South By Southwest boasts indie film spirit

Fri Mar 7, 2008 3:39am EST
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By Randee Dawn

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The definition of a festival success story tends to come in the form of numbers: How much did distributors fork over for the grand jury prize winner? How late did negotiations go into the night?

At the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival, which kicks off Friday in Austin, Texas, success comes in a far less quantifiable form.

"One of the most gratifying things that happens is when people come and make connections that lead to more work," explains SXSW festival producer Matt Dentler. "They meet and go on to make a project that's at the next South by Southwest. That means we're not just a venue to showcase creativity, but to spark more creativity for the future."

By that standard, this year's SXSW, which runs through March 15 -- is already a success, thanks to Mary and Ronald Bronstein.

Last year, Ronald picked up SXSW's special jury award for "Frownland," a debut film that took six years to complete. In Austin, he and wife Mary met up with Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig, whose "Hannah Takes the Stairs" (directed by Swanberg, who co-wrote the script with Gerwig) was one of the festival's most-talked-about premieres. A bond was forged, and a project was born: Mary's exploration of toxic friends, "Yeast," will premiere at this year's SXSW, co-starring Gerwig.

"'Frownland' was made in a vacuum environment," says Mary Bronstein. "(SXSW) was the first time we felt that we were part of an independent film community. I was inspired to make ('Yeast') after being down there and seeing all the great work people were doing."

As poster children for SXSW convergence, the Bronsteins are by no means alone. The Austin festival is all about synergies and partnerships of different types -- the tech nerds flow directly into the film fanboys who all really want to be rock 'n' roll stars -- and the atmosphere jostles more than just creative juices in its attendees. Virtually across the board, distributors, sponsors, registrants and execs call the festival "casual" and "manageable," along with "hip" and "cool" -- even if they don't call it a "market."

"In a culture where independent music has become 30%-40% of all music sold, when independent films get almost all the nominations at the Academy Awards, SXSW is reaping the benefits," explains Evan Shapiro, general manager at IFC TV, which is world-premiering documentaries about punk rock ("Heavy Load") and the death penalty ("At the Death House Door").   Continued...

<p>Grant Gee, director of the film "Joy Division", poses for photographs at the 32nd Toronto International Film Festival, September 9, 2007. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>