Known to many as a complete whirlwind of independent music, raucous late nights and just general non-stop insanity, a mention of South by Southwest doesn’t necessarily conjure up the image of film screenings. However, in the past couple of years, the festival has slowly but surely cultivated a precocious and novel film scene in addition to all of its sonic shenanigans. It’s resulted in the offshoot SXSW Film Festival. SXSW’s film section started off mostly showing musician-centric documentaries and bizarre short films, but has since evolved to what could be considered the kid brother of a film festival.

Is it a full-fledged film festival like Toronto’s or Vancouver’s?

Not quite.

But does it feature some pretty notable and enjoyable films?

It sure does.

The festival’s Visions section shines a spotlight on up and coming indie filmmakers and, in the past, has served up great indie film fodder, like Lena Dunham’s Creative Nonfiction, a short film produced well before she found fame with TV series Girls and Dunham’s returning the favour this year by presenting one of the festival’s keynote speeches.

SXSWCreepmoviecreditbloodydisgusting.comThis year’s Visions features a film written and starring the exceptionally wry and often overlooked Mark Duplass, called Creep. It’s a painfully awkward and funny examination of a pretty normal dude who responds to a Craigslist ad looking for a videographer who’s definitely not what he expected, as the client turns out to be… well… I mean, c’mon, look at the title.

Filmmaker Joel Potrykus is also offering up the successor to his bizarre debut, Ape, with Buzzard, a film in the same vein that portrays the story of a disenfranchised cubicle worker who revels in the glee of stealing cheques from his employer. Said to be darkly and bitterly comic, it’s sure to turn some heads to Potrykus’ work, which has sadly been largely overlooked in North America.

However, there are still heavy-hitting major studio films that are making their debut, because crowds aren’t going to draw themselves. Perfect example being the extremely (I assume) over-hyped and extremely bizarre pairing of Seth Rogen and Zac Efron in the sure-to-be-blockbuster, Neighbors.

The inclusion of decidedly big-budget Hollywood fare is sure to ruffle a few feathers, however, in a statement pretty much saying “elitism be damned,” festival head Janet Pierson told Hollywood Reporter that the festival likes to “have normal people alongside industry people,” claiming that it “creates a unique, vibrant atmosphere.” And, well, judging by the wildly varied lineup – unique and vibrant it is.

SXSWBoyhoodphotobyRichardLinklaterAustin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater does offer up his Sundance entry, Boyhood, for the festival though. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette and shot over an on-again/off-again 12-year period, the film is a novel exploration of divorced parents raising a child. Because of the long span of time taken to shoot the film, Hawke and Arquette, as well as the actor playing the child caught in the middle, actually age throughout the film.

One of the more anticipated showings of this year’s festival is the screening of Wes Anderson’s new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Excitement is not only building for the director’s amazingly precise shots and wonderfully colourful scenery, but also the intensive Q&A session that’s set to follow.

While past years have relied heavily on the sloppy seconds of other, more top-tiered film festivals, thankfully this year, they’re few and far between. The festival is putting a much heavier emphasis on original content like workshops and events being called “conversations.”

One such conversation will be with legendary avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, with others taking place with actors Mike Myers and Jason Bateman as well as actress Tilda Swinton.

So while the SXSW Film portion rarely gets the hype and hollering that its musical counterpart is showered with on a yearly basis, it’s an upstart little festival that’s really coming into its own as of late, and is sure to keep growing.

SXSW takes place March 7 – 16 in Austin, TX. For more information and a full schedule, check out

By Nick Laugher

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