Superhero comic to bow at the Austin festival

A record number of film and interactive biz and creative types are converging on Austin, ready to meet, tweet and party as the annual South by Southwest festival kicks off with Friday’s red-carpet world preem of Lionsgate actioner “Kick-Ass,” helmer Matthew Vaughan’s take on the subversive superhero comic.

Aside from the widespread rumor that Twitter will launch its much anticipated ad platform at SXSW, the hottest ticket is tonight’s exclusive first peek at footage from Nimrod Antal’s “Predators” from Fox, produced by Austin homeboy Robert Rodriguez, sure to start online chatter in advance of pic’s July release. SXSW secures its rep as a springboard with Monday’s world preem of Universal’s action comedy “MacGruber,” and should reignite buzz with red-carpet “re-tweets” of Duplass brothers’ Sundance fave “Cyrus,” Bill Murray starrer “Get Low” and others from the fest circuit.

But it’s the world premieres of a wide range of indies and docs that stand to gain the most.

SXSW Film programming director Janet Pierson “paused for a second” at Sundance’s slate, but from 4,000 submissions “we found hundreds of films that we love,” she says. “The public platform we have here is precious. Filmmakers and industry people are coming up against new paradigms, and we offer this unique experience where film intersects with the Interactive conference.”

While SXSW has never been a traditional market, the 25% upswing in film registrants (7,144 in 2009) is testament to the fest’s unique status as a hub for emerging creative, marketing and distribution ideas. Attendance for the Interactive festival is up a whopping 40% from 10,741 in 2009.

Last year SXSW partnered with IFC to simultaneously bow three pics via the VOD channel and fest — a pioneering move adopted by other sprocket operas — and repeats this year with “Lovers of Hate,” “Le Donk and Scor-zay-zee” and “The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights,” while VOD distrib Filmbuff simul-preems David Bond’s docu “Erasing David” and Scottish thriller “Crying With Laughter” on iTunes and Amazon.com as they hit SXSW screens.

“SXSW is willing to listen to new ideas,” says Filmscience’s Anich Savjani, a producer on Joe Swanberg’s hit lo-fi drama “Alexander the Last,” which had its SXSW-IFC preem last year, maximizing fest buzz for a “happy financial outcome.” Savjani returns to SXSW with “Mars,” an interplanetary romance starring Mark Duplass and Texas writer and musician Kinky Friedeman and helmed by Austin’s Geoff Marslett, who invented an animation process for the pic. “SXSW is the only place to start word-of-mouth for this kind of film,” Savjani added.

Pierson and Interactive conference programmer Shawn O’Keefe also introduce a slate of star-studded “crossover” panels, covering subjects like interactive docus, viral video and the sure-to-be-popular Nobody Wants to Watch Your Film: Realities of Online Film Distribution.

“One of the trends emerging in the mainstream is people not wanting entertainment experiences to be just A to B communication,” O’Keefe says. “Aside from learning about online distribution and marketing through social networking, filmmakers can also find forums to learn about things like transmedia storytelling.”

But face-to-face social networking remains SXSW’s greatest draw. Lena Durham met half the key creative crew — including d.p. Jody Lee Lipes (“Brock Enright”) — for her micro-budget sophomore pic “Tiny Furniture” at last year’s fest and can’t wait to return with her latest. “It’s a mix of Mardi Gras-esque fun and audiences hungry to see serious movies,” she says. “And I’m an avid twitterer.”

SXSW Film Festival unspools 134 features, including 64 world preems and 125 shorts from today through March 20. Music days are Wednesday through March 21, and Interactive is today through Tuesday.

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