Serious fun meets serious business at fest

A wider array of U.S. and foreign buyers hit SXSW Film’s weekend screenings, signalling the fest’s evolution as a key post-Sundance destination for talent discovery and pickups or, at least, the start of formal negotiations.

On opening night, auds packed the Paramount Theater to catch Jake Gyllenhaal time travel in Summit’s “Source Code.” Meanwhile, buyers from IFC, Magnolia/Magnet, Roadside, the Weinstein Co., Summit and Fox Searchlight were at the Alamo Lamar for the world preem of U.K. helmer Andrew Haigh’s sophomore pic “Weekend,” about a blossoming gay romance, generating strong buzz about the film’s potential.

At both SXSW Film and Interactive, social networking was key online and in real life.

Amid the usual barrage of tweeting, meetings and party swarms, Pee-Wee Herman made an appearance, serving ice cream treats to fans after Saturday’s screening of his new HBO special, while elsewhere, several attendees mobilized online and live show fund-raising efforts to raise support for victims of the disaster in Japan.

SXSW’s convergence of serious fun and serious business seems to be experiencing some backlash from the more than 14,000 Interactive attendees, who complained of long lines, a dizzying array of panels and marketing hype at the most-attended event yet.

On the film side, several titles created buzz over the weekend. In the past few years, U.K. genre films — notably, Gavin Edwards’ “Monsters” — playing in SXSW’s midnight slots have received a warm welcome. Saturday saw buyers split their ranks between world preems of tense contract-killer drama “Kill List,” from Ben Wheatley (“Down Terrace”), and comedian-writer Joe Cornish’s alien horror-comedy “Attack the Block.”

Earlier in the day, “You Instead,” helmer David Mackenzie’s scrappy romance filmed over four days during Scotland’s massive T in the Park music fest, reignited the momentum from Berlin’s market (where several European territories bought the film): Execs from pic’s seller, Bankside Films, spent Sunday in back-to-back meetings with U.S. buyers.

Offers are back on the table again for docu “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey,” which preemed at Sundance, with a likely split-rights scenario to be announced soon.

The much-anticipated world preem of mixed martial arts docu “Fightville,” from “Gunner Palace” helmers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, was a hit with auds and should spark some tussling, with screeners now landing with senior execs at several distributors in L.A. and New York.

The enthusiastic aud and industry reception for haunted hotel thriller “The Innkeepers” bodes well for Chicago writer-director Ti West, while Brian Crano’s comedy-drama feature bow “A Bag of Hammers” saw a full complement of buyers turn out.

Despite its 62-minute running time, Kyle Smith’s accomplished real-time ensemble comedy “Turkey Bowl” seems likely to score with a significant VOD buyer.

Sunday world preems of narrative competish features “Natural Selection” (helmer Robbie Pickering) and “Charlie Casanova” (Irish writer-director Terry McMahon) and Spotlight premiere “Detention” (“Torque” helmer Joseph Kahn) saw major buyer presence, while today repeat screenings of weekend fare plus world preems of buzz titles “American Animal” and docu “Last Days Here” will no doubt heighten acquisition discussions.

SXSW’s film event runs through Saturday; the music fest, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, starts Tuesday (a day earlier than usual) and promises to deliver healthy auds for a batch of music docs preeming midweek.

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