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Stuecklen: These films made SXSW more than just a music or tech festival

Courtesy of Van Redin / Broad Green Pictures

“Song to Song," which is about the Austin music scene, stars Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Natalie Portman. The film was screened at this year's SXSW.

The word “festival” evokes some shudder-inducing images: basic white girls misappropriating Native American culture, EDM, hula-hoopers and heavy Instagram filters. However, there exists a different kind of festival that’s a little more my speed: the film festival. For brief periods of time throughout the year, cities across the globe host filmmakers looking for exposure and distribution deals for their titles.

Just last week, Austin, Texas, hosted South by Southwest — SXSW as the cool kids call it. It’s a major yearly festival that combines traditional music and film festivals with a technology conference. Each facet of SXSW invites the biggest and freshest finds in their respective industries to Texas for a week of press, parties and premieres.

Because of SXSW’s position as a music, tech and film festival, it has branded itself to attract films and shows of a less common class. Whereas the Cannes Film Festival in France has positioned itself as a ‘premier’ festival where usually only the top talents show, SXSW prides itself on celebrating “raw innovation and emerging talent both behind and in front of the camera.” Films shown compete for laurels — those fancy little acclaims you see on a lot of indie film posters — to build prestige and potentially grab a distribution deal, and those that don’t compete are often big-name world or American premieres.

Past titles include “Sausage Party,” “Sing Street,” “Furious 7”and “Trainwreck” to give you an idea of the types seen at SXSW. Not necessarily “Citizen Kane” level titles, but unique and impressive titles with hipness and fun in emphasis over Oscar worthiness and prestige. Ten titles selected from thousands of submissions in each category ranging from “Headliners” — your star-powered films — to “Midnighters” — your more risqué features — are showcased by the festival. Even a yearly St. Patrick’s Day tradition of screening the cult cheesy “Leprechaun” series is part of the fun and varied vibe of the week.

One major highlight from this year is James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist,” a true story depicting the making of the cult film “The Room,” often described as the best-worst film ever made. Starring himself, little brother Dave, Seth Rogen, and Josh Hutcherson, “The Disaster Artist” is the 11th film to be directed by Franco, but the first to be backed by a major studio, Warner Bros. With the surprisingly rave reviews it’s already getting and its major backing, this may finally be Franco’s mainstream-ish directorial breakthrough.

A24’s “Free Fire” received its U.S. premiere in Austin, and with the studio riding its Oscar high, this shootout comedy set in the 1970s staring Oscar winner Brie Larson is looking forward to a positive wide release next month.

And lastly, “Song to Song” probably resonated particularly well with the Texas locals at the festival. The film is about, and was filmed during, the Austin music scene, particularly SXSW Music over the years. Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Natalie Portman lend their weight to the title as well, making it a popular screening. Also, since when has Gosling gotten so into music-laden roles?

SXSW sticks out among the festival scene in that it’s fresh and hip without being overly pretentious and reserved for all the rich white kids in California. Syracuse even provides opportunities for students to — often times for free — attend the festival’s music, tech, and film portions either as competitors, interns or guests. So if catching a midnight screening of “Leprechaun” followed by potentially rubbing elbows with Ryan Gosling is your thing, the opportunity may be closer than you think.

Lilly Stuecklen is a junior television, radio and film major. Her column appears weekly in Pulp. She can be reached on Twitter @Stuecks or by email at lsstueck@syr.edu.

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