Magazine article Screen International

SXSW Film Chief on Hot Pics, Judd Apatow Return, Joe Biden Debut

Magazine article Screen International

SXSW Film Chief on Hot Pics, Judd Apatow Return, Joe Biden Debut

Article excerpt

Pierson has flown the film flag for nine years at Austin's ever-growing cross-collaborative SXSW, whose humble origins began alongside the already established music fest in 1994.

Previously a producer rep with husband John Pierson - working on films such as She's Gotta Have It, Slacker and Clerks - Pierson is no-nonsense when it comes to championing the festival's unique ability in bringing together film, music and interactive professionals.

She has also favoured selecting populist films that do not compete with the cinephile tone of Berlin or Cannes.

As the film festival gets underway today through March 19, the newly promoted Pierson, now director of film, talks to Screen about this year's increased collaboration with the interactive and music events, the programme's robust line-up of breakout and alumni talent, new additions such as the VR/ AR track, and how contemporary politics has shaped part of the line-up.

It's now your ninth year spearheading the SXSW Film Festival. What are you most excited about this year?

I could rave about each of the films [approximately 130 features were chosen from 2,500 submissions. Including shorts, there were 7,650 submissions]. Different to some years where he had more studio films, this year there has a real focus around DIY talent, and filmmakers we weren't familiar with before. The narrative competition really surprised us with strong production values on films including Like Me, Most Beautiful Island and A Critically Endangered Species, or the performances in The Strange Ones. Elijah Bynum's Hot Summer Nights is also impressive in how it takes a known genre and puts something else into it.

This year marks our first official curated VR and AR track - something we are excited about in more fully integrating our strong feature and short film content with the interactive section. Films that take an inside look at the creative process are also [coincidentally] in the spotlight. That includes our opening film, Terrence Malick's Song To Song (pictured), which focuses on the music world here in Austin. It's our first time working with the director and we are thrilled.

Can you expand on the festival's strong ties with alumni like Seth Rogan and Judd Apatow who have films here this year?

When the stars align, it's fun to follow the work of artists you like and have already worked with. But there is a balance. With Seth Rogan, who is here with James Franco's work-in-progress The Disaster Artist, he told us he rushed to get Sausage Party partially completed last year as we are a festival that takes comedy seriously. So when they were working on The Disaster Artist - he called us again.

It's thrilling to have Joe Swanberg (Win It All) and Aaron Katz (Gemini) here again this year - both of whose careers started at SXSW. And Judd Apatow is back with music doc May It Last: A Portrait Of The Avett Brothers, co-directed with Michael Bonfiglio. Every time he comes it is transformational - in 2007 Knocked Up was a unique combination of a studio-backed indie comedy, and in 2012, he helped bring Lena Dunham's Girls to us, which marked the first television series we screened.

Speaking of television, there is again a strong line-up of TV programming. How did the episodic section evolve?

We were one the first film festivals to devote a section to episodic programming. When we screened the first three episodes of Girls in 2012, it was a big success. The next year we showed Bates Motel, and a lot of broadcasters started seeing the success of this, and began sending us more episodic work. …

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