SXSW 2023 So Far: Audience Turns Even With No Oscars

Crowds gather for Dungeons & Dragons and Eva Longoria, and there’s plenty of talk about theater, artificial intelligence, and healthcare.

South by Southwest is back! And all eyes… well, many of them are on the Oscars, and not necessarily all eyes on the Austin Film, TV, Technology and Music Festival.

That’s not to say that SXSW isn’t bustling or active. In fact, according to a source, attendance on Day 2 of the festival was significantly higher than last year. And strictly anecdotally, there are plenty of people who rave about the Austin Convention Center who are also first-timers. It’s just that due to unfortunate circumstances beyond their control surrounding the festival and the Oscars, sources speaking to IndieWire over the weekend felt that fewer studios or industry professionals would be attending this year, or that others would be coming. leaves quickly. This isn’t ideal for certain movies that are getting a lot of interest or even sales.

“We are coming back for the second year after not having a physical event in 2020 and 2021. We are still in the process of rebuilding, but we see that this year will be significantly bigger than last year. registration numbers, hotel reservations, and customer, exhibitor and sponsor activation,” a SXSW spokesperson told IndieWire, declining to provide specific attendance figures.

But you wouldn’t know the lack of excitement or interest by sitting through a few screenings, many of which were well attended, or walking around town. Friday’s opening night screening of Paramount’s “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Without Thieves” drew an unusually raucous crowd for screenings at the Paramount Theatre. Lines stretched around the building for the ChatGPT and AI panels, or for keynotes by Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Eva Longoria, among others.

Lionsgate even did a fun and elaborate promo on behalf of “John Wick 4” to promote the film’s secret screening. On Saturday morning, fake protesters held up colorful placards of a messianic-looking Keanu Reeves and the return of Baba Yaga. Those who came into contact with the protesters could receive gold reminiscent of the currency of The Continental in the film series. Once you get it, you can submit a number and take part in a mystery Wick-centric quiz that could win you a ticket.

Agents speaking to IndieWire remain optimistic that even with the distraction of the Oscars, the SXSW market could be more buoyant than it was last year or before COVID. Special publishers and mini-studios already screened the titles on site and in advance. And SXSW is turning even more heads as distributors look for the next “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the A24 film that premiered in Austin in 2022 and is now knocking for Best Picture.

You might say, even Sundance didn’t have a wave of sales during the festival, so why would SXSW? Well, agents told IndieWire that this year’s crop looks more commercial and is so curated that it includes titles that have landed at Sundance or Toronto in years past. There are movies like the offbeat sci-fi/rom-com If You Were The Last One starring Anthony Mackie and Zoe Chao or the Ewan McGregor drama You Sing Loud, I Sing Louder that have healthy offerings. they can bring Others tossed up movies like “Molli and Max in the Future,” “Americana,” “Bottoms,” “A Disturbance in the Force” and more among the moodiest movies. And agents suspected that a potentially looming writer’s strike could be another push for distributors to get content now.

Eva Longoria and DeVon Franklin at "Flamin' Hot" premiering at SXSW

Eva Longoria and DeVon Franklin at the ‘Flamin’ Hot’ premiere at SXSW

Getty Images for SXSW

“It’s as exciting and relevant as anywhere,” said Jeff Annison, co-founder and president of Legion M, which will present William Shatner’s documentary “You Can Call Me Bill” on Thursday. “We’ve been very impressed with the stuff we’ve seen so far. We divide and conquer, the reporting is very strong, the creative is very strong and imaginative, and it’s great that we’re fully back after the pandemic.”

But while media trends like the metaverse and AI continue to take center stage, Annison and others say the conversations defining SXSW will continue to revolve around the topical issues of theater and how smaller distributors and filmmakers will find innovative ways to lure audiences back to cinemas. Friday’s news that the government had taken control of Silicon Valley Bank also seeped into conversations about the possible spillover effects on Hollywood, with Nancy Pelosi addressing a SXSW crowd about the implications for the country if the bank failed.

Another topic that arises at the beginning of the year is healthcare. “Pay or Die,” a documentary about the expensive battle American families face for insulin, told IndieWire that SXSW proved to be “inclusive” and a “special experience.” During their premiere screening, they connected with another film director and a theater usher, who are also type 1 diabetics. And their film is not alone. SXSW will also feature “Being Mary Tyler Moore,” a documentary that focuses on her diabetes advocacy work, the Documentary Competition category includes two films focusing on autoimmune disease, and Nick Jonas will appear on Monday to discuss it. promoting diabetes care.

Unlike other festivals where the film can stand on its own, the beauty of SXSW is so much that, with the multitude of panels and keynotes beyond the film, the Pay or Die team has provided a platform for wider discussion. and involve other people, especially locals. On Sunday, the filmmakers hosted the panel discussion along with a congressman from the Texas House of Representatives about the fight to pass a bill to make insulin cheaper and more accessible in Texas.

“Everyone was excited about what other people were doing,” said Rachael Dyer, co-director of Pay or Die. “No one feels left out”

“You feel the vibe. At our movie lunch, everyone said it was the hour of 2023. This is so true. We are here together. We might try to compete here and there, but it’s a collaborative film festival,” said Scott Alexander Ruderman, co-director of “Pay or Fish.” “No one rises above the community. The Oscars are amazing, and it’s unfortunate that the Oscars are happening right during SXSW when the whole idea is to showcase independent filmmakers, but I think it allows aspiring filmmakers to get a lot of inspiration and gives them a good role model. for aspiring filmmakers, to be with celebrities who come here. They are all balanced, and it’s not about trying to rise above and be above everyone, but about helping everyone and being a community together.”

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