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By Mark Bell | March 20, 2007

Every year SXSW presents an interesting scenario, in that it’s always growing, always changing and yet, always feels like the same, comfortable ole SXSW. This year was much of the same, to an extent. The fact is, SXSW is growing larger still, and with each year of growth comes new pros and cons, and in the interest of helping one of our favorite festivals navigate these growth pains successfully, we here at Film Threat offer up more than our usual wrap-up, but also some constructive feedback / criticism.

The Festival’s over? Wait, it goes four more days?
The 2007 SXSW Film Festival had its awards ceremony on Tuesday, 3/13/07. The next day, the town was over-run with the SXSW Music Festival attendees, and the majority of the film attendees began their flight from town (if they hadn’t already left, that is). Still, the SXSW Film Festival had four more days to go, not actually ending until the 17th. This wouldn’t have been so bad in the eyes of the film attendees I spoke to, and I’ll admit that group is heavily critic-based, if there weren’t so many films that got their first or only screenings after that awards Tuesday.

I’ve got no problem with the film festival continuing, the more the merrier, but if you’re going to extend the festival beyond what appears to many to be the logical end (the awards ceremony), than shouldn’t each film have at least one screening prior to the awards and perhaps one after the awards? Having films like “Reign Over Me” play once after the awards isn’t that bad, it’s a special screening that will be in theaters anyway, so if you miss it, you can catch it later. Being unable to catch “The Devil Dared Me To,” however, due to both its screenings coming after the awards, was bothersome.

Wait, how do we get to the South Lamar Alamo?
The Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar Theater is an amazing experience. With all the food, brew and charm of the Downtown Alamo, along with the more friendly, spacious stadium-seating, the South Lamar is not to be missed. The problem is, how do you get to it? What about the also, not so foot-friendly jaunt to the Dobie Theater? Whenever I had questions about how to get to the South Lamar, I was told conflicting stories over which bus route I should catch. So the majority of the time I found myself going to the old-reliables: the Paramount, Austin Convention center or the Alamo Downtown.

What about some form of a shuttle system? Because when you’re trying to catch a bunch of films in a row, on a tight schedule, trying to catch the right bus route can be problematic. If you had a shuttle system that ran, say, a half-hour prior to an Alamo South Lamar screening and then a half-hour following (these shuttles would overlap, coming and going) then you could cut down on travel errors and get folks who might otherwise be hesitant to leave the downtown walking-friendly venues. Thus you could have some of the bigger films at the outer theaters, spread the love out more. And with the festival getting bigger every year, coming up with a system now could pay off huge in two years, when you really need the space those screens provide.

Keeping it real panel-friendly…
I heard many of the same criticisms of this year’s panels from a varied number of people, whether it be attending filmmakers, veteren festival-goers, film fans or even panelists. These criticisms involved the feeling that many of the panels were made up of panelists who were more interested in promoting their own projects than giving a quality panel, that more often than not simple answers were passed over for the more vague, dismissive ones. Beyond that, folks looking for more in-depth information were out of luck, as most panels catered to the broadest of knowledge on their subjects (this criticism is a common one at any festival, however, as it is a difficult balancing act coming up with a quality panel that can accomodate those with beginner knowledge and those who need more advanced information).

I propose a switch-up to traditional panels (if anyone could pull off, it would be SXSW), which is that you have two levels of panels, like a 101 or a 201 class. 101 panels are for more broad-based information, the beginner audience. For the 201 level, make it more like a Q&A event. The audience has a certain level of knowledge, and they have certain questions they’d like answered. Rather than spend the last 15 minutes giving them their chance, give them the full hour, and have the panelists really get in-depth with their answers. Maybe this means fewer panels in regards to different topics, but it would hopefully create more quality panels that folks walk away from talking positively about.

South by South-Swanberg
Before I say anything further, I want to state that this is no way a criticism of the filmmakers about to be mentioned. They’ve done nothing wrong save make quality films. That being said, this year’s SXSW should’ve been re-named South by South-Swanberg, in honor of the filmmaker and friends who dominated the entire festival.

First off, Joe Swanberg and crew created the pre-festival screening trailers. They were hilarious looks behind-the-scenes of indie filmmaking, and set a fun stage for each following film. But on top of that, Joe also directed “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” and starred in “Grammy’s” and “Quiet City.” Beyond seeing Joe, or some semblance of Joe’s influence in those situations, “The Pipe” co-starred Kent Osborne, who also starred in “Hannah Takes the Stairs” alongside Ry Russo-Young, who also directed “Orphans.”

Now, as I said, this is not a criticism of the filmmakers at all, but it paints the SXSW Film Festival, which is expanding its mainstream profile, as somewhat incestuous (because name a film made by Swanberg and friends that DIDN’T play SXSW at this point). Am I saying these films should be looked over because of the possibility of this type of criticism? Not at all, if a film is worthy of being programmed, by damn program it. But having them do the pre-festival screening trailers too, and then a special award for Joe… it just feels too obvious. And in the end, I don’t think it helps Joe or any of the other filmmakers out either.

It’s easy to sit back and criticize, Hell, that’s what we do, and I understand from my own experiences with Slamdance how hard it is to put on a quality film festival. I also, along with most Film threat’ers, really appreciate all that SXSW has done, and want nothing but the best for the festival, which is why I’m opening my mouth in loving criticism now.

But enough bitching from me, let’s move on to the wrap-up in Part Two of Film Threat’s 2007 SXSW Film Festival Wrap-Up>>>

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