Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Coming to SXSW can be a stressful and equally rewarding experience for patrons and filmmakers alike. This is an environment where only the carefully calculated filmgoers will survive.
SXSW is a festival that has generous blend of mainstream Hollywood films, with a dash of documentary and the ever-popular gourmet cuisine of independent cinema. Day one’s offerings weren’t too terribly crowded due to commutes and lengthy check-in stations.
BUT, the first was an appearance by “Hey Girl” himself Ryan Gosling (DRIVE), in a keynote conversation conducted by the master of macabre Guillermo del Toro (PAN’S LABYRINTH, PACIFIC RIM), promoting Gosling’s directorial debut, the critically panned yet intriguing film LOST RIVER.
It was a special event that approached Gosling with a more human approach than one would expect that casted his celebrity aside. The filmmakers spoke in soliloquy that provided a candid insight into the (now) multi-hyphenate’s process all the way from location scouting to casting. After the hour long conversation, the floor was open to SXSW attendee’s who praised del Toro for what he has done for Mexican cinema as well as Gosling’s daring first shot behind the camera.
Among the first slate of films screening were BRAND: A SECOND COMING, an intimate profile about the stand-up comedian turned human rights activist Russell Brand. In fact, Brand attempted to get the film pulled at the last minute. “I’m told the film is good, but for me watching it was very uncomfortable,” said Brand in a written statement.
Other films included Kris Swanbergs’ excellent human dramedy UNEXPECTED, starring Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm and relative newcomer Gail Bean. The film tells of two pregnant women who embark on an unlikely journey. Bean gives the kind of explosive performance that awards are made for. So much heart, soul and personality rings in UNEXPECTED. It’s simply delightful.
Closing out the evening was THE FINAL GIRLS, a send-up of 1980’s horror films starring Taissa Farmiga, Adam Devine, Malin Akerman, Alia Shawkat and Thomas Middleditch. Fans seemed to enjoy the romp, which garnered a rousing ovation as the credits rolled. And who can deny the enthusiasm of Todd Strauss-Schulson, as he reminisced to the crowd about past experiences attending the festival and the magic of waiting in long lines?
Other films unscreened were THE INVITATION (which we’ll see tonight), starring Logan Marshall-Green (PROMETHEUS) and John Carroll Lynch (SHUTTER ISLAND), and directed by Karyn Kusama, the filmmaker behind such films as JENNIFER’S BODY and GIRLFIGHT.
Stayed tuned for our daily recaps, interviews and film reviews curing your ailment for all things SXSW!