SXSW 2002 By Scott Calonico. SXSW this year was a noticeably more sober affair than festivals in the past. With the events of September 11 and the downturn in the economy, attendance was noticeably sparse...

SXSW this year was a noticeably more sober affair than festivals in the past. With the events of September 11 and the downturn in the economy, attendance was noticeably sparse. Screenings actually had seats available! With all the added security, it’s a lot harder to sneak beer into screenings via a backpack (thank goodness for the Alamo Drafthouse)!

SXSW was really scraping the bottom of the barrel in order to line up enough places to show their films as the end of the economic boom brought more theatre closings. Some of their screenings were held at a Youth Center on the far East Side of Austin, which is not the best part of town. And, a few of the SXSW films were even forced to show in the same venue that was hosting an anti-SWSX screening at the same time!

Six in Austin
This was trumpeted as Austin’s tour-de-force for SXSW. Based on the ’60s French New Wave classic, Six in Paris, this flick takes six of the cities “hottest” filmmakers (Kat Candler, Bob Ray, The Zellner Brothers, Geoff Marslett, Zack & Wyatt Phillips, and Gonzalo Gonzalez), and had them shoot six different stories with the central theme of “Austin” linking them all together. A better central theme of the film would have been “crap” because that’s how much this movie sucked. With the exception of the Zellner brother’s short, this film is a complete waste of time. Somehow the local daily saw fit to feature a cover story on this film a few months back, too. Even the Austin critics who love everything the aforementioned filmmakers do thought the thing stunk.

Toxic Avenger Part IV
Man. I’ll have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the latest installment in the Toxic Avenger series. I dig Troma and what Lloyd’s trying to do with the whole independent studio thing, but I don’t consider myself a big fan of the Toxie movies. Let’s face it: a lot of them are pretty bad. Which made this tale of Toxie battling his evil twin, Noxie, all the better. With cameos by Ron Jeremy, the late Hank The Angry Drunker Dwarf, Corey Feldman, and just about every character from the Troma-verse, Toxic Avenger Part IV has enough blood, guts, and breasts to satisfy the hardcore Troma fan and the newbie.

Y Tu Mama Tambien
This tale of two boys and their sexual awakening set in Mexico has a whole lot of guys—in the film—jerking off. Y Tu Mama Tambien reminds us all of what it was like to be young and inexperienced in “worldly” ways. A great film, this flick is one of the biggest hits ever of the Mexican box office. Set to open wide in the U.S., catch this one if you can. It’s even got a fart joke, which proves my theory that fart humor, though some may label it as sophomoric, is funny no matter what the language. Other things that are on my “universal funny” list are robots, monkeys, mummies and pirates, but that’s another movie.

The Cat’s Meow
The plot of this Peter Bogdonavich film centers around a true-life murder that occurred on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht while cruising off the coast of California. The murder has long been a staple of Hollywood gossip since it occurred in the ’20s. Bogdanavich, always with an eye for period pieces, scores a bulls eye with this venture. From the costumes, to the dances and the lingo, every detail is spot on. The cast, too, is flawless. I found myself even not hating Jennifer Tilly! The player to watch here, though, is Eddie Izzard as Chaplin. His performance is mesmerizing.

Journeys with George
This was heralded as SXSW big “political” film. Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi works for NBC news and followed Bush around during his Presidential bid. It’s fascinating to watch but it’s also like shooting fish in a barrel. We don’t see anything that Bush doesn’t want us to see. I would say that it would be hard to screw this one up. A better take on this same subject, check out Feed. Clinton coughing up a loogie; now that is a documentary.

The Search for John Gissing
Man, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m tired of seen Janeane Garofalo continuously trying to build her “indie cred” by appearing in as many independent movies as she possibly can. Is she the new Parker Posey? The gist of this film has something to do with some an expatriate Chicago couple in London looking for some English dude (John Gissing). Sorry I can’t be much more coherent than this incoherent film. What makes the movie even worse is that it often intersperses scenes with a series of jump cuts from various other scenes from the film. Huh?

