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By Don R. Lewis | March 22, 2010

Just so you know, I tend to seek out smaller films that may be cool rather than the films that have already secured release. For me festivals are about new discovery of films, not beating the “yay” or “nay” bandwagon for films that will be in theaters or on your on-demand in a few short weeks. I hit a few of those smaller films Sunday and that night I attended the premiere of Sebastian Gutierrez’s “Electra Luxx” which was a sequel of sorts to his SXSW 2009 film “Women in Trouble.”

I admire Gutierrez’s style both cinematically speaking as well as his (in)famous shooting schedules and budgets which are both tight. Speaking of… Carla Gugino reprises her role as Elektra Luxx, world famous pornstar who is also pregnant with a recently deceased rocker’s baby. The film was o.k. and I have to admit, I share Gutierrez’s sensibilities in terms of frank dialogue and scantily dressed hotties, but the film felt scattered and not very cohesive. But then something happened I had never seen before at a festival; the film simply stopped about ¾ of the way through and never restarted. I’m not sure if the projector, DVD, HD cam or what crapped out but it went dark and Gutierrez lived what had to be a filmmakers nightmare as his film never finished. Ouch. He did put on a good face and brought his cast up to do an insightful impromptu Q & A but I was frankly a little stunned there was no backup plan for such cases.

Of all the films I saw at the fest the standouts for me were “Audrey the Trainwreck,” “NY Export: Jazz Opus” and “Cold Weather” which I felt I shouldn’t really review due to my friendship with the director, Aaron Katz. I will say that “Cold Weather: is absolutely worthy of the festival buzz it’s gaining and was by far the most fun film I saw at SXSW. It starts off a little slowly and centers on a brother and sister (played by Cris Lankenau and Trieste Kelly Dunn), the latter of who has let her aimless, shiftless brother move in with her in Portland, OR. Having dropped out of college where he was studying forensic science, Lankenau’s character Doug takes a job at an ice factory where he strikes up a friendship with Carlos (Raul Castillo).

After some quiet moments and what’s become typical Katz cinematography (in other words, amazing) the plot turns into a real old fashioned mystery, similar to the Bloodhound Gang or the Hardy Boys. Essentially, the film goes from quiet mediation of self-realization to a call-to-action for Doug as a friend goes missing. Rather than get all James Bond or MacGyver in the plots seeking of bad guys, “Cold Weather” is more of a real-life account of what regular dudes and chicks might do in the same situation and it’s really fun. I’m sure the film will be making the festival rounds (in fact, I know it’s coming to the San Francisco International Film Festival) so seek it out! I saw some other films and had a chance to sit down with yet another buddy Clay Liford (I must stop being social at these things!) whose feature film “Earthling” premiered at SXSW. The film was pretty intriguing and it too will be making the festival rounds and my interview with Clay should be up very soon this week.

After that, Mark went home and I was sad. Then I packed up all my bags and moved to a hotel which also made me sad although having an entire room to myself after sharing a 2-room condo with 5 other dudes for a week was pretty sweet. With Mark gone and my jury duty complete, I turned SXSW and Austin into my own little personal vacation. I met some non-film friends and saw a few shows including the always amazing Steve Poltz and one of my favorite bands, “The Drive by Truckers.” Then, just like that, it was time to go home and my SXSW was over.

As always I had a great time and made some new friends as well as hung with old friends. I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank SXSW and in particular Jarod Neece, Claudette Godfrey and Janet Pierson for having me out as a juror. They also assigned a very sweet and capable intern to wrangle us jurors so a big thanks to Kendall McKinnon as well. I’m already looking forward to SXSW 2011 as this “little festival that could” keeps growing larger and stronger in what is rumored to be a failing independent film scene.

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