“Krisha,” a drama about a Texas family set over a troubled Thanksgiving weekend, is officially the breakout indie of this year’s SXSW Film Festival after it nabbed the grand jury prize for narrative feature on Tuesday night. Earlier in the day, first-time director Trey Edward Shults appeared at a screening of his film with two of his most prominent stars, his aunt (Krisha Fairchild) and his mom (Robyn Fairchild).
“Krisha” is made up of other members of the director’s family, like his grandmother (who naturally plays the grandmother in the film). Shults shot the movie, based on a short that won a prize at SXSW in 2014, over nine days in his parent’s house. Most of his other actors — the cast also includes friends — aren’t pros, except for his aunt who carries the film (and was compared to Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County” at the Q&A) as a woman with a dark past.
“I’ve been a professional actor my whole life, but I had no ambition,” Krisha Fairchild said. “I moved to Seattle and did voiceover because I could do that in my pajamas.” She said she could tell her nephew was going to be a filmmaker when he started picking apart a “Batman” movie at 7. “I’ve been working to turn him into a director to write a role like this for me,” Fairchild joked.
Shults said his film, which is shot like a horror-thriller, was influenced by favorites like “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Repulsion” and “A Woman Under the Influence.” On the night before they started production, his family gathered around the living room to re-watch “The Shining.”
When Shults walked to the podium to accept the award, he brought his entire clan along with him onstage. “This is overwhelming,” he said. “It’s a family-and-friends affair. I love all of them.” Then his aunt/star said a few words. “I know you’re all sick of seeing me cry,” the real Krisha said. “What I’m going to say is the people working on this movie became a family. If you ever want to create a film with as much power, turn your team into your family.” As she disappeared backstage, she shouted back at her seat: “Somebody watch my purse!”