Master of the Game
Touted as the first feature shot entirely at the new Austin Studios, this is one hometown film that really holds up to expectations. On the run at the end of World War II, a group of Jewish prisoners meet up with a batch of Nazis in an abandoned cabin. And to say anymore would really be ruining it. This is one of those “mess with your head” movies. The entire movie takes place in the aforementioned cabin and it really boils down to a battle of minds between the Jewish prisoner-an American to boot-and his Nazi captors. This one was shot on DV and is a great example of some of the directions that this new format will take us in.

One of the documentary winners from SXSW, this film follows a group of eight youngsters as they make their way to the National Spelling Bee held in Washington, DC. Just to let you know where I’m coming from, I watch this stuff when I see it on whatever the hell cable channel shows the National Spelling Bee at 3:00 AM so I thought this was interesting as hell. The group of eight was a perfect choice by the filmmakers. Not too many subjects to follow, and, if you’re not fond of the one they’re highlighting, the next kid is just a few minutes away.

Other Festivals
The Fourth Annual ZombieDance Film Festival was again a resounding success. So much so that no less a celebrity than Lloyd Kaufman, of Troma studios, decided to grace us with his presence. In addition to the ZombieDance regulars (Wolf and his friends from Houston made their third annual trek to be here!), we had lots of new faces and a packed house. Some of the highlights included a surprise trailer for Toxic Avenger Part IV, Brian Singleton’s Zombie Cop Vs The Alien Terror and the festival grand prizewinner, Robot Bastard. Other winners included James Harris’s Flesh Orgy of the Zombie Totem for Best Title. We’d definitely like to thank everyone that participated and helped us get the word out about the overlooked genre of Zombie films.

A couple of other new “alternative” festivals sprang up this year as well. First off was the “Canned By Southwest” Film Festival. These guys had it all together: a slick website, a call for volunteers, films with big celebrities rejected by SXSW, hot “Canned Girls” models.... except that someone forgot to tell them that if they have an alternative film festival, it’s really more effective if they put it on during the festival to what they’re being alternative! It’s next to impossible to find any type of space in Austin during SXSW and these guys just didn’t get their stuff together in time. Here’s hoping that they’ll be ready for next year.

The other new festival was the SuxBySouthwest fest. One of the highlights of SuxBySouthwest was the screening of the live action/CGI blend Jetblast. The film takes place in a future where the skies over a fragmented and divided America are ruled by competing Airlines. And I do mean competing! They literally shoot each other out of the sky and crash into buildings. Whoops. All of a sudden this doesn’t seem too funny after September 11th. The film was originally scheduled to show during the Austin Film Festival in October. It got pulled from that and apparently SXSW as well. The other highlight of SuXBySouthwest was the fact that they held it in the same venue that SXSW was holding their official screenings. Oh my...

Film Threat
I have to say something about Mr. Chris Gore of Film Threat. Now, Film Threat helped out ZombieDance a lot when we started (back, when South By Southwest was under different leadership and they wouldn’t have anything to do with Film Threat).

This year was another story.

A few months before the festival, when I emailed our press release to Film Threat, they ran it in their weekly email. That really gets the word out! A few weeks went by and our festival date approaches. We have our shit together—more or less—this year as we actually have a location lined up well in advance! So, I email Film Threat again. I give them the same exact press release they ran a few weeks before, but I add the location and time and more details.

Apparently, according to Mr. Gore, Film Threat doesn’t advertise upcoming film festivals any more unless you pay them $100. Yep, it’s a new policy. I wondered aloud if this has anything to do with Mr. Gore now being part of the official SXSW panel. Yeah, I stepped out of line and I shouldn’t go around accusing people like that, but SXSW has been after us for a while (including four cease and desist letters and threatening to drag us to court because of our name the day before our fest kicked off).

I hate biting the hand that feeds me but, seeing as how none of my projects now will ever be written up in Film Threat again, I suppose it doesn’t matter. More than an apparent double standard, this feels like a policy brought about to shield Film Threat from its rampant conflicts of interest. Not only does Film Threat often sport reviews of films directed by the writers’ friends, but also recent front pages of the Film Threat site have been devoted to the Sonoma Film Festival-for which Mr. Gore was the programming director!

Oh well, if I’m looking for scruples or integrity, I should know better than to look to Film Threat!

Back to Issue 13