollywood crime story starring Zoe Kravitz, plus an unlikely Western hero in Bill Pullman.
“We’re embedded at the hip with an interactive tech and music event, and we’re not afraid to have fun,” South by Southwest Film Festival Director Janet Pierson told TheWrap.
The program was reduced to roughly 125 films, as the festival will no longer rely on satellite theaters throughout Austin, but will instead concentrate on its Downtown campus to screen. The fest also has to keep movies at bay that want in on the halo affect provided by the convergence of tastemakers, thought leaders and deep-pocketed investors.
“We’re careful about which films we think are right for us. There are lots of very successful films with great stars that will do box office — but we’re looking for an authorial point of view, something that’s edgier.” Pierson said. ” There’s a tendency to keep adding to it, everyone want to be a part of it, but you end up diluting your own program.”
As far as what did make the cut — “Baby Driver” may be this year’s peak SXSW title, meaning it most embodies that edgy, forward DNA the festival prides itself on.
Just as “Hardcore Henry’ dazzled in 2016 with its sci-fi grit, buzzy cast and its Go-Pro cinematogrpahy, Wright’s “Baby Driver” sees Elgort as a, well, getaway driver who uses an personally curated soundtrack to slay it on the streets and outrun cops. Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez costar.
Also in the headliner category — which will see a few additions ahead announcement of the always-excellent Midnight screening section — is the previously announced opening night film “Song to Song,” Terrence Malick’s latest. It’s set in Austin, and features an embarrassment of stars like Ryan Gosling, Cate Blanchett, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara and Natalie Portman.
Larson, who will headline Marvel Studios’ “Captain Marvel” in 2019, comes to SXSW with “Free Fire,” an action comedy about a bungled arms deal that teams her with Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy and Jack Reynor.
“Gemini,” from writer-director Aaron Katz, brings a juicy premise in the narrative spotlight section: “A heinous crime tests the complex relationship between a tenacious personal assistant and her Hollywood starlet boss.”
We’ve seen this dynamic before in David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars” and in the Kristen Stewart-Olivier Assayas let-down “Personal Shopper” — but something about the alchemy of Lola Kirke, Kravitz, John Cho and Michelle Forbes tells us “Gemini” might nail this meditation on celebrity and friendship.
Also important to watch is “Small Crimes,” from Evan Katz who co-wrote the script with Macon Blair. Blair’s “I Don’t Feet at Home in This World Anymore” just wont the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. “Crimes” is another black comedy about a former cop, just sprung from prison after six years for attempted murder, who finds he can’t move on so easily. “Game of Thrones”‘s Jamie Lannister, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, stars with Jacki Weaver, Molly Parker and Blair herself.
The narrative spotlight also includes “The Ballad of Lefty Brown,” from writer-director Jared Moshe. Pullman stars as a career sidekick who is thrust into a leadership role when his friend (Peter Fonda) is killed. Kathy Baker, Jim Caviezel and Tommy Flanagan costar.
Other highlights include: “Master of None” leading lady Noel Wells makes her directorial debut with “Mr. Roosevelt”; Sundance darling Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe and Emory Cohen get steamy in “Hot Summer Nights”; Melissa Leo trots Atheist activist Madeline Murray O’Hara biopic “The Most Hated Woman in America.”
In the documentary section, a beloved childhood educational fixture gets a climate change bent in “Bill Nye: Science Guy.” We’re also promised a glimpse at the heady early days of the Muppets, in “Muppet Guys Talking – Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched.”
The Frank Oz film is billed as five original performers discussing the start of the Jim Henson phenomenon, with footage and anecdotes.
For the complete SXSW Film Festival line up, click here.