Southwest fest keeps emphasis on locals

AUSTIN, Texas — Despite a major expansion in its film panels, feature presentations and audiences, the fifth edition of South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), which wrapped Saturday, has managed to maintain its friendly and informal ambiance that fondly recalls the early years of the Sundance Film Festival.

Showcasing the world premieres of Richard Linklater’s period crime adventure, “The Newton Boys,” which 20th Century Fox is releasing Friday, and Jonathan Demme’s first directorial effort in years, a new documentary about the gifted British musician, painter and writer Storefront Hitchcock, SXSW is unmistakably and triumphantly emerging as one of country’s primary regional film forums, one that effectively combines thematic panels, exciting workshops and an impressive lineup of films, both narratives and docus.

Texas-specific

Taking full advantage of Austin as a booming film center with a lively community, this year Nancy Schafer, the festival’s executive director, decided to display a dozen features and documentaries and an equal number of shorts, all made by Texan filmmakers.

One of the highlights of the first weekend was the premiere of Tim McCanlies’ “Dancer, Texas Pop. 81,” a charmingly idiosyncratic small-town comedy (see review, Page 16) that TriStar will distribute nationally May 1. A sympathetic, dead-on portrait of a Texan subculture, Stacy Kirk’s aptly titled “Barbecue … A Love Story,” was also favorably received by local auds.

Born in Texas, but living in Canada, Kirk’s movie concerns an exterminator in a Texas trailer park and his voracious appetite for both slow-cooked meat and sexy women.

Award-winners

A number of juried awards were announced Tuesday night, when the festival’s conference section concluded. Tamara Hernandez’s “Men Cry Bullets,” a tragicomic film using gender reversal to highlight the abusive relationship between a young innocent guy and an older sadistic woman, received the Narrative Feature Prize, and Jacki Ochs’ “Letters Not About Love,” a personal film based on a five-year-correspondence between two people representing different cultures, was singled out as best documentary.

Two shorts, Craig Marsden’s “La Lecon” and “Looking for Sly,” a collaborative effort from Kia Simon, Eve Conant and Jonathan Crosby, won top prizes in the narrative and documentary categories, respectively. Greg Sax’s experimental short, “28,” and musicvideo, “Rick Lee,” were also singled out for their high quality.

Buzzings

Among the docus that enjoyed good word-of-mouth were Anne Makeplace’s “Baby, It’s You,” a chronicle of fertility clinics; “American Cowboy,” Kyle Henry’s portrait of the increasingly popular Intl. Gay Rodeo Assn.; and Paul Steklar’s “Vote for Me: Politics in America,” a study of the American electoral process which for the first time will be seen in its four-hour entirety.

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