SXSW Film performs balancing act with students and studios

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Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Even with a lineup of world famous directors, the South by Southwest Film Festival always makes space to present micro-budget films and save a few seats for students to access the event.

The ever-expanding film festival started as a small-scale affair that included only two world premieres, striking a sharp contrast to this year’s 84. SXSW Film’s profile has grown along with its scale. This year the festival is showing the world premiere of beloved Hollywood director Edgar Wright’s new film “Baby Driver” and a preview of Ridley Scott’s new Alien film, “Alien: Prometheus.”

UT alumnus and SXSW co-founder Nick Barbaro said it was an easy choice to add a film category to the previously music-only conference in 1994. He said finding a balance between student films and larger premieres is critical to preserving the spirit of the festival.

“Everybody who works on South by Southwest Film does so partly because they really want to help the local film industry,” Barbaro said. “There are hopefully some fallout, tangible benefits to local filmmakers that have interaction with that national and global stage.”

Though he does not have as large of a hand in the organization of the festival anymore, Barbaro’s original principles live on. This year the Longhorn Denius Film Showcase, an annual celebration of UT student-made films, will show at SXSW’s Film Festival.

The directors of eight films, all UT students, will have an opportunity to screen their movies in front of an audience, as well as attend the festival.

In the past, SXSW and the Longhorn Denius Showcase existed separate from one another, with the student showcase hopping around locations every year. Paul Stekler, chair of the UT Radio-Television-Film Department helped out with the partnership, and said he foresees many opportunities for students.

“We’ve had a close relationship with South by Southwest,” Stekler said. “This is the first year that it occurred to me that we could possibly work out a deal to have to a showcase at South by Southwest. It’ll get attention for the student filmmakers, but more importantly it’ll allow them to have access to the festival.”

Director Mira Lippold-Johnson, a graduate student pursuing a Masters in Fine Arts, said she is grateful for the opportunity to screen her film in Austin. The movie, “The Letter E,” is  a short musical comedy about a 14-year-old girl who loves the letter E, and was made in, around, and by Austin and its citizens.

“I’m just super glad to have some kind of screening in Austin,” Lippold-Johnson said. “It was made by the kindness of the community here, and has all these local Austin actors, teenagers, and they’re just starting out. It’s for them.”

Fellow director Cameron Quevedo, who is also pursuing a Masters in Fine Arts, directed “El Tucán,” a documentary film featured in the showcase. He sees the advantages of opening the film up to a larger audience, but says the larger opportunities provided this year come from an ability to network.

“There’s this immediate sense of community,” Quevedo said. “Somebody could see your film at South-By, and you’ll run into them down the line, and they’ll say, ‘Hey, I remember you!’ Tapping into a network such as the South-By Film Festival and has a lot of potential.”

Though SXSW Film has evolved, grown, and changed, it stays true to its initial vision of helping out local filmmakers. By partnering with UT, SXSW Film offers student filmmakers a wealth of opportunities.

“Having their movies at South by Southwest is great,“ Stekler said. “Having them at South by Southwest is even greater.”