SXSW 2017 Film Takeaways

04.20.2017 Industry


A month later, we’re still processing all the buzz from SXSW 2017. The nine day Austin festival is always an arts and culture overload with no shortage of things to get excited about. This year’s film industry innovations and insights were no exception. From premiere highlights to notable panel topics, here are some of the key film takeaways from SXSW 2017.

The Best (and Not-So-Best) Films of SXSW 2017

Of course talking about films and getting insight into industry trends is exciting, but there’s nothing like getting engrossed in the films themselves! Over 250 films premiered at SXSW 2017, with 51 from first-time filmmakers. To set you on the right track, here are the some of the biggest hits and flops from the fest.

Narrative & Headlining Films

Edgar Wright’s stylish heist film Baby Driver (starring Ansel Elgort and Lily James alongside Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, and John Hamm) was a happy surprise for both critics and casual movie goers, earning an 81% on MetaCritic and the SXSW Audience Award in the Headliners category. James Franco’s Disaster Artist was perhaps another surprise hit. After questioning Franco’s status as an MFA slacker, neo-Beat poet, and auteur in recent years, critics seem to be back on board with this ode to Tommy Wiseau’s beloved bad movie, The Room. Other notable films include Gemini (directed by Aaron Katz) and The Most Beautiful Island (directed by Ana Asensio).

Meanwhile, Terrence Malick’s latest film Song to Song (starring Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, and Michael Fassbender) proved to be both disappointing and polarizing for audiences. Tommy O’Haver’s Netflix biopic, The Most Hated Woman in America also fell short of its subject matter covering Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists.

Documentary Films

2017 was a strong year for documentaries. Some must-sees include Jarius McLeary and Gethin Aldous’ The Work, which won the Documentary Feature Competition, and Nanfu Wang’s I Am Another You, which earned a special jury recognition for Excellence in Documentary Storytelling.

Other doc highlights include Jason Pollock’s look at the killing of Michael Brown in Stranger Fruit, Frank Oz’s Muppet Guys Talking—Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched, and May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers, directed by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio.

For more of the must-see films from this year’s festival, check out the full list of SXSW prize winners, including special jury recognitions and audience award recipients.

Television & Episodic Premieres

SXSW 2017 also featured an exciting array of television premieres. The Lionsgate/Netflix continuation of Justin Simien’s 2014 Dear White People was perhaps the most notable, garnering positive praise and winning the Audience Award in the Episodic category. The series will be available on Netflix starting April 28.

Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here (which airs June 4th) was another favorite, while AMC’s The Son (starring Pierce Brosnan) was met with lukewarm response.

Excitement continues to build for the Starz adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, especially after the network placed an embargo on all reviews until April 17th. Now that the positive reviews are starting to come out, we can breathe a sigh of relief!

 

Panels and Special Events

Aside from premieres, SXSW always offers a wide range of panel sessions and one-on-one mentor opportunities from animation and music videos to indie distribution and the future of cable television and TV marketing. Political dialogue was also central to this year’s conference, as both fans and film professionals continue to discuss the need for greater diversity in casting and production, as well as progressive strategies for documenting politics in the Trump Years.

Keynote speakers included the Star Wars: Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, Transparent creator/writer Jill Soloway, and Lee Daniels, best known for directing The Butler (2013) and Precious (2009) as well as co-creating the Fox series Empire.

Other special events at this year’s fest included live scoring, screenings, and re-issues, including Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien and Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Ghost in the Shell.

 

A Final Takeaway: The Future of SXSW

Of course, film is only a small fraction of the many industries represented under the SXSW banner. With SXSW’s continued focus on “innovation” and its increasing flirtation with Silicon Valley and Fortune 500 funding, the festival seems to be situated in a strange sort of optimism. Wired’s Issie Lapowsky has pointed out that the “innovation” of SXSW often seeks to rectify the same problems it helps to create (see how SXSW’s CEO handled the backlash of its policies). However, others like Oakley Anderson-Moore argue that despite the festival’s growth and catering to the tech-savvy elite, it still provides an important space to talk about the intersections of art, technology, and identity. The festival provides an opportunity to figure out who an audience really is and how to reach them in an evolving world.

If nothing else, this year’s festival shows that the conversation is still alive and well. We’re looking forward to seeing the great things that come out of next year’s SXSW!

 

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