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Music films find their way at SXSW

Biz takes advantage of new tech, distribution models

At SXSW, music pics now come with serious added value for auds, filmmakers and, yes, buyers.

Music films have traditionally had limited theatrical potential. But over the past few years, evolving market synergy between the growing array of release strategy options and fan-based social networking means sellers, buyers and helmers are engaging in increasingly creative deal talks — particularly on titles with stories that go beyond career checkpoints.

Jay Bulger’s feature bow “Beware of Mr. Baker,” an edgy rock ‘n’ roll adventure with the legendary and cantankerous Cream drummer Ginger Baker, nabbed the grand jury prize in the docu feature competish Tuesday night, boosting its chances with the buyers who rocked out at the pic’s Saturday world preem.

Drew DeNicola’s buzz pic “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me,” examining the enduring legacy of the cult band, screens today as a work-in-progress at the Paramount, followed by a live “re-creation” of Big Star’s “Third” album by a stellar band fronted by the dB’s Chris Stamey.

DeNicola originally planned to film a live show and panel on the band’s influence at SXSW 2010. The death of frontman Alex Chilton just before the fest made those events tributes and affected the evolution of a docu the filmmakers expect will gain major aud feedback following SX — a valuable asset as they work toward what seller Josh Braun hopes will be a fall fest launch.

With SXSW Music in full swing, film-related live perfs abound: Austin jazz-rock combo Bee vs. Moth accompanies Ernst Lubitsch’s 1919 silent “The Oyster Princess” today while S2BN Films’ world-preeming “Big Easy Express,” a musical railroad odyssey from Emmett Malloy (“Great White Northern Lights”), closes the film fest Saturday, with Mumford & Sons and others delivering acoustic sets after the screening.

Distributors value SX as showcase to help build buzz ahead of a pic’s theatrical release or broadcast. Kevin Macdonald’s epic “Marley” (Magnolia), billed as the definitive story of the music legend, and Malik Bendjelloul’s “Searching for Sugar Man” (SPC), about a ’70s rock legend that never was, both screened here. Under VH1’s Rock Docs banner, Mark Ford’s “Uprising: Hip Hop and the LA Riots” world preemed, while clips from “Downloaded: The Digital Revolution,” about the rise and fall of Napster, screened at the confab Wednesday.

But discovery is the reason buyers attend, looking to SXSW’s 24 Beats Per Second music-focused program and beyond. Poull Brien’s feature bow “Charles Bradley: Soul of America,” which world preemed Friday in 24 Beats, charmed several top film and TV buyers with its story of the Brooklyn singer whose 2011 Daptones Records debut led to accolades and touring — after a life of poverty and tragedy.

Bill and Turner Ross’ docu “Tchoupitoulas,” which preemed in Emerging Visions, emerged as a discovery fave among many critics and industry types. Produced by the team behind Sundance top prize-winner “Beasts of a Southern Wild,” the pic has New Orleans at its heart and music in its soul, as the camera follows the musings of a young boy, his older brothers and their dog past a cacophony of live and a recorded music. With a fest circuit future and arthouse potential, the pic has a Kickstarter campaign to help offset music rights clearances. The awareness and momentum generated by SXSW should find “Tchoupitoulas,” like many pics on the fest slate, the right groove with buyers.

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