Blogging SXSW: Will these films find an audience?

A look at the 2008 South by Southwest Festival in Austin


The Subject: The SXSW film "Dreams with Sharp Teeth" is about the writer Harlan Ellison, pictured.
The Subject: The SXSW film "Dreams with Sharp Teeth" is about the writer Harlan Ellison, pictured.

Over halfway through the documentary Dreams With Sharp Teeth, the film's subject, the enigmatic writer Harlen Ellison, nods towards the camera and mentions that if this film is seen, if at all, it will most likely be on a television screen. This was met with chuckles in the audience because at the time his face took up almost all of the theater's two story screen. So far, it's one of my favorite SXSW moments.

But for the filmmakers I spoke with, that feeling of doubt about where their film will screen and who will see it is very real. While some films have distribution deals already, for others SXSW may be their only opportunity to show the film at all. In the Q&A sessions that follow many of the screenings, it is nice see the filmmakers get to stand with obvious pride and joy in their work, and also graciousness towards the audience.

Add Tony Gerber & Jesse Moss's documentary Full Battle Rattle to films I hope find an audience. It turns out the Army has built training facilities in the Mojave desert. That these facilities look like Iraqi villages and are populated with real Iraqis is just one aspect to this layered glimpse into military training techniques, where the line between simulation and reality blur.

There is nothing blurry about Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti's Heavy Metal in Bagdad. The documentary reveals the personal impact of the war in Iraq on Iraqi civilians by following the members of the Iraqi heavy metal band, Acrassicauda. While the filmmakers' take an active part in helping the band members, what they capture is how a hopelessness and the struggle for survival affects artistic expression, even one that lends itself to fists-in-the-air rebellion.

One thing I've notice about SXSW is that it takes all kinds. For every documentary on the war in Iraq, there are comedies like Michael Blieden's Super High Me that follows comedian Dough Benson's attempt to get high for 30 days straight or Marco Ricci and Michael Canzoniero's Long Island romp The Marconi Bros. There's even an historical epic in Sergei Bodrov's visually stunning Mongol. The first installment on the life of Genghis Khan, it truly epitomizes the transportive ability of film and is another that I hope finds its audience.

The one consistency I noticed about SXSW is that it dials the pomp and circumstance down to zero, letting a comfortable casualness reign. In this atmosphere attendees have easy access to filmmakers, producers, and each other, to ask questions and generally talk film. I met at least three academics sent by their colleges to network. I also met people who took the week off because they just love movies. After six days I've seen over twelve films and attended my share of discussion panels. And to my giddiness, SXSW Film has three days left!


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