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AUSTIN, Texas (Hollywood Reporter) - When it kicked off March 7, the South by Southwest Film Festival wasn't necessarily in line for a watershed moment. The easygoing, jeans-and-beer atmosphere, which will come to an end Saturday, made for a casual set of films, interactive panels, a trade show and several raucous days of concerts.
But 2008 will long be marked as the year in which SXSW took a giant step forward, because it was the year an acquisition was made during the festival.
"Nights and Weekends," the sexually explicit story of a relationship breakup assembled by the so-called "mumblecore" mavens Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig, landed a deal through IFC Entertainment, thus ratcheting up the excitement level throughout the Austin Convention Center.
True: IFC Entertainment is one of SXSW's major sponsors. True: IFC had picked up the duo's "Hannah Takes the Stairs" the year before. Also true: A deal with IFC is not the same as a deal with a major studio; some insiders mutter that it's the haven of last resort.
Nevertheless, the sale improved the festival's credibility.
"Any festival needs to evolve and grow, and with the IFC sale it's growing toward being a buyer's festival," said Picturehouse vp acquisitions Lindsay Crain, who adds she's taking several films she viewed at SXSW home for consideration.
"Traditionally the films coming out of SXSW are a slow burn. Someone buys them later and they gain momentum, but I think that's going to change," Crain said.
Other films likely to see deals in the coming weeks include the documentary "Second Skin," a look at relationships formed within computer games; the feature "Humboldt County," a voyage of discovery via hidden Californian pot fields; and the SXSW prize-winning documentaries "They Killed Sister Dorothy" and "In a Dream."
"Dream" director Jeremiah Zagar said his film wasn't completed until the day before the festival. "Seeing the reaction from people here, we know the film is marketable," he said.
Still, one acquisition does not make a festival, and there's no sense that the SXSW handbook is being rewritten. What remains in Austin to draw buyers and filmmakers has not changed. It's the atmosphere that often lends itself to future collaborations.