×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

SXSW film fest keeps Austin weird

New producer Pierson aims to uphold its niche

Austin prides itself in being a little bit “out there” — a personality reflected in the Texas capital’s annual South by Southwest film fest. Maintaining that vibe was top priority for SXSW’s new film fest producer, Janet Pierson, who took over when fest head Matt Dentler ankled after 2008’s event.

During his tenure, Dentler leveraged Austin’s hipster/slacker image for a dual purpose. Studios saw Austin’s college-kid-and-granola crowd as the perfect demo for preems of “Knocked Up” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” But Dentler also cultivated a scrappy, DIY brand of rising filmmakers including Joe Swanberg (“Hannah Takes the Stairs”), Barry Jenkins (“Medicine for Melancholy”), Lynn Shelton (“Humpday”) and brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (“The Puffy Chair”).

Locals enjoyed getting a first glimpse at major releases, but also forgave the lo-fi production values of films too ragged for Sundance. In upholding that tradition, Pierson admits to being daunted at first. “I’d been such a fan of what Matt had done,” she says. “I’d been involved in this world for decades, but I wasn’t sure how I’d put it all together.”

Pierson’s independent film roots go back to a partnership with husband John Pierson, the legendary sales rep who championed such landmarks as “Slacker” and “Clerks.” The couple moved to Austin in 2004. “Immediately (SXSW founder) Louis Black nominated me to be on the Austin Film Society board,” she says. “That became this incredible home for me where I learned Austin.”

When Pierson was handed the reins of the SXSW film fest, experience taught her not to mess with a good thing. While the industry watched and whispered, she landed studio preems of opener “I Love You, Man” and “Observe and Report.” Jody Hill, who helmed “Report,” is looking forward to how the Austin aud reacts. “I feel like if there’s one place this film will be accepted, it’ll be SXSW,” he says.

Pierson also stuck to SXSW’s brand of indies, slotting the preem of fest regular Swanberg’s “Alexander the Last”; Andrew Bujalski’s latest, “Beeswax”; and Craig Johnson’s comedy “True Adolescents,” starring Mark Duplass and Melissa Leo.

To amplify the fest’s Austin-specific edge, Pierson partnered with Tim League, head of the city’s genre-oriented Fantastic Fest, to program an additional midnight section, augmenting SXSW’s outre late-night offerings.

“Tim is a natural P.T. Barnum who puts enormous energy into knowing his audience,” she says.

“It gives me a way to expand my program,” explains League, whose samplings include “Lesbian Vampire Killers” and martial arts prequel “Ong Bak 2.”

Sweating the small stuff, Pierson added a much-needed shuttle service between the disparate theaters, found more links between SXSW’s industry-heavy film and interactive conferences, and created a private filmmaker lunch at Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios.

“SXSW has a pretty strong brand at this point,” Pierson says. “The pitching has been pretty easy. You just never leave Austin out of the pitch.”

TIP SHEET

When: March 13-22

Where: Alamo Ritz, Alamo Lamar, Austin Convention Center, the Hideout, Paramount Theater — Austin, Texas

Web: sxsw.com

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith. Jada

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's Westbrook Inks Development Pact With Telepool (EXCLUSIVE)

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s new media venture, Westbrook Inc., has signed a co-development agreement for feature films, television shows and digital entertainment formats with German-based film and TV company Telepool. The move follows the acquisition of Telepool last year by Smith and Elysian Fields, a Zurich-based investment company. Westbrook, launched this year by [...]

  • There's Something in the Water

    Toronto Film Review: 'There’s Something in the Water'

    Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the unpleasant sights, smells and pollutants of industry have typically been located where the poor folk dwell, and police society needn’t notice. With the dawn of popular environmental consciousness about a half-century ago, it became clear that toxic byproducts with a dismayingly long shelf life and unknown (or, [...]

  • 'David Foster: Off the Record' Review:

    Toronto Film Review: 'David Foster: Off the Record'

    By the early 1970s, as the counterculture was dissolving and reconfiguring, there were new pop-star archetypes on the horizon that we still tend to think of — the glam rocker, the sensitive singer-songwriter, the hair-band metal strutter, the prog-rock wizard, the belting pop chanteuse, the punk rocker. But there was another figure of the era [...]

  • Bob IgerSimon Weisenthal Gala honoring Bob

    Bob Iger Would Have Combined Disney With Apple if Steve Jobs Were Still Alive

    Disney and Apple are both launching their own streaming services come November, but Disney CEO Bob Iger says the two companies weren’t always on competing paths. In an excerpt from his autobiography published Wednesday in “Vanity Fair,” Iger revealed that Disney and Apple likely would have merged if Steve Jobs hadn’t died in 2011. “I [...]

  • Aaron Janus Lionsgate

    Lionsgate Hires 'A Quiet Place' Producer Aaron Janus as Senior VP of Production

    Lionsgate has hired Aaron Janus as its new senior vice president of production and promoted Meredith Wieck to the post of vice president of production.  Prior to Lionsgate, Janus served as Platinum Dunes’ head of development, where he oversaw filmmakers Brad Fuller, Andrew Form and Michael Bane. There, he brought in “A Quiet Place,” on [...]

  • Ang Lee Reveals First Look at

    Ang Lee on 'Gemini Man' and De-Aging Will Smith

    On paper, Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” is a standard-issue, shoot ’em up with Will Smith playing a deadly assassin who must battle a younger clone of himself. The explosions and gun battles aren’t what drew Lee to the project, even if they’re the reason that most people will show up at theaters when it opens [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content