'Cabin the Woods' to kick off fest Friday

Cable nets mine SXSW energy

Young talent, multi-tasking geeks and freaks from the underworld converge onscreen in Austin Friday in world-preeming South by Southwest opener “The Cabin in the Woods.”

Last year, TWC picked up Oscar-winning gridiron docu “Undefeated” shortly after its SXSW world preem, igniting action that saw several docus, midnight chiller “Kill List” and gay romance “Weekend” ink deals during the fest. Saturday morning’s world preem of Jacob Rosenberg’s skateboard docu “Waiting for Lightning,” from the “Step Into Liquid” producers, could spur buying action even earlier.

Drawn by digital deals and eager fans, a wider array of U.S. and foreign sellers and buyers are riding into town this year for the nine-day SXSW Film, which overlaps its Interactive and Music compadres.

Pre-fest pickups include the just-scooped Jay and Mark Duplass comedy “Do-Deca-Pentathalon” (Red Flag/Fox Searchlight), Adam Sherman’s “Crazy Eyes” (Strand) and midnighters “The Aggression Scale” (Anchor Bay) and “Iron Sky” (eOne).

“It strikes me there’s more available films this year and a higher level of industry attendance across the board,” said Arianna Bocco, Sundance Selects/IFC Films senior VP of acquisitions and productions and a fest vet.

Buyers have their hitlists but come to SXSW prepared for unexpected gems. ” ‘Weekend’ came out of left field for us, and I have a feeling that will happen this year,” she added.

SXSW continues to be a key launchpad for pics with distribution. In addition to Drew Goddard’s “Cabin” (Lionsgate), Columbia/MGM world preems “21 Jump Street” Monday and Pantelion serves up Will Ferrell-starrer “Casa de mi padre” Tuesday, both opening wide March 16.

Auds can catch U.S. preems of William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe,” Willem Dafoe-starrer “The Hunter” and Eduardo Sanchez’s “Lovely Molly.”

Magnet has reggae docu “Marley,” the world preem of midnighter “Rec 3 Genesis,” horror omnibus “V/H/S” and Bobcat Goldthwaite’s “God Bless America.” Local hero Richard Linklater presents his dark comedy “Bernie,” starring Jack Black. And SXSW discovery Lena Dunham (2010 narrative winner and IFC pickup “Tiny Furniture”) unveils her HBO comedy “Girls.”

Sellers and buyers agree SXSW’s youth-skewed tech and culture-savvy audience is an important litmus test for their product. The fest will hand out aud awards in all program categories for the first time this year.

“Someone who was 13 five years ago is now 18 and part of a generation of consumers trained to watch and respond to movies in a different way,” said Preferred Content founder Kevin Iwashina, whose pics are on buyer rader including U.K. chiller “Black Pond,” docu “Charles Bradley: Soul of America” and John Slattery-starring father-son drama “In Our Nature.”

“(Film fest producer) Janet Pierson and her team make a conscious effort to program for their market, not for the business, and identify films you wouldn’t see anywhere else.”

Welsh-born heartthrob Aneurin Barnard stars in two pics capturing the Southby vibe — Irish helmer Ciaran Foy’s world-preeming feral-kids midnighter “Citadel” and Marc Evans’ 1970s-set coming-of-age musical “Hunky Dory,” screening in the narrative spotlight alongside Matthew Lillard’s “Fat Kid Rules the World” and Jordan Roberts’ “Frankie Go Boom,” which pits Charlie Hunnam and Chris O’Dowd against Ron Perlman in drag

The Emerging Visions program seems to have major buyer awareness this year, with “Black Pond,” Kirsten Sheridan’s Dublin teen rampage “Dollhouse,” Rebecca Thomas’ edgy Mormon girl tale “Electrick Children,” and world preems of Andrew Neel’s camera-footage mashup “King Kelly,” Matthew A. Cherry’s “The Last Fall” (Lance Gross as a washed-up ex-pro footballer) and Bill and Turner Ross’s rambling New Orleans-set docu “Tchoupitoulas.”

Narrative competish pics attracting acquisitions interest include Jonathan Lisecki’s babymaking comedy “Gayby,” Mark Jarrett’s ex-pat odyssey “The Taiwan Oyster,” as well as newcomer Adam Leon’s graffiti revenge drama “Gimme the Loot” (also programmed in New Directors New Films) and unlikely friendship story “Starlet,” from “Prince of Broadway” helmer Sean Baker.

Submarine’s Josh Braun, who just closed an unspecified deal for Rick Alverson’s Sundance-preeming laffer “The Comedy” (screening at SXSW), always finds success with his focussed slate.

“Southby rarely has bidding wars and, for me, it’s where negotiations start but it wouldn’t surprise me if we sell a title during the festival this year,” said Braun, who has “Loot” and “Starlet,” competish docu “Jeff” (a chiller about Jeffrey Dahmer), and artsy docus “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters” and “Central Park Effect.”

“Distributors are having a more direct dialogue with audiences,” said Elizabeth Sheldon, vice-prexy of Kino Lorber. “The festival’s convergence of tech and film is unique, in that it brings that online audience — the passionate people involved in Kickstarter campaigns and similar initiatives — into theaters,” Sheldon says. “And it’s great to meet that core audience because, today, it’s your strongest marketing tool.”

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