The South By Southwest Film Conference & Festival marks its 20th year in 2013, and three members of the MFF programming team — myself, programming administrator Scott Braid, and screening-committee member Eric Cotten — are all here in Austin to take in films. SXSW’s programming is international in scope, but the focus is on U.S. independent work, the next major stop for emerging domestic films after Sundance in January. It’s an especially important festival for the MFF programming team, the last trip we take before putting the finishing touches on our own lineup, which we’ll begin rolling out in early April.
As befitting a film festival that runs alongside equally renowned music and interactive (technology/gaming) components, SXSW’s line-up is peppered with some high-profile genre and midnight films. Last year saw the festival premiere The Cabin in the Woods, and this year’s edition boasts both the Evil Dead remake and V/H/S/2. We’ll be especially eager to check out the latter, a sequel to the omnibus horror film we screened within MFF 2012, this one boasting a segment by Maryland’s own Eduardo Sánchez.
Meanwhile, two very different Baltimore-focused documentary features have been generating much-deserved buzz at SXSW. Lotfy Nathan’s thrilling first feature 12 O’Clock Boys looks at Baltimore’s urban dirt-bike phenomenon, seen through the eyes of a young teenager who hopes to become a part of it. Simply put, this film contains some of the most eye-popping Baltimore footage ever caught on camera, sometimes exhilarating and sometimes poignant. Its trailer went viral on social media a few weeks ago, helping position the film as one of the festival’s most talked-about docs, an auspicious debut for a project that we’ve been tracking throughout its several years of production.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Schwarz, a frequent MFF guest who attended last year with the moving documentary Vito, has completed his highly anticipated new feature I Am Divine. It’s the definitive story of Baltimore’s own drag icon, made with the full cooperation of key participants like John Waters and Divine’s mother, and bursting with wonderful archival clips and stills. A roller coaster of a story filled with moments of triumph, heartbreak, and hilarity, it’s also another expertly crafted entry in Schwarz’s highly compelling body of biographical documentaries.
In addition to seeing films this year, I was invited to participate as a SXSW mentor in the field of documentary film programming. This allowed festival attendees to sign up for blocks of time to ask me questions about getting their documentary finished and out into the world. I met with a wide range of folks, from a few aspiring filmmakers looking for advice in getting their projects funded, to others with completed films in hand seeking tips on maximizing their films’ festival lives and positioning them for distribution. The SXSW mentorship program is a great facilitation of the networking possibilities one can find at film festivals; I enjoyed meeting this diverse group of people, and appreciated the opportunity to share some of the insights about the festival world I’ve gained over the seven years I’ve worked as a programmer for MFF.
SXSW continues through this weekend, and we’ll be in town for the full duration. We hope to take in about 50-60 features and as many shorts before the festival closes. Watch the MFF blog for more updates!
—Eric Allen Hatch, MFF Director of Programming