Though SXSW Film has been home to many world premieres of Hollywood films, it still devotes time to showing independent films and giving new directors a shot.
The festival’s showcase of low-budget, independent and genre films takes up the majority of the festival’s screening schedule. It allows large audiences to see films they would not otherwise have the opportunity to watch, and has allowed many directors to springboard to becoming Academy Award winners, Netflix giants and prolific TV directors.
Duplass Brothers: “The Puffy Chair” (2005)
The Duplass brothers have directed some of the most iconic indie films of the age, and their recent deal with Netflix has allowed them to plug their films to a massive audience.
The Duplasses, along with filmmaker Andrew Bujalski, helped pioneer the mumblecore sub-genre. This type of movie is defined by its focus on talkative, middle class twenty-somethings with a low-budget, minimalist style.
The two do not simply coast on the conventions of their own genre, shaking up their output by helping to make the brilliantly creative films “Safety Not Guaranteed” and “The One I Love.”
Kat Candler: “Jumping Off Bridges” (2006)
Former UT professor Kat Candler made her SXSW debut in 2006 with the well-received “Jumping Off Bridges,” a locally-made teen drama.
Though her film earned strong reviews, it took Candler eight years to get back to directing feature films. She returned to SXSW in 2014 with “Hellion,” a uniquely Texan film starring Aaron Paul. Candler shifted to directing television last year with “12 Monkeys,” “Being Mary Jane” and Ava DuVernay’s “Queen Sugar,” on which she currently serves as producing director.
Interestingly, director Jon Watts premiered his equally well-received film “Cop Car” at Sundance in 2015, and is now directing the new Spider-Man film for Marvel.
Barry Jenkins: “Medicine for Melancholy” (2008)
Barry Jenkins, who recently won the Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and for Best Picture for “Moonlight,” premiered his first feature film at SXSW in 2008.
Jenkins’ brilliance shines in “Medicine for Melancholy” as the film follows a day in the life of two people and functions as a meditation on the nature of black identity in a predominantly white society.
It gained universal acclaim, with influential film critic Roger Ebert awarding Jenkins’ film 3.5 out of 4 stars.
Eric Heisserer: “Hours” (2013)
Eric Heisserer’s “Hours” premiered at SXSW in 2013 to mixed-positive reviews. This disaster film follows a family in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and was one of Paul Walker’s final films.
Heisserer had written films before “Hours,” but this was his directorial debut. Though he has not directed since, Heisserer received an Oscar nomination for his brilliant work writing the adapted screenplay for the science fiction film “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams.
Trey Edward Shults: “Krisha” (2015)
Houston-native Trey Edward Shults’ first feature-length film, “Krisha,” won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW and received a whopping 97 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film follows a woman who struggles with substance abuse, and Variety called it “an intimate and unnerving character study.”
His next effort, horror film “It Comes at Night,” premieres in the U.S. on June 9 of this year.
This one may be cheating, but believe it or not, the original Alamo Drafthouse opened in 1997 for SXSW’s premiere of the film “In the Company of Men.”