This year’s South by Southwest (SXSW or, if you’re really cool, “South by”) has been over for a couple of weeks now, and I’m finally sort of catching my breath, which is kind of incredible considering I participated in only the film fest section of Austin’s renowned media festival.
Running March 8 to March 17, the 2013 iteration of SXSW consisted of an overwhelming schedule of over 5,000 events divided into film, music and interactive (i.e., technology) categories. Hell, the film portion alone comprised hundreds of screenings. The adage “you can’t see it all” applies to most festivals, but with SXSW that adage becomes a tremendously disheartening law. Out of the dozens of movies I’d planned on seeing, I was forced to pare my viewing list down to about 15 films, and even a few of those were missed due to last-minute screening changes.
This was my first SXSW and it was definitely a learning experience. Among the lessons learned are: (1) Always arrive two hours before any screening, (2) Always check the day’s schedule before heading to the venue because there’s a good chance your planned screening has changed, (3) Cabs booked in advance are a dicey proposition and, perhaps most important, (4) Never trust a cabbie who says he knows a shortcut. There were also various and sundry truisms I already knew but was forced to remember, like, “Dude, if you’ve been drinking beer(s), make sure you find a bathroom before you get in line for two hours.”
The depth and breadth of the films chosen for SXSW was amazing. Features and shorts from every genre were screened. At fests, because I love them and rarely get to see them, I often focus on documentaries. And I did catch a few, but I saw more features this time out. I’ve already written about two docs (Rewind This! and Good Ol’ Freda), but I haven’t written about the other one I saw, I Am Divine.
Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, I Am Divine tells the life story of Harris Glenn Milstead, the man better known as Divine, John Waters’ transvestite muse. Kindred spirits Waters and Milstead met as teenagers and Waters was instrumental in helping Milstead develop into Divine, even naming her. Schwarz has given us a thorough, touching flick that is absolutely essential viewing for fans and cult film aficionados alike.
There were many great narrative features playing at SXSW this year and I saw several, but despite my best efforts, I missed a couple as well (see Lesson #2 above). While I enjoyed to varying degrees The Spectacular Now, Milo, The Lords of Salem and Spring Breakers, I didn’t really care for Some Girl(s), Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s adaptation of the play by Neil LaBute.
Relayed in a collection scenes that feel like stilted one-act plays (which, to be fair, they are), Some Girl(s) follows a writer as he meets with a series of ex-girlfriends before he marries. His intentions seem pretty straightforward, but we get a little more information during each encounter. This being a Neil LaBute, the seemingly well-meaning male character reveals himself to be a self-involved asshole before movie’s end. My problems with the flick have nothing to do with the actors — the film features a wonderful cast (including Adam Brody, Emily Watson, Jennifer Morrison and Kristen Bell) doing first-rate work. The movie itself is directed by von Scherler Mayer in a very stark, theatrical manner. She chose, for the most part, not to open up the play when moving it to the screen, and that works for me. And I also liked the way each scene reveals a little more about the main character. But by the end of the film, it’s unclear exactly what the character’s motives are. We think we know what’s happening, but the last scene seems to negate what we learn along the way. So, though I enjoyed the performances, I left the theater underwhelmed with Some Girl(s).
All in all, SXSW 2013 was a tremendous experience. I saw some great flicks. I also met some great people (chief among them Planet Fury contributor Amanda Rebholz and renowned movie reviewer Joe Leydon) and some not-so-great people (see Lesson #4 above). Given all I learned, I can’t wait to do it again next year. But, really, next year is soon enough.