SXSW Movies:
Film Fest features new work from Landis, Demme, Smith

 

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South By Southwest started as a music festival, but has added a film festival and, recently, a multimedia tradeshow component,as well.

This year's film portion of SXSW featured keynote speeches from the John Landis ("Blues Brothers") and Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme, as well as a special preview from Kevin Smith of his new "Jersey Girl."

High School to Hollywood
Landis gave an engaging talk about his career, from his early inspiration by stop-motion guru Ray Harryhausen ("Seven Voyages of Sinbad") to his amazingly broad education in the world of filmmaking, though he admitted that an apprenticeship like the one he had would be hard to come by today.

Landis dropped out of high school to work in film studio mailrooms and, ultimately, to assist both behind the camera and as a stunt man on more than 80 movies in Italy before he ever sat in the director's chair.

Early on, he forged a relationship with future film makeup effects guru Rick Baker (whom he would later pair up with on "An American Werewolf In London"). The two created "Schlock," Landis' first independent movie, at age of 21. It was several years before his independent "Kentucky Fried Movie" got under way, and that ultimately led to his first major project, a low-budget, surprise hit comedy called "Animal House."
Slasher promo placard

Landis also spoke about many of his other films, from "Trading Places" to "Three Amigos" to "Amazon Women on the Moon," which he described as "a movie that's less than the sum of its parts."

Landis was at the festival to unveil a new documentary, "Slasher," a funny and moving look behind the scenes at the "slash and burn" sales of car dealerships that will air on cable this summer.

 

Independent gold
There were several innovative independent films debuted at the festival, from the "Our Town" experimentalism of the amazing three-hour Nicole Kidman vehicle "Dogville" to the goofball spoofing of the still-in-final-production "My Big Fat Independent Movie" to the aching '60s period drama of a disintegrating family in "Falling Angels" to a wonderful feel-good comic drama in "Killer Diller," which features an Oscar-worthy performance by Lucas Black as an autistic pianist.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the festival was that since many of the films were screened there for their first time before an audience, many of the directors and producers were on hand to answer questions from the audience following the screenings.

Landis fielded questions for "Slasher" following its showing, as did many of the other directors. Look for all the above-mentioned filmfest titles at theaters and/or on DVD this year.

They're all worth seeking out.