South by Southwest Festival doesn’t start until Friday, but Thursday’s Austin Film Society press conference, moderated by Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos, kicked off the cinema-centric portion of the multidisciplinary event with a bounty of Texas talents, the co-founder of the fest and a genuine independent film legend.
Local filmmaking luminaries Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater and David Gordon Green were joined by actress Amber Heard, SXSW’s Louis Black and actor Fred Williamson, who clearly reveled in his status on the panel, whose other members he jokingly referred to as “young whippersnappers.”
Williamson proudly took the other panelists and the audience through his own brief history of independent filmmaking and promotion, which began long before pioneering works such as Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi” and Linklater’s “Slacker.” “I took my film to the Cannes Festival in the early ’70s and by tipping the waiter at the Carlton Hotel $50,” recalled Williamson, “I got a table in the middle of the patio and I put up my posters and went to work. I came away with about $500,000 in sales.”
Louis recounted the founding of SXSW by describing it as “inspired by punk rock” and noted “the difference between SXSW and places like Park City and Toronto is that the culture and spirit of SXSW goes on throughout the year.”
Black also credited Rodriguez, Green and Linklater with “keeping the filmmaking spirit alive in Austin. Their decision to work here has ignited everything that is now happening.”
Heard explained that while actors “are shielded from all of the difficulties that go into getting films made and distributed,” she couldn’t help but lament the gap between “all of the great stories I read as scripts and then never see made into films.”
Heard also urged filmmakers to make more films with heroic female characters. When Williamson joked that he was fine with his stock-in-trade tough guy roles because “when I walk down the street I want physical respect. Or I’ll kick your ass,” Heard quickly added, “I agree!”
Today’s press conference will be followed by the Austin Film Society’s Texas Film Awards gala tonight at Austin Studios, where Black, Green and Heard will receive kudos along with singer-songwriter-actor Mac Davis. Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Till Dawn” will be feted with the Star of Texas award for landmark filmic achievement.