It’s long been unfair to classify the SXSW Film Festival as, well, just a film festival, simply because the Austin, Texas-based March event has always been a place for more than films, with bustling Interactive and Music programs that serve as their own draw, along with a steadily expanding roster of smaller draws (from SXSW Eco to SXSports to Digital Domain to their always amusing stable of live comedic talent) all adding into the full-bodied experience that is SXSW (or, really, just full, you try walking down Sixth Street smack in the middle of the event without getting accidentally intimate with just piles of strangers).
For SXSW 2014, the Film team has quite noticeably folded in a new section to their slate, one that shows the perhaps steadily closing gap between television and film, or at least proves that plenty of small screen fare looks just as good on the big screen. The new section has been tagged “Episodic,” continuing a strong tradition of just damn clever section-naming and a clear interest in pushing forward what is viewed as acceptable (and accepted) film festival offerings.
It’s not the first time that the Film side of things has put a focus on the small screen – back in 2012, SXSW debuted Lena Dunham’s Girls by showing the HBO series’ first three episodes on the big screen of the Paramount Theatre. It was a natural fit – both Dunham’s Creative Nonfiction and Tiny Furniture had previously screened at the festival – and it was a hell of a way for the buzzy series to get even more eyes on it. (It was also one of my favorite offerings from that year’s festival, and it certainly set the stage for my love affair with the series.) Last year, the festival featured a first look at Bates Motel and a Q&A with creator Carlton Cuse. But with the introduction of Episodic, SXSW is really just going whole (deliciously BBQed) hog on this TV thing.
The new section features “innovative new work aimed squarely at the small screen” and “tunes in to the explosion of exciting material on non-theatrical platforms, including serialized TV, webisodes and beyond.” As our own Rob Hunter shared with yesterday’s SXSW lineup announcement, the section includes a quite varied mix of non-film offerings, including:
COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey
Directors: Brannon Braga, Bill Pope, Screenwriters: Ann Druyan, Steven Soter
COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey is a thrilling, 13-part adventure across the universe of space and time revealed by science, exploring humanity’s heroic quest for a deeper understanding of nature.
Narrator: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Director: Troy Miller, Written And Co-Created By: Cody Heller, Brett Konner
Kevin Pacalioglu may have no money and no clue, but he does have one thing–he can see dead people. Faced with New York’s most stubborn ghosts, our hapless medium goes to whatever lengths necessary to help finish their unfinished business. Cast: Tyler Labine, Cat Deeley, Brandon T. Jackson, Lucy DeVito (World Premiere)
From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series – Pilot
Director/Screenwriter: Robert Rodriguez
The Gecko Brothers are back. Based on the thrill-ride film, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is a supernatural crime saga from Creator, Director and EP Robert Rodriguez premiering March 11 on El Rey Network.
Cast: D.J. Cotrona, Zane Holtz, Eiza González, Jesse Garcia, Lane Garrison, and Wilmer Valderrama, and Don Johnson (World Premiere)
Halt and Catch Fire
Director: Juan Jose Campanella, Screenwriters: Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers
Halt and Catch Fire captures the rise of the PC era in the early 1980s, during which an unlikely trio – a visionary, an engineer and a prodigy – take personal and professional risks in the race to build a computer that will change the world as they know it. Cast: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Rio Davis, Kerry Bishe, Toby Huss, David Wilson Barnes (World Premiere)
Penny Dreadful (USA / UK)
Directors: John Logan, Juan Antonio Bayona, Screenwriter: John Logan
Penny Dreadful is a psychological horror series that re-imagines literature’s most terrifying characters (Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and iconic figures from the novel Dracula) in a whole new light.
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Reeve Carney, Rory Kinnear, Billie Piper, Danny Sapani, Harry Treadaway (World Premiere)
Director: Mike Judge, Created By: Mike Judge & John Altschuler & Dave Krinsky, Episode One Written By Mike Judge & John Altschuler & Dave Krinsky. Episode Two Written By Carson Mell.
The new HBO series Silicon Valley takes a comic look at the modern-day epicenter of the high-tech gold rush, where the people most qualified to succeed are the least capable of handling success.
Cast: Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Zach Woods, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr, Josh Brener, Christopher Evan Welch, Amanda Crew, Matt Ross (World Premiere)
Leave it to SXSW to launch a section that includes a Neil deGrasse Tyson-narrated science series, a new spin on From Dusk Till Dawn, monsters on top of monsters, and just a bunch of stuff about computers and tech. No wonder they wanted to add this to their booming slate, it’s a perfect fit.
Over at IndieWire, Alison Willmore spoke with SXSW Film head Janet Pierson about the new section, and Pierson shared her excitement about the new section, along with the thinking behind it. As Pierson tells it, “We look for specific voices with something different about them, or something that crosses over with the interactive people or music, or something with edginess or subversiveness. It was very easy this year. Among all of these submissions there were these six quality shows that made perfect sense to us.”
There is, of course, also the question of crossover, and Pierson and her team see that: “”You’ve got wonderful filmmakers all over working in the format — there’s a lot of opportunity and there’s a lot of audience for it.” Yet, most of all, Pierson just wants to keep pushing SXSW to be the best it can be, telling Willmore, “Each year we feel our way through — how can this be better next year?” Constant evolution is one way to do just that, and SXSW certainly doesn’t seem to balk at that, no matter which format it presents itself in.
This year’s SXSW Film bonanza runs from March 7 – 15.