Long lines, sold-out screenings at Austin film festival

Clear skies proved a blessing to the SXSW fest this weekend, with the upswing in film registrants creating around-the-block lineups for mostly sold-out screenings, often leaving fans and buyers alike looking for a backup plan.

“The festival has blown up this year,” said Magnate/Magnolia senior VP and SXSW vet Tom Quinn, here to cheer the distributor’s gritty Gotham drama “The Good Heart,” gospel docu “Rejoice and Shout” and today’s anticipated midnight world preem of bloody sword-and-sandaller “Centurion,” from Brit Neil Marshall (“The Descent”). “The interactive portion of the festival appears to have taken over the whole town and reminds me of Sundance in 1999 with the dot-com invasion — however, this time around it feels earned,” said Quinn, who also sat on a film-interactive panel exploring ideas for a new content pipeline to restore financial viability to the indie sector. “As media converge, maybe the age-old definition of a film festival simply doesn’t apply anymore and SXSW is living proof of that.”

Indeed, after Sunday’s crossover panel on creating event-style screenings to find new auds and revenue streams for indies, panelist Jon Reiss’ nuts-and-bolts handbook “Think Outside the Box: The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution and Marketing for the Digital Era” flew off SXSW bookstore shelves.

But old-school dealmaking is still part of the picture. Most of the major indie players hit the Alamo Drafthouse cinema Saturday for the well-received world preem of “Cold Weather,” a mumblecore thriller from Aaron Katz (“Dance Party, USA”) whose John Cassavetes Award nominee “Quiet City” preemed here in 2007.

Brendan McFadden, co-producer and creative collaborator on Katz’s pics, confirmed serious conversations are already in play. “With ‘Quiet City’ it was all about building buzz after the screening, but there was much greater anticipation this year so our experience is dramatically different,” he said.

High school jazz-band docu “Thunder Soul,” from Texas helmer Mark Landsman, got an uproarious reception Saturday and early critical raves with a deal expected soon, according to Submarine Entertainment co-prexy and SXSW vet Josh Braun, also here with doc “The Weird World of Blowfly,” yet-to-preem “Tiny Furniture” (in narrative competition) and docu “The Canal Street Madam.”

“If there was a sense of downturn last year, this year has more than made up for it with the vibe and energy,” he said. “On the negative side, it’s much harder to get into films. Part of the fun for the buyers and sellers who come here has always been catching up on films that aren’t yours.”

Ditto for filmmakers. Jason Reitman drove into town to visit hometown hero Robert Rodriguez, who was tubthumping Friday night with a sneak peek of scenes from “Predators” (Fox), in post at his Troublemaker Studios with helmer Nimrod Antal.

Reitman caught a few Saturday preems and was even corraled into giving a raucous intro to the midnight screening of his father’s newly restored 1973 Canuxploitation classic “Cannibal Girls,” starring a shaggy Eugene Levy and his “SCTV” co-star Andrea Martin as a couple terrorized by three nubile women.

Wryly acknowledging the shortcomings of his dad’s early pic, which gets a DVD release this summer, Reitman went on to praise SXSW: “It’s such a great place to come when you’re zero for three at the Oscars.”

Fest runs until March 20.

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