Scientists drool over opportunities to study rare phenomena as they happen, such as the Shoemaker-Levy comet smacking into Jupiter or the formation of a new volcanic island in the ocean. Film Threat got just such a rare opportunity to witness history when the 30th Parallel Film Festival made its debut Friday, March 13, 1998 on the festival circuit.
The tattered remains of renegade upstarts who dared to take on the established status quo litter the trashheap of history. The United States Football League. The DeLorean Motor Company. Walter Mondale. All challenged entrenched bastions of power. All got shredded. Only time will tell whether the battered and beleaguered 30P Film Fest will recover from its bumpy inaugural run and go on to become a complementary alternative to the more established SXSW Film Festival or whether it will wither and die like the Metric System in America.
The contrast between the veteran and the upstart challenger was immediately apparent. The 30P kicked off with some 200 shivering filmgoers huddling around a single space heater under a circus tent on a soggy night to watch an outdoor 16mm screening of “Criminals,” a sparse B&W comedy.
Meanwhile less than a mile away, nearly 1000 folks settled into the plush, toasty surroundings of the historic Paramount Theater for the World Premiere of Austinite Tim McCanlies’ $3 million, Sony Pictures-boosted “Dancer, Texas Pop. 81,” while hundreds more attended any one of five other films screening simultaneously at five different venues.
Such was the tone for the next week as the two festivals, after a brief but heated controversy over the new fest’s original name – SXSAlternative – got underway.