Tonight's SXSW Film Awards began with a speech, apparently conceived at the last minute, by SXSW co-founder and Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black. With negative buzz building against the festival's overcrowded screenings (lines routinely circled blocks, and at some highly-anticipated screenings in small venues, reportedly only a small number of paying customers made it in the door after press and VIPs snagged their seats), Black gave some much-needed perspective on SXSW's history, both distant and recent.
Founded as a "little regional music event" in the hopes that it might draw bands from a handful of neighboring states, Black said, "by the third year, we were international." With the music festival a success, "after seven years we decided to start this cute little film festival." But the SXSW team again thought too small.
"We weren't paying attention, but suddenly Austin had a nationally known film community," Black said, citing big, local names like Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge as members. "In the old days, we used to all have parties together. Now, we're too busy to even have parties."
According to Black, when overcrowding emerged as the major issue of SXSW 2010 during its first weekend, the festival was once again unprepared for thier growth spurt, and though they couldn't immediately solve the problem of too much demand for a limited supply of seats, they took instant steps to stop the bleeding. "When we sold out the Paramount Theater on badges alone, we immediately took film badges off sale. And started to worry."
It remains to be seen whether or not SXSW Film will be able to solve their scaling problem by next year's festival. And in this distribution climate, it's by no means guaranteed that even the most in-demand films screened here will ever be seen by a mass audience. But tonight's the grand prize winners sure as hell deserve to be. More »