Interview: Texas Filmmaker James Johnston Shares SXSW Memories


Like most people, there was a time in my life where I fancied myself a filmmaker. I will readily admit now that I do not possess the creative talents to be able to take the written word and make it a visual piece of art. Heaven knows I tried to dream it up, but I just wasn’t meant for that world. Well, during my most recent case of wanting to be a filmmaker, I worked on the short film Knife (currently playing in the SXSW Texas Shorts Showcase) directed by Fort Worth, TX writer/director/producer/vegan chef and all around awesome man, James Johnston. James has been a staple at SXSW for as long as I’ve been attending and his commitment to promoting Texas filmmaking is just one of the many reasons he continues to earn respect and praise in our little Texas bubble.

As you can imagine, James is pretty busy this week promoting Knife and working on various other projects, but he took a few minutes to talk with me about some of his fondest SXSW memories.

How many times have you been to South By Southwest?

This will be my 7th year attending. I first went back in 2005 when an omnibus feature I was part of called Deadroom played.

What SXSW film(s) are you most anticipating seeing this year?

I’m the type of person who just wakes up every morning and figures out what I’m doing that day. I’m not much of a planner. Though I do have a lot of friends with films I’m excited to see: Gayby, Kid-Thing, Compliance, America’s Parking Lot, Girl Model, Leave Me Like You Found Me, Sun Don’t Shine, Tchoupitoulas, and Safety Not Guaranteed. Of course, I love shorts so I’m gonna try to catch all the shorts packages.

What is your favorite SXSW film you have ever seen?

The first thing that jumped in my mind is Glory at Sea by the Court 13 crew (directed by Benh Zeitlin). That was a very special experience getting to see that film released into the world for the very first time. You can now watch it on YouTube:

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s SXSW?

It’s like a big reunion every time and a very relaxed atmosphere. So for me it’s just getting to catch up with friends and hang out. Springtime in Austin is the greatest.

What tips would you give to someone attending their first SXSW?

Just have fun, eat a ton, and watch a bunch of movies. The relationships you build here are the kind that last.

What else will you be doing in Austin when you’re not at SXSW?

If the weather is super nice we’ll swing by Barton Springs. It’s a friend of mine’s birthday and I think we’re going out to Enchanted Rock towards the end of the week. But like I said, I’m not a big planner so we’ll just see what happens each day.

Tacos, BBQ, or Cupcakes?

Cupcakes forever.

What other festivals do you enjoy going to?

Sundance, Sarasota, Maryland, LAFF, Thessaloniki, Rotterdam, Sidewalk, Cucalorus, Nevada City, Woodstock, The Hamptons, Rooftop

Why do you think SXSW is important?

SXSW is important because it’s a true tastemaker. It also represents that perfect blend of a pivotal festival with market potential and a fun laid-back regional fest. The crowds are so influential and the programming is so strong it’s a real badge of honor to play a film there.

As an audience member you’re getting the best of many worlds: solid independent cinema, undiscovered gems, really great genre fare, and even some of the best of what Hollywood has to offer. Plus, it’s in one of the greatest cities in America!