SXSW Film saw an impressive programme of Hollywood fare, indie favourites, informative panels and guest appearances by some of cinema’s hottest names. From Nicolas Cage to Tilda Swinton, Neil deGrasse Tyson to Jason Bateman, the film portion of Austin’s beloved festival saw nonstop action. Take a look at our SXSW Film Fest Highlights 2014 for the cream of this year’s crop.
Jason Bateman’s directorial debut Bad Words kicked off the festival, with the comedian himself in town to present. Hailed as having the same biting humour as Bad Santa, this dark comedy follows “a grown man’s bombastic invasion of a children’s spelling bee.” Bateman sat down with Arrested Development cohort Jeffrey Tambor the following day to discuss his new movie and how Arrested Development helped him to showcase his distinctive dry humour.
Playing opposite Bad Words was the revival of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, starring the charming celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Audience members were treated to a special effects-filled screening of the new Fox series at the historic Paramount Theatre. A post-screening Q+A included Tyson and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow and co-writer of the original and updated series. Co-produced by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, the Cosmos series is the product of many different voices, and a real highlight of the SXSW 2014 film programme.
This year’s festival also saw Jim Jarmusch’s first film in four years, Only Lovers Left Alive. Having premiered in Cannes last year, the SXSW showing was the U.S. premiere of this modern day gothic love story between two vampires. The dreamy couple, played to perfection by the mesmerizing Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, wander through the Jarmuschian landscapes of Detroit and Tangier, looking for blood and contemplating their relationship and existence. Earlier in the day, Swinton hosted her panel, A Conversation with Tilda Swinton, where the enigmatic actress talked about how her children have inspired her love of cinema.
Along the same, ever-popular theme, another vampire film also featured at the fest. What We Do in the Shadows follows a group of bachelor vampires through the lens of a documentary film crew. Written by, directed and starring Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords fame) and New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, this Spinal Tap-esque comedy premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival to glowing reviews. Some are hailing this film as the funniest at SXSW 2014.
Sunday saw back-to-back screenings of two of Texas’ heavy-hitters. One of the most highly anticipated films of the festival, Boyhood, written and directed by Austinite Richard Linklater – of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight fame – was very well received by SXSWers. The film, which premiered at both Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival this year, was shot over a 12-year period and follows the journey of one young boy from the age of five through to eighteen. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, the film picked up the Louis Black Lone Star Award at the festival. After Boyhood, the Paramount Theatre premiered Joe, written and directed by Austinite David Gordon Green (Prince Avalanche, The Pineapple Express) and starring Nicolas Cage. Praised as one of Cage’s best recent performances, this gritty Texas drama is all about “male rage,” as Janet Pierson, head of SXSW Film, puts it. Cage was in attendance for the screening, and the following day the actor sat down and gave his personal insights at A Conversation with Nicolas Cage.
It was a stellar year for Texas filmmakers in general, with over 20 feature films and shorts films premiering from Lone Star State talent. Highlights included: Yakona, a pure cinema documentary about Texas’ San Marcos River (this film won an Audience Award at the festival); the gritty thriller Two Step, written and directed by first-time director Alex R. Johnson, which received stellar reviews from Variety and Indiewire; The Great Invisible, a hard-hitting documentary about the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and winner of the Best Documentary Award at the festival; and Arlo and Julie, a charming comedy about a couple on the verge of breaking up.
A few of the buzzworthy international films at SXSW 2014 included: Cesar Chavez, a profile of the heroic civil rights activist, directed by Mexican actor Diego Luna and starring Michael Pea; Wetlands, the controversial German film that premiered at Sundance and disgusted viewers with its unhygienic protagonist; and God Help the Girl, a UK-based indie musical by Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian.
In addition to the films, SXSW featured an incredible line-up of industry-related panels featuring some of the most informative and iconic figures in filmmaking. The Are We All Producers Now? panel showcased producer Dana Brunetti (House of Cards, Captain Phillips, Fifty Shades of Grey and The Social Network) and Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, Randi. The two spoke about the growing relationship between the film and tech industry, and Brunetti scolded Hollywood talent such as Zach Braff and Spike Lee for utilizing crowd-sourcing sites when they already have connections and access to money.
A firm festival favourite, Jeffrey Tambor’s acting shop also returned to SXSW this year. In addition to conversations with Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton and Jason Bateman, the festival also held one-on-one conversations with director and actor Jon Favreau, actor Robert Duvall and eccentric director Alejandro Jodorowsky.
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Did you attend SXSW Film Festival 2014? What were your favourite SXSW Film Fest Highlights 2014? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Lauren Modery