SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Don Simpson | March 21, 2010
Well, I finally saw it!
You know what I’m talking about – Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture, the winner of the SXSW Narrative Feature Film Jury Award and SXSW Chicken & Egg Emergent Narrative Woman Director Award. And I think it may have even lived up to its hype. Aura (Lena Dunham) arrives home with a film theory degree and no job prospects to her mother’s (Laurie Simmons) Tribeca artist loft as her 17-year old sister (Grace Dunham) prepares to pick which college she will be attending next fall. (With unbridled self-reflexivity, Dunham, her mother and sister all are essentially playing themselves.) Aura meets Jed (Alex Karpovsky) – a semi-famous You Tube celebrity who is visiting NYC to negotiate a deal for a new television series. Jed is either truly poor or just a moocher; nevertheless, Aura invites him to crash at her mother’s place. Tiny Furniture could be superficially interpreted as a film about a bunch of privileged white people complaining about how difficult their lives are; but in true ethnographic style Dunham cleverly withholds any judgments of her own, allowing the viewer to examine the characters’ motives and decisions on their own.
It was barely even 1pm but my legs were tired from 9 days of walking, my back was aching from countless hours in movie theater seats, my eyes were tired from watching bright images in dark rooms, and my entire being was exhausted. So…I called it a day and headed home, thus my thirteenth year of attendance at the South by Southwest Film Festival has come to a conclusion.
It was a great year – despite being turned away from several sold-out screenings. All in all, I viewed just shy of 50 feature films (that figure does include several advanced screeners). I have several favorite films from the festival – once I start churning out my reviews you will probably see a lot of 7’s, 8’s and maybe even a few 9’s. It would be difficult not to take notice of the strong presence of Austin filmmakers at SXSW 2010 – four of my most favorite films were made by Austin directors (Earthling, The Happy Poet, Lovers of Hate and Mars) and countless other films had strong Austin roots. It might seem a wee bit sappy, but I’m going to say it anyway: SXSW 2010 has made me extremely proud of Austin’s filmmakers. Thinking back to 1998 when I moved to Austin to be involved in the burgeoning film scene, I had dreamed of working on films like Earthling, The Happy Poet, Lovers of Hate and Mars.
Well, SXSW 2010 has left me very curious about what SXSW 2011 will have to offer. Will SXSW do something about the rising festival attendance and limited theater sizes? As Janet Pierson kept repeating – this is a great problem for SXSW to have, but I think they may suffer tremendous backlash in 2011 if they don’t find a viable solution. This was a problem that was on almost everyone’s minds this year. It used to be if you had a badge and arrived at a theater an hour early you were guaranteed a seat – no matter what the size of the venue; and pass holders had a much better chance of seeing films as well. This year, pass holders were all but blocked from the festival (except for films at the Paramount) until Tuesday or Wednesday. And then there is the question of whether producers, distributors and press (arguably the three groups that are most important to unsigned films) should be allowed priority/guaranteed seating or dedicated screenings.