Buyers, sellers saddle get ready for fest

South by Southwest is packing extra heat this year. Buyers and sellers, including veterans and a sizable gang of first-time biz attendees, saddling up for the annual cinema shindig and confab are anticipating more jostling around appetizing fare — and we’re not just talking about Austin’s world-class BBQ.

“A couple of years ago we bought eight movies out of SXSW,” said Arianna Bocco, Senior Vice President of Acquisitions & Productions for Sundance Selects/IFC Films. In 2010, IFC nabbed SXSW narrative competish winner “Tiny Furniture,” and UTA signed helmer Lena Dunham, now shooting HBO series “Girls.”

“The sales and talent agencies now recognize they need to get onboard because SXSW is one of the few places to truly discover great films and rising talent,” Bocco added. “Janet Pierson has kept SXSW true to its American indie film roots and isn’t afraid to take risks — the strength of the programming on paper is why I’m going,” she enthused.

“A lot of folks from around the world are coming to Austin for the first time this year, so I assume there’ll be more buying than usual — but it’s all dependent on the lineup,” said Magnolia/Magnate senior VP Tom Quinn, adding he hopes to find another “Monsters,” Gareth Edwards’ 2010 SXSW hit which screened in the fest’s world preem-stocked midnight slate.

Thanks to its rep for savvy auds and critical mass of media types, SXSW has emerged in recent years as a key launchpad for studios’ edgy thrillers and comedies before spring release; 2011 is no exception. Duncan Jones’ Jake Gyllenhaal starrer “Source Code” kicks off SXSW on Friday night, and Jodie Foster’s much-anticipated Mel Gibson starrer “The Beaver” preems Wednesday. Sci-fi comedy “Paul” lands Sunday, and “Win Win” claims Monday. Longtime SXSW buyers IFC and Magnolia are launching, respectively, Rainn Wilson starrer “Super” (headlining Saturday) and “13 Assassins” (Sunday) and showing several fest-circuit faves and recent buys on Austin screens.

But as local cinephiles line up for already claimed pics, buyers will be wooing sellers and SXSW venue staff to nab first-screening seats.

Industryites cite a more robust, steady market and the growing viability of VOD day-and-date releases as contributing to the fest’s potential as a deal-clinching venue this year.

Phase 4 Films prexy-CEO Berry Meyerowitz, whose company recently launched its day-and-date platform with 2010 SXSW aud winner “Brotherhood,” is bullish.

“The question for all of us in distribution is how do we break through the clutter,” said Meyerowitz, a SXSW first-timer. “I love dealing with first-time directors because they are typically collaborative in terms of marketing, important to us as an independent aggressively pushing a day-and-date model.”

“Traditionally, SXSW hasn’t been a place where companies send their entire senior marketing and distribution staff,” Submarine’s Josh Braun said. “Last year, ‘Tiny Furniture’ had a Monday premiere, and we did follow-up after the festival, which is generally what we expect — but that could change this year.”

Docu competish feature “Fightville” from SXSW vets Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein (“Gunner Palace”), is attracting buyer heat. While features like Alison Bagnall’s “The Dish and the Spoon,” starring SXSW darling Greta Gerwig; misfit comedy “Bag of Hammers”; Matt D’Elia’s directorial bow “American Animal”; Joseph Kahn’s teen horror-comedy “Detention”; and Kyle Smith’s “Turkey Bowl” — all world preeming at SXSW — are among dozens of acquisition titles with buyer buzz.

Increasingly sellers are honing in on SXSW as the right time and place for U.S. exposure. Although Victoria Mahoney’s “Yelling to the Sky,” featuring Gabourey Sidibe, already screened in Berlin, Braun said its North American preem in Austin is key to a U.S. sale.

“You Instead,” a fictional romance from Scottish helmer David Mackenzie (“Young Adam”) that’s shot against a live music festival, sold briskly to several European territories after screening at Berlin’s market; while U.S. offers were made, Bankside Films’ Stephen Kelliher said holding out for SXSW was the right move.

“It took a lot of distributors by surprise in Berlin because they felt it might have a guerrilla-style, low-budget look, but David brings a lot of heart and quality to the film,” said Kelliher, another SXSW first-timer. “We felt the film would have the best possible chance of success at SXSW, with its connections to the music world and an audience known for being young, hip and trendy.”

Indeed, pics from across the pond may prove the hottest SXSW titles. UTA’s David Flynn has been fighting off requests from both U.S. and foreign buyers for a peek at narrative competish pic “Charlie Casanova,” Irish multi-hyphenate Terry McMahon’s feature bow about an upper-class sociopath, which was essentially cast and crewed via one Facebook shout-out that attracted local up-and-comers.

“When David came onboard, he said the most important festival for the film is SXSW, so, two days from the deadline, I couriered it to America,” McMahon recalled.

Flynn, attending SXSW for the first time, said the fest’s embrace of true, fearless independent filmmaking creates the right atmosphere, adding, “Sellers and buyers need more places, with the right atmosphere and audience, to see these movies, and we would be thrilled to see SXSW become a really viable venue for selling.

“You can’t get a hotel or a flight to Austin,” Flynn said. “What does that tell you?”

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